I’ve read many articles over the years about how to engage with others, whether it’s peers, co-workers or romantic interests. Again and again, a lot of the same advice resurfaces, urging readers to ask questions and get the person to talk about him or herself. Because obviously everyone’s favorite topic is themselves. I’m sure that’s true for a lot of extroverts or people who have an exceptional self-image. But for some people, asking a lot of questions of a personal nature is their worst nightmare. I certainly fit into that category. Not as much now as it was years ago because of a lot of work I’ve done. But I was recently shocked at meeting a stranger and being bombarded by personal questions. I answered them as indirectly as possible with a smile and fought back the urge to tell her it was none of her business. Some people are just nosy. I’m not saying it’s horrible to be nosy. But the notion that everyone wants to tell you their life story just isn’t true. Sure, it’s nice for people to take an interest in who you are (as long as it’s genuine), and most questions, which make me pause, are pretty harmless. The answers are just too complicated.
The simple question, “Do you have children?” is harmless enough. It’s certainly a normal question to ask, but to me it, it’s not casual. It’s often a trigger and flood of feelings that all leads to the simple answer of “No.” Yet, I don’t say no. I say, “I have two dogs and a cat. They are my children.” It’s an answer I’ve crafted that represents who I am and where I am in life.
For me, I’m not very forthcoming with my life story. It takes a long time for me to be comfortable with others and build trust. There are only a handful of people in the world that I genuinely trust with real information about my life, and I’m fine with this; I’m more than fine actually. I’m happy with this decision.
This is in no way a condemnation on those that like to share. I’ve shared many deep and personal stories, too, through my writing. It’s my outlet, but it’s also on my terms.
And while I no longer feel like a deer in headlights when asked simple questions, I’d still prefer conversations with strangers to focus more on movies, books, travel or other interests, which certainly provide insight into someone’s personality but don’t get too personal.
So to all those posts and articles on tips to influence, engage or win people over, I say it’s not the ideal approach for every person. Not everyone has the ability to answer your questions without feeling a bit traumatized by the experience. I don’t have simple answers to simple questions. My life just hasn’t been simple or conventional. I’ve learned how to answer questions that allow me to be comfortable. But not everyone has this awareness (it’s taken me years to cultivate). So I ask that you pause and consider your inquisitive tendencies, regardless of how well the intention may be. Because there’s always a topic to chat about that doesn’t have any implications: it’s called the weather.