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5 Questions Emotionally Intelligent People Don't Ask

Avoid asking questions that make people uncomfortable and self-conscious.

Anthony Tran/Unsplash
Source: Anthony Tran/Unsplash

For many, the holidays are the most stressful time of the year. They represent a time when we can reconnect with friends and family and update them on our lives. Unfortunately, this sets us up for awkward questions about what we have (or haven’t) accomplished during the year.

We all know the questions — the blunt, awkward, and direct comments that usually arise when alcohol is involved. These questions can borderline on overstepping — and other times are so completely inappropriate it gives us whiplash.

What’s worse, the people who usually ask these questions may have low emotional intelligence, and as a result, miss important social cues. They lack an awareness of themselves and how they affect other people. This can set up problems, especially over the holidays.

People with low emotional intelligence may ask prying, intrusive, and unhelpful questions. Instead of asking to build relationships, they ask questions that make people uncomfortable and self-conscious. Here are five questions such people may ask over the holidays — and what to ask instead.

1. When are you getting a real job?

There is so much judgment in this question. Asking this implies that somebody doesn’t already have a real job or that they shouldn’t be happy with their job. By asking this, others believe you don’t think a job is worth pursuing just because of income or status. This simply isn’t true, and it can push people away.

Try instead:

  • “What projects are you working on these days?”
  • “What are your aspirations at work?”
  • “I’d love to hear more about your work and how you’re finding it so far.”

Express genuine interest. Show people that it’s fine to be where they are now while showing interest in their aspirations, dreams, and passions. If the person is happy in their current work and isn’t pursuing any side projects, work to be genuinely happy for them.

2. When are you having kids?

Emotionally unintelligent people have no idea that others have different life circumstances. They ask questions assuming that everyone has the same timeline, goals, and ideas. This is very problematic, especially around the “kids” conversation.

Hundreds of circumstances lead to the answer to this question. Some couples, women, or people don’t want children. Others struggle with infertility or health issues that complicate the prospect of children. Others could be actively struggling with the decision whether or not to have kids. Regardless, it is nobody’s business when or whether or not you are having children.

Try instead:

  • Nothing. Just don’t ask about kids. It’s truly none of your business.

If someone brings up the “kids” conversation on their own, by all means, act interested and ask follow-up questions. But unless that happens, just don’t do it.

3. Have you gained/lost weight?

This question shows a complete lack of awareness. Most people who comment on weight think they are giving a compliment, but appearance-related comments can be harmful to self-esteem.

Similar to the “kids” question, so many circumstances contribute to someone’s weight. They may be genuinely trying to gain or lose weight — but it’s much more likely they naturally gained/lost weight, have a health condition, found a new love for exercise, gained muscle mass, are recovering from an eating disorder, or are so depressed they’re struggling to feed themselves. You have no idea. And praising someone for their weight loss (or gain) when they are going through tough circumstances is incredibly hurtful and invalidating.

Further, it’s probable their weight hasn’t actually changed since you last saw them. Our body weight can fluctuate up to 6 pounds per day — which means we may look or feel different just based on bloating, hydration, or the state of our bowels.

There are so many other, more meaningful questions you can ask. Tell the people you love that you love them not for their weight but for the internal characteristics that make them special.

Try instead:

  • “I love how optimistic you are.”
  • “You are such a generous person.”
  • “I really appreciate your sense of humor.”

4. Why aren’t you dating/married?

Emotionally intelligent people don’t ask questions that start with “Why aren’t you….” Anytime you ask this, you are implying that someone isn’t where they “should” be, and people’s immediate response is to become defensive. This sets the holiday up for frustration.

People have different timelines. People have different life circumstances. And people have different preferences. Assuming that all people 1) want to get married or 2) are ready to get married is egocentric.

Try instead:

  • “Tell us more about the relationships in your life.”
  • “Have you made any new friendships recently?”
  • “How is your support system?”

The key here is to show people you care about their well-being and want them to have relationships, so they feel supported. Feeling supported is not dependent on a romantic relationship.

5. How much money are you making these days?

Money is a taboo subject in general. Of course, different people have different views on money — and yet, regardless of your views, it’s unhelpful to come out with awkward and blunt questions like this.

Try instead:

  • “How is work going these days?”
  • “What other positions/projects are you passionate about?”

Feel free to ask follow-up questions about promotions or room to grow in the company as it feels appropriate. But don’t just come right out and ask people how much money they make. Again, it’s none of your business.

The Takeaway

The holidays mark a time when everyone is prone to receiving prying, intrusive questions. Don’t be the person who asks them. Increase your emotional intelligence by asking other, more meaningful questions instead.

Emotionally intelligent people understand how their comments and questions affect others. They know how to engage in holiday talk that builds relationships rather than breaking them down.

To be more emotionally intelligent, ask about hobbies, general relationships, passion projects, and aspirations. Compliment others’ internal characteristics. In this way, you can build stronger relationships this holiday season.

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