Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


Fightin’ words: Questions to avoid asking (or answering) at work

I can’t believe he asked me who I was going to vote for.  We have a private ballot box for a reason!

It can be tempting to ask provocative, challenging or personal questions. What’s the harm in finding out who your colleagues think should win the election, or asking their opinions about the death penalty?

Don’t do it. I know that asking questions is one of the ways to engage with people. Yet, if you ask certain types of questions, you could embarrass people or get an answer you didn’t expect, or want.The discussion that follows can quickly escalate into an argument, and easily become heated. 

Avoid asking the following types of questions: 

1. Questions involving money. These include anything along these lines:
--“How can you afford that handbag (or those fancy shoes)?”
--“How much money do you make?”
--“What did you pay for your house?”

The answers to questions like these are not your business, and by asking them, you are likely to make the other person uncomfortable.

2. Political questions. These include, “For whom are you going to vote?” or “How can you vote for...?”  Your opinion of the person you’re questioning can be altered, often negatively, if he or she is not voting for your candidate. And the other person’s opinion of you may change, too.

3. Questions on controversial topics. These are similar to political questions. If you ask someone about his or her opinion on the death penalty, animal rights, abortion, etc., you may get an answer you weren’t expecting. You could subsequently get into an unpleasant exchange, as these are the kinds of topics on which people try to change other’s beliefs.

4. Very personal questions. These include, “What’s your sexual orientation?” “How old are you?” “Are you pregnant?” (Avoid this one at all costs!)  “Are you having an affair with_____?” If your colleague wanted you to know the answers to these questions, he or she would have told you.

5. Negative questions. These include such questions as: “How can you stand working with _____?”  “Don’t you think the boss’s position on ______ is outrageous?”  “Why did you cut your hair/shave your beard? I liked it better the other way.” These questions are really judgment statements, and can become fighting words.  

Additional information on making conversation can be found in my book The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat, and Tweet Your Way to Success. 

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on communication, business writing, presentation skills, professional presence, and etiquette. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141. 


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  3. Anonymous6/19/2016

    In answer to the question "How are you going to vote?", reply "By secret ballot."

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