Do you ask people questions about themselves?

My friend L and I had been hanging out together for a few months, but they almost never asked me how I was doing or what was up with me.

One day they were upset with me; they said, “You never tell me what's going on with you!”

I replied, “You never ask!”

And L told me that in their family, you didn't ask people questions. If someone wanted to tell you something about themselves, they would. If they didn't want to tell you, then asking them would be rude, an invasion of privacy.

I was shocked. I've encountered a lot of people who never ask me about myself, but it had never occurred to me that that might be a family-cultural difference, that they might be waiting for me to volunteer information about myself.

I'm very far on the opposite end of the spectrum; I often have a hard time saying anything at all about myself if someone doesn't explicitly indicate interest by asking.

But since I learned that different people have different approaches to this kind of thing, I've asked other people about it, and have found a few others who were also raised in families that didn't ask questions about each other.

So I'm interested in hearing from more people, and in further discussion. Do you ask people questions about themselves and what they've been up to lately? Or do you expect them to volunteer information if they want to tell you something?

(See also Facebook thread for this post.)

2 Responses to “Do you ask people questions about themselves?”

  1. brainwane

    Oooh, what an interesting question.

    I do ask friends about themselves and about how their lives are going, and if the other partner in a two-person conversation doesn’t reciprocate by asking about me, I will notice that and make some negative mental judgments. But I try not to ask what I think of as intrusive or judgmental questions, and I get prickly if conversation partners ask questions of me that feel intrusive or judgmental. (In my family, it’s most common that people ask each other lots of questions — and give each other a lot of unsolicited advice, which grates on me.)

    I have a habit of asking how a friend is doing at the beginning of a conversation, and also specifically following up on other parts of a friend’s life if I haven’t heard about it yet in the catching-up conversation — for instance, “what are you reading?” and “how are your jobs/endeavors/projects?” and asking about health and relationships.

    I do figure that my friends will, of their own accord and near the start of a conversation, initiate disclosures of news that is big to them. But I know that doesn’t happen all the time and I am fine with finding out many minutes in, after I ask about some topic area of their life.

    • Jed

      Thanks for the comments!

      I think your comments about intrusive or judgmental questions clarify something that I was having a hard time understanding from some people’s responses to this post on Facebook; thanks! That makes sense.

      The kinds of questions I was thinking of are the non-intrusive and non-judgmental kind, ranging from a general “How are you?” (which some people consider the minimal baseline but others never ask at all) to followups on things you know about the person, like “I heard you injured your leg–how’s it feeling?” But I neglected to explain what kinds of questions I was talking about, so I think different people interpreted this post in different ways. My focus was meant to be on the kind of questions that provide the other person with some space to tell you about stuff if they want to.

      I also think intrusiveness levels can vary with how close you are to the other person. (Though your example of family makes clear that things aren’t always that simple.) But I feel like “How are you?” (for example) is a reasonable question to ask a total stranger as well as a close friend (though I expect very different kinds of answers in those two contexts).


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