Don’t ask these 8 questions: Conversation dos and don’ts

“Where do you live?” I asked the man sitting at the table at which I was seated. He stated a neighborhood I hadn’t heard of so I said, “Oh, I’ve never heard of that neighborhood. Where is that?” As he revealed where he lived and the entire table listened I realized it was the wrong question to ask. He was obviously embarrassed by the neighborhood he lives in. The event I was attending as the speaker was held at an upscale Seattle club where one’s address is very important. I should have realized this when I asked that seemingly innocuous question. Further proof that this etiquette consultant is not perfect.

Photo source:

As we mingle and dine this holiday season there are other conversation topics we should stay away from. One of my colleagues always sends me funny retorts related to my newsletter etiquette points and this time it was related to inappropriate conversation topics. I thought they were so spot on I’d share them.

Did I see you downtown recently dining with a nice looking lady? Was that your administrative assistant?

Put this one under the category of none of your business and never make assumptions. It could have been his daughter.

Your makeup is wonderful and makes you look at least 20 years younger! What brand do you use?

This one is just plain insulting.

I’ll add to his list.

Do you have kids? No? Why not?

The kid topic can be a very sensitive subject for people. Some people desperately want kids and can’t have them. Others chose not to have kids. Don’t make people feel badly for their choices or to have to reflect on the pain of not being able to have kids. Read more about this subject in this blog post.

So, what do you think of Trump’s cabinet picks?

This falls under controversial topics, namely politics. Never assume someone shares your same political beliefs (trust me; I learned this the hard way which I wrote about in my book – Spinach in Your Boss’s Teeth). Politics is always a heated topic, but especially this election season. Stay away from this mine field, and add religion to the list as well.

Little Johnny is great. He’s in the AP program at his school. He’s very smart for his age. We think he’ll be president someday.

This is bragging. It’s wonderful to be proud of your children or your other accomplishments, but don’t shout about them.

Here are the photos I took of my dog playing in the snow. Isn’t he cute?!

Boring!! It’s the rare person who really wants to look at the pictures you took of your dog, cat, kids, vacation…you name it. Unless they ask, don’t offer. And even if they ask, show just a couple.

What a beautiful ring. How much did you pay for it?

Money is another verboten topic. It’s none of your business and can make people feel very uncomfortable. Someone actually asked me this question. I was very uncomfortable.

You might be thinking, well then what do I talk about? Believe it or not, there are still plenty of juicy topics to discuss. Here are some suggestions I gave in a previous post about conversation:

  • How do you like to celebrate the holidays?
  • What was the best thing that happened to you this year?
  • What are some family holiday traditions you follow?
  • What’s a favorite childhood holiday memory?
  • What are you looking forward to next year?

And, to be a truly great conversationalist, you need to be a good listener. When you ask these questions, really listen and be appropriately curious. Delve deeper and I guarantee you’ll discover some interesting things about people.

Happy mingling!


Please note: We have a new method of delivering blog posts to your inbox. If you have previously received these blog posts through Feedburner, please subscribe to receive these blog posts through the form below and unsubscribe to the posts you receive through Feedburner.

Feel free to share:

Posted in


Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

Leave a Comment