Ah, Facebook. Thanks to the wonders of technology, you are now privy to the fact that your dentist had a sexy date night with her husband, a high school classmate whom you haven’t seen in 20 years is having hot flashes, and your cousin’s niece’s sister-in-law is battling poopy diapers.
But while oversharing may be the norm for most people these days, it’s best to avoid slipping into an overfamiliar state when meeting new people. Civility expert Dr. P.M. Forni lists “avoiding personal questions” as one of his 25 “rules of considerate conduct” and it’s a rule that still stands despite our overexposed culture.
When meeting a client or important work colleague, stick to the matter at hand. If a bigwig client mentions that he or she has a flight to catch, don’t automatically assume that you can ask about travel plans. Yes, many people love to talk about themselves, but if you only have a formal, business relationship with someone, it’s best to wait for them to volunteer information rather than pry. Some people—especially important businesspeople who may want to keep their business travel private—can get testy or suspicious.
If you’re at a business networking event or chatting with colleagues, it’s fine to introduce a non-invasive question, such as weekend plans, or how they got started in the business. Not everyone wants to talk shop all day. Just keep it natural, and pay attention to how the person responds. If their answers are brief and they don’t ask any questions in turn, change the subject or excuse yourself to get a drink.
Also, avoid questions that may embarrass the other person. I’ve had near-strangers ask me my age in front of a group of people, which was very uncomfortable. Questions about someone’s love life are also awkward. Another tip—avoid asking questions of a more personal nature when other people are around. A friend may not mind being open with you, but he or she probably doesn’t want an audience getting all the details. If you’re unsure, stick to safe topics like travel, hobbies, films, or sports.