13 questions you should never ask someone (because it’s not really your business)

by Isabel Cabrera | October 23, 2023, 10:11 am

We’ve all been there: curious about something, we blurt out a question, only to be met with an awkward silence or a glare. Oops! 

Some questions are better left unasked. Whether it’s because they’re intrusive or just plain rude, these questions can put a damper on any conversation. 

Let’s dive into the 13 questions you should never ask someone, unless you enjoy awkward silences and furrowed brows. 

Consider this your guide to avoiding social faux pas!

1) “When are you having kids?”

Ah, the classic inquiry into someone’s reproductive plans. It might seem like a casual question, but it’s a deeply personal one. 

People’s decisions to have or not have children are often fraught with emotion and complex considerations. 

Perhaps they’ve been trying for years, or maybe they’ve decided never to have children. It’s not your place to pry, so keep this question to yourself!

2) “Why aren’t you married yet?”

This one is a double whammy. Not only are you assuming that marriage is everyone’s goal, but you’re also implying that there’s something wrong with being single

Some people prefer to live their lives without a ring on their finger, and that’s perfectly okay. 

Let’s avoid pushing societal norms onto others and respect different life choices.

3) “How much money do you make?”

Money talks, but it doesn’t need to talk at the dinner table. Asking someone about their income is not only rude but also puts them in an uncomfortable position. 

People’s financial situations are their business, and divulging such information can lead to judgment or jealousy. 

Keep the money talk for financial advisors, not friends or acquaintances.

4) “Have you lost weight?”

Sure, it might seem like a compliment, but this question can actually be quite damaging. 

For some, weight loss isn’t a goal, and pointing it out can be awkward. For others, it may bring up issues related to body image or health. 

It’s best to steer clear of body-focused comments. If you want to praise someone’s appearance, a simple “You look great!” works wonders without crossing any lines.

5) “What happened to your ex?”

Remember that relationship that ended in flames, or maybe just fizzled out? 

Well, your friend likely does too, and they probably don’t want to rehash it. 

Dredging up the past can bring up painful memories or emotions. Keep the focus on the present and the future, and if they want to share something about their past, they will. 

Until then, let sleeping dogs lie.

6) “When are you going to retire?”

This question might seem innocuous, but it can be loaded. For many, retirement is a complicated and personal decision tied to finances, job satisfaction, health, and more. 

Pressing someone about their retirement plans can feel intrusive and imply that they’re old enough to be put out to pasture. 

Instead, why not ask about their current work or hobbies? Engage them in what they’re passionate about now, rather than probing into when it might end.

7) “When are you two getting married/having kids?”

Ah, the classic relationship timeline interrogation. 

While you might be genuinely curious or excited for them, asking someone about marriage or children puts undue pressure on their relationship. 

It may also be a sore subject if they’re struggling with related issues. Remember, every relationship is unique and follows its own timeline. 

A better approach might be to show interest in their life together without prying into specific milestones.

8) “Why did you leave such a high-paying job?

Asking this career question can make the person feel cornered or judged for their career decisions. 

This question overlooks the many factors that contribute to job satisfaction, such as work-life balance, personal growth, or ethical considerations.

It’s a personal decision that doesn’t simply revolve around money, and prying into it can be considered inappropriate.

Instead of asking this, inquire into a person’s long-term plans for their career growth. That can offer insights into what they want to do with their lives.

9) “Why are you still single?”

This one’s a doozy. While it might be intended as a compliment, implying that they’re too great to be single, it can come across as a judgment or criticism of their relationship status. 

Being single is a perfectly valid choice, and for others, it may not be a choice at all

A more thoughtful conversation starter might be to ask about their interests, hobbies, or how they like to spend their free time. 

Let them guide the conversation to relationships if they wish.

10) “Why did you get piercings/your hair dyed?”

Asking someone “Why did you get that piercing?” or “Why did you dye your hair that color?” may seem harmless, but it can be seen as a judgment or critique of personal appearance. 

People’s choices about their bodies and how they express themselves are deeply personal, and such inquiries can feel intrusive or imply disapproval.

