BLUF :  High C with High S tendancies needs more examples of Good/Bad topics

I have been listening to MT for 5 years now and have taken much of the advice about building relationships as a co-worker and a manager very much to heart.

MT says a good judgement about a manager's relationship with directs is if he knows the names of their spouse and kids.

And yet, this recent Podcast seems to say that asking for specifics about spouses and kids is out of bounds.

I have directs whom I know little about their home life.  I have asked general questions about home life, but they have never told me about roomates, children or significant others.  They have been directs for a few years, and my Boss (thier skip) seems to know more about them than I do.

Yes, I do try to engage them in small talk, but they do not open up to me.

By the advice of this cast it seems right that I have not directly asked them about it.

* By the advice of this postcast some of the normal rules for small talk do not seem to apply -- Such as asking open ended questions.

How do I square the "A manager should know the names of a direct's spouse and kids" with this advice to not pry into personal lives and realtionships ?

* Please, what other topics should I avoid ?

Can I ask if they have a hobby ?

Can I ask them open ended questions -- Like -  "How was your weekend, oh tell me about it." ?

Can I ask "Where did you grow up ?, Where are you from ?"  - I suppose that some people might not want to talk about thie origins.

Please -- this cast has me very concerned that I might "step into it".






wendii's picture
Admin Role Badge

Hi UncleA - I'm sorry we confused you with the two sets of instructions.  
There's a difference between a casual Monday morning: "Hey, have a good weekend, do anything interesting?"​and "Did you do something with your husband over the weekend?​"
One's a casual open-ended question, and the other assumes that someone a) has a husband and b) wants to do something with the​m.  ​
​If they say​, "I went line-dancing", then "oh, that sounds like fun!" is a continuation of the conversation, without asking prying questions about who they were were with.

The other part I think you're missing (which means we didn't make it clear enough, not that you missed it) is paying attention to what people say to you.   For instance, if none of your directs have ever had to take a day off because a child was sick, then perhaps they don't have school age children.  
If they do take the day off, when they come back, you can say "I do hope your child is feeling better".  Your direct may or may not give you more details, and that's their choice.  They'll probably at least say "yes, he's feeling more himself", at which point you know they have a boy!
If they have a photo on their desk, you can say "what a lovely picture".  (Don't assume the relationship between the person and the people in the picture).  Most people will tell you who they are.  You can do this now, even if the picture's been there for a year.  Just say, "Every time I come over to your desk, I think, what a lovely picture and I realize I've never complimented you on it". 
People often tell you where they grew up, what they like to do, who lives with them in oblique ways.  Pay attention.  Most people don't hear them, because they're too busy thinking about themselves.
Finally, there is one really good opportunity to find out about people - when someone new joins your team.  Go out to lunch and have your current team tell the new person something about themselves.  You can start, and if you include your family and hobbies, others will follow suit with as much as they feel comfortable with.  You can do this if your team is working with someone new in a different team, or a contractor or temp starts with you - it doesn't need to be something permanent.   It's better if this is in an informal setting, but if you have to do it on a conference call, you can do that too.
Does that help?

uncleauberon's picture

Thanks Wendii !

It Helps a little - but there is so much subtlety.

You might think I am being overly scrupulous or a bit daft but, 

I am often prescriptive.  It helps me more if I have a list of Yes and No topics.

So what you are saying is that I should not ask my directs if they have kids and what are their names.

So that I can write that into my O3 notebook.

I've done that ---  was I wrong to do that ?   I should not just come about and ask them ?  


I'm encouraging my Directs to build relationships in the organization.

I've asked my Directs to engage in small talk with colleagues and workmates around the organization. (My High C Directs hate this assignment - It goes something like -- "Meet 2 new people in the Org this Year and engage in small talk" )

Get to know folks around the Org a little, ask them about hobbies and stuff.  Where they are from etc ...

I shouldn't do that ?  Or Just make sure that they ask about work related stuff.


It seems like even asking if they had a fun and interesting weekend, that some folks might see that as judgemental.

What books are you reading ?  Tell me about the most recent movie you have enjoyed ?

The High C in me - either wants a clear list of questions I am allowed to ask -- or I'll just stay in my office and not do the small talk thing at all.

I think I need some more training in Small talk.   I've heard the Small Talk PodCast --- Perhaps I need to revisit that. 

I look forward to Part 2 of sensitive Topics to help me sort this out.

(Yes, I am exaggerating a bit.  My managerial role has forced me to attend a lot of events and work on my small talk and relationships.  I thought I've been doing well, but this PodCast got me a little scared)