Five Crappy Questions We Can All Stop Asking {+ What To Ask Instead}

I’ve been keeping a weird list in my head for the past few months. A running tally, really, of the times I hear a question that makes me cringe. The people asking are usually well-meaning, but I often see pain or anxiety flash across the recipients’ faces. Truth be told, I’ve been in both positions – the asker and the asked – and it can get uncomfortable standing in either place.

But to stop asking people questions would be downright rude, right? So, along with keeping a list in my head of questionable questions, I’ve been experimenting with possible replacements. And here’s what I’ve come up with. I’m pretty sure using these will put others at ease and, in turn, make the world a better place! {wink}

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Crappy Question: “What do you do for a living?” This is especially sensitive for women who work {really, really hard} as full-time, at-home mamas and also for those who are searching for work. If someone’s not bringing in a paycheck, they feel the need to explain and prove their worth, so they’re instantly on the defense with this question. Yuck.

Better Question: “How do you spend your days?” Everyone has an answer to this one – and the answers are often fascinating! Sometimes, people do tell me their job titles, but oftentimes people tell me about hobbies or grandkids or how they’d prefer to be spending their days.

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Crappy Question: “Did you give birth naturally?” {and, even worse, I once heard someone ask, “Did you give birth vaginally?” Just…wow.} There is a prevailing, often unspoken assumption in our culture that women who give birth without drugs or {ahem!} vaginally are superwomen and the rest are just a little weaker and less courageous. I know women who have cried for weeks after giving birth because they couldn’t make it through labor without medical intervention, as they’d hoped. If a woman answers “yes” to this question, people praise her and remark about her amazing strength. If a woman answers “no,” it’s almost always followed by an apologetic story about what went wrong…when, really, we should all be praising her and remarking about her amazing strength, too.

Better Question: “What was your birth experience {or labor & delivery} like?” This frees up a new mama to share what she wants and not feel judged. If you’re not close to the person you’re asking, go for details that feel a little less revealing, like “What was the best part/most surprising part of baby’s birth day?” 

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Crappy Question: “What’s new with you?” I realize this is a really popular, really casual greeting for some folks. But, unlike its cousins {“What’s up?” and “What’s happening?”}, it feels like an actual request for information on what shiny, happy stuff has just popped up in your life. My hubby, Brad, really hates this one because he says his mind races, trying to think of something impressive or sparkly to share – when life as usual should be perfectly acceptable. This question can easily turn small talk into a gross game of Keeping Up with the Joneses.

Better Question: “What’s been keeping you busy lately?” Okay, so you might get one Debbie Downer who says she hasn’t been busy at all…but most people will feel comfortable responding with a few details about work or family life. Great way to ease into a conversation.

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Crappy Question: “Were you close?” This is commonly asked of people who are grieving the loss of a family member or friend. Problem is, there’s no way to measure “closeness” and the question immediately challenges a person who’s already grieving to quantify the depths of their relationship. Plus, the answer you get does not inform you how upset a person is; it can be extremely difficult to lose someone you’d lost touch with or been estranged from.

Better Question: “What was your relationship like?” or “What’s one of your favorite memories of him/her?” Rather than making a person prove their deep connection to the deceased, these questions allow people in grief to share bittersweet memories and honor whatever connection they did have.

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Crappy Question: “How’s married life?” How many times do newlyweds really need to answer this – and has anyone ever replied to this small talk staple with anything other than “good” or “great”?

Better Question: “What’s been the best part of these first few days/weeks/months of being married?” The question is really similar to the crappy one – but it already assumes things are good, shows you’re truly interested and gives them a chance to share something specific about their new life together.

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Got any other questions to add to the trash bin? Or better ones that have worked well for you? {I’m loving the ideas popping up in the comments section!} I really think asking more compassionate questions is a simple way we can all add love to the world – and feel it boomerang right back to us. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!