An interesting way to express your curiosity is to ask the meaning behind their choice to modify their body. “What’s the story behind it?” can be a good place to start.

This also goes for people who get tattoos or plastic surgery.

11) “Why don’t you drink alcohol?”

This question can be intrusive for many reasons. Some individuals abstain from alcohol for religious or health reasons, while others may be recovering from addiction. 

Probing into someone’s personal choices about alcohol can lead to an awkward conversation. 

If someone declines a drink, a simple “No problem!” should suffice.

12) “Why did you get divorced?”

Divorce is usually a painful and personal matter. Asking someone to recount the details is akin to asking them to reopen old wounds. 

If they want to talk about it, they’ll bring it up in their own time. 

Otherwise, focus on the present and how you can support them now, rather than dwelling on their past relationship. 

It’s all about respecting boundaries and letting people share what they’re comfortable with at their own pace.

Instances that don’t need to be probed

In all these instances, a general rule of thumb is to follow the lead of the person you’re talking to. 

If they seem open and willing to discuss a topic, it may be okay to engage. But if they are vague or seem uncomfortable, it’s a signal to steer the conversation in a different direction. 

Being attentive and empathetic to these cues will help you navigate these situations with grace and respect.

1) Personal medical issues

If someone casually mentions a doctor’s appointment or health issue, don’t ask for details unless they offer them. Health matters can be deeply private and sensitive.

2) Financial situations

Whether someone is struggling financially or has just received a promotion, probing into their financial status or salary is typically considered inappropriate.

3) Family conflicts

If you overhear or are told about a family argument or ongoing conflict, it’s best to steer clear of asking for more information. 

Family dynamics can be incredibly complex and painful.

4) Relationship status or challenges

If someone is going through a breakup or having relationship troubles, wait for them to share details rather than asking probing questions

This is especially true if you’re not close to the person.

5) Fertility or pregnancy status

Asking about when someone is planning to have children or why they don’t have any can be an incredibly painful subject for many.

6) Legal issues

Whether it’s a minor legal trouble or something more significant, prying into someone’s legal affairs is typically best avoided unless they willingly offer information.

7) Mental health challenges

If you know or suspect that someone is dealing with mental health challenges, be supportive but don’t probe for details. They will share if and when they feel comfortable.

8) Career transitions or job loss

Career changes or job loss can be stressful and fraught with emotion. If someone wants to discuss it with you, they will. Avoid probing questions that might add to their stress.

9) Educational background

Questions about why someone didn’t go to college or chose a particular school can be loaded and potentially embarrassing. It’s best to let them lead the conversation about their education.

10) Living situations

Asking why someone lives with their parents, a roommate, or in a particular location might seem innocent but can touch on sensitive issues like finances or personal choices.

Knowing when to keep quiet

Recognizing personal boundaries

We all have different comfort zones and personal boundaries. What’s acceptable for one person to discuss might be deeply private for another. 

Knowing how to recognize and respect these boundaries is essential.

For instance, I once asked a coworker about his weekend plans, only to learn that he was attending a sensitive family matter. 

That taught me a lesson in being mindful of probing too far and reminded me that not every question is appropriate. 

Recognize the signals and cues from others, and don’t press if you sense resistance.

Understanding the impact of good intentions

Good intentions can sometimes lead us astray. You may be asking something out of genuine concern or curiosity, but it might come off as nosy or insensitive. 

It’s essential to think before you speak and consider how your words might affect the other person. 

For example, asking about someone’s diet or health regimen may seem like you’re showing interest in their well-being, but it could also make them feel judged or self-conscious. 

Always be mindful of the impact your words might have, even if your intentions are pure.

The art of silence

There’s an old saying: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” 

Sometimes, the best way to show respect and understanding is to keep quiet. 

This doesn’t mean you should become a wallflower, but rather recognize that silence can be a powerful tool. 

In a conversation with a friend who was going through a divorce, I found that simply listening without offering advice or asking probing questions was more helpful to her. 

Understanding when to speak and when to remain silent is a valuable skill, showing empathy and giving space when it’s needed most. 

It’s not about ignoring or avoiding; it’s about knowing when your words can do more harm than good and choosing to offer a supportive presence instead.

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