The 5 Manners of What Not to Ask at a Christmas…or Any Party
By: Maralee McKee, Manners Mentor
I find that friends often have friends a lot like themselves. Because of this, we probably have quite a bit in common with the people at the parties they host.
Meeting friends-of-friends is a great way for us to make new friends ourselves.
At least it is if we step-out on the right foot and manage to keep the other one out of our mouth!
None of us mean to say the “wrong” thing, we all want to leave others with a good impression of ourselves; however, it happens to everyone. We ask a question without realizing the impact our words had on the other person. It seemed innocent to us, so what’s making the other person emotionally back away suddenly?
The answer: We asked one of the five questions most often asked of someone we’ve just met that should be saved for people we already count as friends. Without knowing it, we’ve gone too far, too fast.
Most of us have been asked these five questions a lot. So they might come as a surprise that they aren’t considered “polite” conversation for parties and other first encounters.
In the list below, I share the “why” not to ask them. Knowing why helps us remember what not to ask.
And while the questions might not bother you or me at all if someone were to ask, keep in mind that good manners aren’t about only your or my thoughts, feelings, and opinions about something. It’s the bigger picture. It’s not my personal standard that constitutes good manners and it’s not your personal standard, either. It’s the Gold Standard.
What’s the Gold Standard?
The Gold Standard is something that author Andy Andrews lays out in his book, The Noticer Returns (A wisdom filled, hugely engaging, page-turner of a novel for everyone, and a MUST read for any parent who wants to raise their children into great adults.) that says living by our own standard means we aren’t really living by a standard at all. A “standard” by definition means that it’s an agreed upon norm. The one’s that make it into the etiquette books, (and blogs!) in my opinion, automatically can be considered having met the Gold Standard. (To discover his simple but profound truth, purchase a copy of Mr. Andrew’s book! We liked it so much Kent and I bought a case of them to give as gifts this Christmas. It’s that good! Note: I have no affiliation with Mr. Andrews except having learned much from each of his books.)
Before we begin, there’s one thing we need to know about how friendships are born:
Friendships are formed on common ground. And while the cliche’ “opposites attract” is well known. It’s more the exception than the rule in relationships of any kind. The more you can find in common with someone the more you’re able to say, “I like that person.” And why wouldn’t you? What’s not to like? They’re a lot like you!
Here’s the most commonly asked and lesser known things that have been agreed upon as the Gold Standard of what not to ask when first meeting people because of the affect (sometimes subtle and sometimes not) it can have on the person and their opinion of us.
The 5 Manners of What Not to Ask at a Christmas…or Any Party
1. What do you do for a living? This is usually the first question asked of us, and our answer shouldn’t impact the future of our friendship with someone, but the sad truth is…it does. If surgeon Bob is having a great conversation about fly fishing in Georgia on the Toccoa River with car tune-up assistant mechanic Alex, and then Bob changes the subject to ask what Alex does for a living, the difference in income level, job status, education and such is going to suddenly make them aware of the many things that separate them. The two of them haven’t walked on enough common ground together, yet, and one of the two will more than likely excuse himself.
Also, in our current job market situation there are lots of people who have been laid off and can’t find new jobs or who are underemployed. The topic would be one of sadness and frustration for them. Neither of which are going to help him or her enjoy the party. (If you’re talking to someone you think would be a good contact for a possible job make sure to get their email address. A day or two after the party send them an email quickly sharing your job situation. More jobs are found through personal connections than through searches, forums, and services combined!)
2. Is your spouse here? I’d love to meet him/her! While this question seems like a great way to expand a friendship it’s one that can backfire. I know three couples now in various stages of separation and divorce that still wear their wedding rings. The first rule of etiquette is: never assume.
Also, as a young widow, I didn’t remove my wedding ring until Kent (my current husband) and I started dating. Even though my late husband lived in Heaven and I lived in a suburb of Orlando, I didn’t feel any less in love. My wedding ring was my most intimate outward sign of having been joined with him, and I wore it with love and remembrance.
In all these cases, asking about spouses is going to make things awkward. If someone does mention their spouse at a party, then you can certainly ask about him or her.
3. Do you have children? Infertility issues, miscarriages, teen children who are in trouble, young adult children who have lost their way, not
all any families are a Norman Rockwell illustration. Mention your child or children (if you have any) and then if the other person mentions a child it’s a great subject of conversation. However, only talk about the child they’ve mentioned. If they have other children they want to talk about at the party, they will.
4. Do you mind if I take this call? Nope! Nope! Nope! Please….it’s a Christmas party, turn your phone off. If you need to check it, or make a call home to see how the kids are doing, take care of it after you’ve excused yourself from the conversation. Ask the host or hostess if there’s a private room you can use, (or weather permitting, step outside) check your phone and make any calls…if you must. But honestly, unless there’s a major illness of a loved one or some such thing, you need to be able to attend a Christmas party without consulting your phone for the duration. And besides, you deserve the break from the interruptions and possible frustrations (work emails, arguing children, late bill notices and anything else you can think of) that our phones deliver right to the palm of our hands.
5. You’re a insert job title/position here. May I ask you a question? It’s great finding out that you’re talking to a lawyer when you have a question about a contract you’re about to sign. It’s wonderful chatting to a chiropractor when your back hurts. It’s great luck to discover you’re deep in discussion with an interior designer when you’re wondering what color you should paint your dining room.
The fact is, answering your questions is how these people get paid. Asking for free advice of someone you’ve just met, and while they’re enjoying a party (free time!) none-the-less, isn’t the type of person I think you want to be.
Since you’ve met them at your friend’s party, you can ask your friend about their work before you make a call and be pretty certain that you’re getting a good recommendation. Maybe if your question takes just a minute or two on the phone they’ll answer you for free, but a workman is always worthy of his wages. Paying for good work and quality advice is the norm.
Now that you know what not to ask, join me next Monday for, The 5 Best Conversation Starters at a Christmas…or Any Party! I’ll share with you what to say to find common ground quickly and enjoy savvy, sincere conversations.
Until then…may you have a wonderful, grace-filled, and blessed week!
PS: Thank you again for the overwhelming response of last week’s blog posts. Both the one I posted on Monday to subscribers of the blog, and the one I posted on Thursday on the Manners Mentor family Facebook page. Join over 6600 of the nicest folks you’d ever want to meet on our Facebook page for a daily dose of encouragement, inspiration, fun, and friendly, relaxing conversation!
PPS: If you don’t subscribe to the blog, do so now and enjoy a great freebie! My illustrated dining skills book that shares everything you need to dine with ease, confidence, and savvy at any meal. Perfect for the whole family! You’ll find the green subscribe box near the upper right hand corner of every page of the Manners Mentor blog.
PPS: If you’re a parent who wants your child to have the Gold Standard for his or her everyday encounters so they stand out as polite, well-liked, respected children who are ready when the time comes to face adulthood with the benefit of a dose of social skills most lack you need a copy of Manners That Matter for Moms. It’s the one book that’s full of things every mom wants for her child. Think your child is great just the way he or she is? That’s fantastic, because the more polite he or she is now, the more they’ll benefit from the subtle and other-centered skills this book shares. I put my heart and prayers into every word of the book for you. The reviews have been great! Unlike other etiquette books, it’s not a list of do’s and don’ts. It has stories, best friend sharing, Mom-to-Mom tips, and special Manners Mentor formulas so that your child is completely themselves…the best version of themselves! You can buy it at this Amazon link or directly from me if you’d like autographed and personalized copies. I send them out within 48-hours so you’ll have them long before Christmas if you want to give them as gifts!