disfavored small talk question

You know that awkward feeling when you meet someone for the first time. That feeling when you suddenly need to step out of your shell and fill the air with some chitchat. Now here’s the thing, making small talk to cut through the stiff atmosphere is common. We all do it – right. Ok perhaps not all, unless you hide in a corner to avoid people entirely – but most of us do. So here is what really gets my goat; when someone start a conversation and immediately revert to my least favourite question.

And that question is “What do you do?”

Somehow that is the first default question that tends to pop out of people’s mouths. To me it is an immediate conversation killer and it is not a question I find welcoming.

When I am posed with this question; my answer is very vague. I never go into detail about my career. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t shy away from what I do for a living or my qualifications. To put it out there I have an administrative role in a university environment and I have a Masters qualification.  And usually people tend to pry to get more information.

But what does my job and qualifications really say about me as a person. I can tell you now, absolutely nothing.

So why don’t I like talking about my career when I meet people for the first time. I want people to get to know me beyond my career and credentials. You see when I find myself in a social setting, I disengage from my career and my qualifications.  Personally, I find that question very limiting. Answering that question can instantly slap you with a label, and will open up the door for assumptions.

Perhaps it will change your perception of me when you know my career and qualifications. Perhaps you will automatically rank and categorize me according to a socio-economic status. Revealing your occupation might only give an indication of your level of education, potential salary, status and whether your job is significant or not.

Some people see it as harmless and get a thrill out of it when they speak about their careers. They even go on and on about their titles – I call them the title snobs. And those who posed the question might find what they hear quit fascinating.

There is so much limitation to that particular question and it can be a hinder for meaningful conversation. The person you are posing that question to might not have a career or a qualification. They might find their current job boring and don’t want to talk about it.

What do you gain by asking about someone’s career? How will it benefit you and that person? Unless of course, you are talking to a CEO of a company and are seeking a career advancement.

Does asking that particular question allow you to get to know the real person behind the job title?

No, it doesn’t.

My job title and qualifications does not define me. I am more than my job and my qualifications. In fact, I think I am greater than my job.  Yes my job brings me satisfaction and pays the bills. It creates security but it’s not the end all and be all of my life. You see, as human beings we are energetic, multi-talented, multifaceted, and sometimes live very complicated lives. Therefore don’t be blinded by someone’s job title as that is just one facet of their life.

Instead of asking me “what I do”, rather ask “what I am passionate about”. Then you will get a real conversation started. I am passionate about a lot of things in life. My husband, my kids, my dogs, blogging, writing, reading, baking, community outreach, the outdoors, chasing dreams – and the list is endless.

So next time when you attend a social event, ask non-work related questions and you will most likely identify with the person outside of their work profile.


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15 comments on “My most disfavored small talk question”

  1. A very elegant and famous politician’s wife here (not the current one) used to say “What did you do with your day?” which is quite lovely. Though of course if all you did was clean the toilet you might be stuck but you know…#Globalblogging

  2. Good point, I’m sure I’m guilty of asking that question. but I like the idea of what are you passionate about. I guess what I do and what I’m passionate about are one and the same to an extent so it’s easy for me. Coombe Mill and my family are all inextricably linked. Though of course I have other interests so yes, I am more than just the front face of Coombe Mill. No more “What do you do” as a question from me! #GlobalBlogging

  3. I don’t know … It depends who’s asking. I will be terse, or expansive, depending on the person asking. I am ready to move swiftly along, so I would treat the question as a jumping off point.

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    #GobalBlogging

  4. I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve ever asked anybody that question and now I’m glad that I don’t. You make a lot of great points here. I think I’m more likely to just stand there akwardly and answer other people’s questions #triumphanttales

  5. As someone who counts beans for a living I can relate to this to some degree. There still appears to be stigma with the profession and it can make you feel under pressure to justify! #TriumphantTales

  6. You make a brilliant point, I hate telling people what my jobs are as its either an unknown job or people don’t understand what it is. If we ask what people are passionate about it would definitely make for a more interesting conversation!Thank you for sharing this with us at #TriumphantTales. I hope to see you back next week.

  7. I’ve been asked it a couple of times which tends to lead to a conversation about looking after my son, which then moves onto the much more fun topic of kids in general. Before I moved to Sweden I remember a lot of people saying ‘where are you going to work?’ which was awkward since I’m looking after the toddler. My wife didn’t get asked the same question oddly enough… #TriumphantTales

  8. #blogcrushI like talking about my job but I think that’s beacause there are lots of funny stories that go with it. xx I’m also very nosey but I will think again before asking this question in future.

  9. I HATE that question also! I always answer writer, then they follow up with an immediate ‘what do you write?’ while giving me the quizzical eyebrow. Then I have to respond that I write ‘anything the client wants’ and that just leads to more questions. Frankly, most people won’t stick around long enough to actually understand how I earn money so it always feels like a waste of my breath. Or they like to advise me on what I should write next. Yeah, my clients tell me what they want – but thanks for the career advice. Wankers. #DreamTeam

  10. I hate this question as well. I didn’t used to though. I always thought it came with the territory of small talk. Until a few years ago when I was at my son’s school social and I had just lost my job. I said I’m between jobs and right now I’m taking care of my kids. Would you believe those parents actually walked away from me? Yeah, it was all about your social status. It is here in my town. So now I really hate that question.

  11. I also freeze at this question because I’m a stay at home mum. Will this person respect this role or believe the stereotype that I’m lazy?Also, do I throw in the bit about my blogging business and my part-time cleaning job? Those are both more official titles than just “mum” but they’re not my main focus or role. It’s tricky… Thanks for your thought-provoking post #blogcrush

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