In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Plead the Fifth.” What question do you hate to be asked? Why?
It’s kind of a toss up for me between “How are you?” and “What’s new?” because I think that both are often no-win questions. What’s new, exciting and interesting to me might not be to anyone else. Working a full-time job, being in a long-term relationship and having a calm, quiet existence isn’t always exciting but it is healthy. My answers are not always eventful, as I am more responsible and less on-the-go than I used to be. These questions are the default questions and are not necessarily asked out of genuine concern or curiosity, but as part of pleasant interactions with co-workers, family you haven’t seen in a while or someone you see in passing. I say that because it is expected, in my opinion, that you will response in a positive, upbeat manner and have something good to share, and I find that most people follow the script. If you actually answer with the truth (good or bad), be careful because, unless this is someone with whom you know and have some type of close relationship, the person will not know what to do and will likely find a way to exit the conversation. For example: Jill says, “Hey Michelle. How are you? How was your weekend?” and Jill responds with, “Hi, Jill. Wow, my weekend sucked. I didn’t sleep well, the weather sapped my motivation because I’m sick of the cold and the snow, and I had an argument with my mother,” this will likely lead to Jill suddenly remembering that phone call she forgot to make on Friday. End of conversation. Sometimes, even with family, it seems that these questions are only asked so that the person doesn’t feel bad when they tell their many anecdotes, and yet they may not really be interested in yours. Other times it is better to avoid specific topics or answers that sound like complaints or bragging that they don’t want to hear. Basically, a lot of people are too focused on what is going on in their lives to really listen. You are lucky if you have caring people that really want the answer to these questions.
The other side of this is a person’s perspective. If you ask me how I’m doing or what’s new when I first get to work and my coffee hasn’t kicked in, you will get a difference answer than you will get an hour later. Try as I might, I’m not a morning person, unless I get on an early bedtime regimen… not going to happen while I live in a small apartment with Boyfriend and our cat, they are both creatures that need less sleep than I like to get. When I start conversations with people, such as co-workers, I try to ask about an event or situation previously mentioned because I feel that this might start the interaction off on a better foot than the routine questions would. For example, “How was the visit with your sister and the new baby?”, especially when the person talked enthusiastically about planning the visit. I feel that this generates a more genuine conversation than, “How are you?” or “What’s new?” and helps you really foster communication with that person.
What’s funny to me is that I have had meaningful conversations with strangers, or even my social service clients, that I felt were just as heartfelt and interested in my answer as people I know and interact with on a more personal basis. A smile helps. Maybe it is that these other people truly want to interact with someone, or that I don’t sense the judgment and obligation I would in other situations… what is your experience?