How to Keep Relationships Professional without Seeming Disingenuous: Part One

In any professional setting, it is important to show that you are not only willing to deal with a person in business, but you are also a caring person who is genuine about wanting to build a lasting business relationship. In order to do so, I describe herein six topics of conversation to include in your conversations, when getting to know one another personally, and nine topics of conversation to avoid unless needed for business purposes.


1) Names

DO Say:

I like your name. Where did it come from?

  • This allows them to divulge as much or as little as they feel comfortable with, leaving you in the clear for not prying too much, but also making you come across as genuinely interested in them as a person, not just a business-conducting robot whom you want a business card from.

DON’T Say:

That’s a peculiar name!

  • This can come across as offensive and sheltered, as this could indicate that you probably do not work with diverse populations enough to value different names.

2) Home

DO Say:

What town do you live in? Do you like that town?

  • This keeps the topic of conversation deep enough that you genuinely want to learn about them, but not too deep, to where they feel like you are reaching for information about their living situation, which could be negative and private. This also keeps the conversation inclusive, because anyone listening could share their opinion or experience with mentioned cities. Most professional relationships do not involve people going over to one another’s private homes, and talking about their private homes could leave people wondering what to say to move the conversation forward.

What city did you grow up in? Do you like that city?

  • This keep conversation away from their particular homes and living situations growing up, which, for all you know, could have been an orphanage.

DON’T Say:

What is your current living situation like?

  • This question can make it seem like you are prying into their personal lives.

Do you like your current home?

  • This could get them talking about how they don’t like where they live, and they may not want to discuss that in a professional setting, leaving them feeling uncomfortable and scrambling for words.

3) Family

DO Say:

Tell me about your family.

  • By saying this statement, instead of asking a question, you are communicating that you know loved ones are important to anyone, and you’d love to hear about people they love, but it also allows them to disclose as much or as little information as they want.

DON’T Say:

Don’t ask questions about their families.

  • This could bring up very personal topics of conversation that you should not try to inquire about in a professional relationship. For example, even simply asking someone with a wedding ring on about their “partner,” could open up a door to a conversation they don’t want to have. If a person has not disclosed his/her sexual orientation before, for example, he/she may feel pressured to do so with this question.

Come back in a couple weeks for part two of “How to Keep Relationships Professional without Seeming Disingenuous,” where we’ll discuss three more “safe” topics, and nine “do not touch” topics!


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