“What do you do?” The questions seems innocent enough. The problem is the implications, the answer that’s expected. The expected response is usually a job title. Why is this a problem?
- Answering with a job title eliminates those who do not work outside of the home. Retired people, stay-at-home parents, and others may feel their value is negligible. (Please notice I said, those who do not work “outside of the home.” People who are retired often “work” and I don’t know a stay at home parent who doesn’t work. Don’t ever say someone “doesn’t work.”)
- The question perpetuates the stereotype of man as breadwinner. Of course this applies to women as well. The problem with the stereotype is that we place too high a value on a title and our ability to earn money. When jobs are suddenly taken away in an economic down turn or layoff, we lose our identity with the position.
- Do you really want to be defined by your job? Granted we spend much time working and many of us enjoy our work, but is our title the right answer to the question? If you are asked what you do for work, I’d respond with an answer that also addresses why you’re in that current profession. For example, “I help people solve conflicts at work so they enjoy their work more fully.” Or your answer could be, “I work part-time so I can spend more time with my family and volunteer.”
Ask a Better Question
A simple semantic switch will deepen your conversations and make you seem unendingly interesting. Simply ask, “How do you spend most of your time?” Or ask, “What do you do for fun?” The answers will go far beyond job titles and help you find a topic of interest and commonality.
Be a word detective. Look for what your audience would really like to talk about. An attentive listener will notice clues.
Be More Interesting
Be a better conversationalist by considering what questions you might be asked throughout the day. Will passersby or acquaintances talk about the weather, current events, politics, sports, stocks, or work projects?
Listen to the news. Scan trending topics or headlines online. Ensure you’re up to date with what’s going on and you’ll be able to add to conversations and ask better questions.
Read more books. The average American reads about four books each year, but that number is inflated by avid readers. Twenty eight percent of Americans haven’t read a book in the last year. Readers are more interesting conversationalists.
Say yes more often. Challenge yourself to try something new. Even if you don’t stick with it the simple act of taking an art class or going ice skating will likely give you some good stories to tell.
Travel. People are fascinated by different cultures, climates, foods, languages, and people.
Have Better Answers
You will be asked about your hometown. Learn something about it so your answer is more than city and state. Shawano County is the barn quilt capital of Wisconsin and home to Sundrop, the golden cola.
Someone will wonder about your education. Sure, you could tell what your degree is or you could tell a story about your most influential professor or the moment you decided what your thesis would be.
People will forget your name. Do you have an interesting story about what it means, who you’re named after, or a funny time someone got it wrong? My name is Terra, it comes from the Latin expression for New Earth. My middle name is Louise, after a lake in Canada. I like to say I’m earth and water; I’m everything you need.
“My idea of good company is the company of clever, well-informed people who have a great deal of conversation; that is what I call good company.” – Jane Austen