7 Questions You Should Never Ask When Making Small Talk
Experts share the conversation topics to avoid during these interactions.
Making small talk with strangers or casual acquaintances is often the polite thing to do. But whether you find it to be stressful or you consider yourself to be a great communicator, there are certain questions that cross a line and can make things awkward no matter what. Talking to experts, we got insight on the topics to avoid in more casual conversations. Read on to discover seven questions you should never ask when making small talk.
"Why aren't you drinking?"
Whether you're chatting with coworkers at a holiday party or making small talk with a stranger at the bar, asking about alcohol consumption should always be off-limits, according to Chris Gillis, personalized relationship and image consultant.
"Never question why someone isn't drinking," Gillis says. "This could be a very sensitive topic that they do not necessarily want to discuss."
"Are you dating anyone?"
Many of us assume asking others about their relationship status is harmless. But as with alcohol, it can be a sensitive topic for some, according to Boston-based psychotherapist Angela Ficken.
"Especially if the person is single or going through relationship challenges," she says.
Questions like "Are you dating anyone?" or "Are you single?" can also put people in a defensive position, Cassandra LeClair, relationship expert and communication studies professor at Texas A&M University, adds.
"Not everyone may want to discuss their personal relationships in a casual setting," LeClair explains. "Stop assuming that you know what others want for their life."
"Do you have kids?"
Avoiding asking about people's relationships during small talk should extend to children as well, according to LeClair. You may assume it's a simple way to find common ground, especially if you yourself have kids.
"But they may be dealing with personal circumstances they don't wish to discuss," she warns. "Questions about if someone has kids, or when someone plans to have children, or why they don't have any can end up being really invasive."
"How much do you make?"
It's one thing to ask about what someone does for work, a common topic of conversation for small talk. But never go as far as asking them how much they make, Haley Hicks, LCSW, licensed clinical social worker and vice president of admissions at Basepoint Academy in Dallas, advises.
"Asking about someone's income is generally considered off-limits in small talk. It's seen as too personal and can make the other party uncomfortable, as it delves into their financial status—a topic that many prefer to keep private," Hicks shares. "Perhaps shift the focus to the nature of their work, by asking what they enjoy most about their job, or discussing recent industry trends. Remember, the goal of small talk is to create a friendly rapport, not to probe into private matters. "
"What's your ethnicity?"
Small talk is not the place to directly question someone's background either.
"Asking someone 'What's your ethnicity?' can be seen as invasive and may perpetrate stereotypes or assumptions based on appearance," personal empowerment life coach Smita D. Jain tells Best Life.
Instead, Jain recommends redirecting your questions if you are interested in someone's ethic background.
"Discuss cultural events, food, or travel experiences to promote a more inclusive and understanding conversation," she suggests.
"Have you been losing weight?"
If you're talking to an acquaintance or a coworker and you notice they look like they've lost weight since the last time you saw them, you might be tempted to bring it up in passing conversation. But while this may seem like a harmless question or even a compliment, it can "make someone else feel uncomfortable—especially if they haven't intentionally lost weight," Hicks says.
"It can bring up insecurities and body image issues, which are personal topics that should be avoided in small talk," she continues. "As much as possible, steer away from discussing someone's physical appearance and focus on other topics, such as their interests, favorite books or movies, or recent travels."
"How old are you?"
Don't ask someone about their age if you're making small talk, Nancy Mitchell, a registered nurse working with geriatric wards and contributing writer at Assisted Living, advises.
"Not only is this unexpected, it's also a bit rude to ask," she says. "People automatically assume you ask their age because of their appearance, and that can lead them to feel insecure in their environment."
In fact, this isn't a question you should feel entitled to ask in any situation, according to Mitchell.
"As a general rule for any conversation, I'd let someone disclose their age—if and when they feel comfortable enough to do so," she recommends.
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