Connect with us


For better small talk, don’t ask ‘What do you do?’



talk man woman couple cheer alcohol wine office party conversation
Some people find small
talk excruciating, but it may be because they’re asking the wrong


  • If making small
    is painfully awkward for you, it might be because
    you’re asking the wrong questions.
  • Although it’s a classic conversation starter, the
    question “What do you do?” can be too intimate of a question
    for some people.
  • A better version of the question is “What keeps you

Small talk may come naturally to some people, while others find
it excruciating.

If you’re one of the people who find it difficult to make small
talk at parties, it may be because you’re asking the wrong
experts told The New York Times

For example, while the question “What do you do?” is a classic
conversation starter, it may lead to an awkward moment if your
conversation partner is unemployed or simply doesn’t want to talk
about work.

Instead of “What do you do?” try asking “What keeps you busy?”
etiquette expert Daniel Post Senning told The Times. That way,
the question “applies to people whether or not they
have traditional jobs, are stay-at-home-parents or are currently
employed,” the Times wrote.

As it turns out, Post Senning considers work life one of the most
intimate conversation topics, right up there with family, health,
and finance. Slightly less intimate topics include religion,
politics, dating, and love lives, while the safest tier of topics
to discuss include sports, weather, pop culture, and “immediate
shared experiences.”

Meanwhile, in other countries, the “what do you do?” question
could even be taken as offensive. 

In France, for example, “They will be offended, believing you’re
trying to put them into a box,” culture writer Julie Barlow

told Quartz in 2017
. “And they just don’t think it’s
interesting to work for a living. There are other things they’d
much rather talk about.”

Asking “What do you do?” could even get you kicked out of certain

in Hong Kong, Business Insider’s Shana Lebowitz

But other than reframing the question, there are plenty of other
strategies you can use to initiate meaningful conversations with

For one, it helps to ask your conversation partner
open-ended questions,
which prompt more detailed answers than
yes-or-no questions. A question like “Did you have a good
weekend?” will get a less thought-provoking response than
What was the best part of your weekend?”

Communication expert Yasmin Sara Merchant also
recommends preparing a few conversation topics in advance related
to the event, like “How do you know the host?” or “What is your
connection to this event?”

“Ultimately, mastering the art of small talk will help you
learn how to build relationships with people in both personal and
professional settings,”
Merchant wrote
. “With good small talk skills, you can turn
every conversation or networking event into an opportunity for

Continue Reading
Advertisement Find your dream job