Small talk, in particular, is littered with land mines when it comes to putting your foot in it...
If you do a lot of networking or meeting new people you will have been asked a whole host of inappropriate questions, squirmed at bad jokes and despaired at lengthy conversations about the weather and travel conditions. Most people do not intend to be rude or inappropriate, they are just following their own ‘inner rules’ of engagement for the social situation. Here are some of the top ‘offenders’ in conversation:
The good news is that once you are aware you can do something to enforce your boundaries and teach others to treat you appropriately. Here’s some top tips:
- ’Have you lost weight?’
You might think this is a compliment but it implies you thought they were fat last time you saw them. Unless you know that someone is trying to lose weight it’s best to avoid. Try ‘You look well/great’ instead.
- ‘Do you have / when are you going to have children?’
A common way of connecting with people is to find some common ground, and family might seem like a safe bet. For people, men and women, though who have complex family situations, have chosen not to have a family or may be going through a painful break up, this question is way too intimate and will not endear you to them. They may answer you but will probably avoid you afterwards. In Norway a common social question is ‘What do you like doing when you’re not working?’ - this is a much safer bet as it gives the other person the opportunity to answer freely about something they are comfortable chatting about.
- ‘I’m more interested in XYZ’.
This is a commonly used phrase to direct a conversation onto a new topic. Using the word ‘more’ implies that whoever was just speaking wasn’t interesting, it is taken personally even if your intention is about the topic. Instead say something that honours the person and then link it to the topic you want to move onto; example if your area of interest is employee wellbeing. ‘That’s a good point you raise about profitability. I’m wondering whether a business can be profitable and look after the health of their employees. What do you think?’
Remember that people won’t always remember what you said but they will remember how you made them feel. So much communication is unintentionally ineffective and we are then left wondering ‘what did I say?’. Be mindful of the impact of your words by stepping into other peoples’ shoes and considering what other meaning they could take from what you are saying.
Founder of Monkey Puzzle and an INLPTA NLP Master Trainer, Karen is also a UKCP registered Psychotherapist and author of the award winning book Real Leaders for the Real World. Her new book Time Mastery; Banish Time Management Forever is out now.