1. Are You Sure? This negates everything the speaker just said, which is rude and hurtful. You might ask this question because:
- You want to know if you can believe what the person just said, or if you can trust their source. A better response would be “How do you know this?” or “Please tell me more.”
- You’re surprised and actually mean “Wow!” or “Oh my heavens.”
2. What Did She Say? Don’t talk about people unless you are talking to them. This may be harder than you think, but it’s good social health; even positive talk about someone else is a form of gossip. (And quickly devolves into bitchiness.) When others talk about people who aren’t there, just smile and change the subject.
3. How Was Your Day? Usually this question is a well-meaning attempt to reconnect. But it can create problems because:
- People may not want to relive their day.
- The question can become habitual, creating conversations that make you feel bad about your relationship (“How was your day?” “Fine, how was yours?” “Fine, what’s for dinner?”)
- The question invites emotional dumping. Asking this question offers an excuse to offload; like standing behind a dumptruck, you run the risk of wearing someone else’s debris.
Better reconnecting questions are “How are you?” “Feel like chatting?” or something specific like “Did that new process work?” Or don’t ask anything; just say hi.
4. What Do You Do? Or “tell me about yourself” and other introductory conversation. This kind of talk is problematic, for three reasons:
- You are not your biography. We change and grow every day, acquiring new experiences and insights. Who you were yesterday has already changed.
- You are not your self-description. Other people may experience you differently than you experience yourself.
- When you tell about yourself, you label yourself. It’s better to let people discover you through conversation, action, and shared experiences.
Better ‘Get To Know You’ questions are “What’s the best thing about working here?” or “What brings you here [to this event]?” Alternatively, try a simple statement such as “I really enjoyed [that speech/play/presentation]” and then just listening.
Pro Tips: Think and Listen
When we think before asking a question, we can understand its impact and get closer to our real goal. This improves conversations and makes relationships more authentic. And finally, remind yourself that being a good listener makes people think of you as an awesome conversationalist.