How To Avoid Making The Great American Social Mistake

I can think of five "good" reasons why we would begin an ambiguous social situation by asking "What do you do?":
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"What do you do for a living?"

Ahhh, the go-to question for most American men in a new social situations, usually with male strangers.

Living equals working when make strangers talk for the first time.

American "man code" deems it acceptable to learn of a stranger's occupation before anything else. (I can't speak for women in this scenario, but feel free to comment below if it resonates with you as well.)

Of course, you have the option of hiding behind your phone and checking his or her Linkedin profile to see if his job is even worth talking about. This strategy works well if you fear the conversational unknown.

In a professional setting it makes sense to talk about work, but why can't we put work away when we have the chance to talk about other things?

I can think of five "good" reasons why we would begin an ambiguous social situation by asking "What do you do?":

1) In the Age of the Short Attention Span, it makes sense to get immediate feedback on whether this person is worth your time investment. Also, with all of our messaging, video conferencing, emailing, Tweeting, and Facebooking, we're gradually forgetting how to relate to people in the flesh.

2) You ask about his so you can talk about yours. Talking about your occupation would be intensely satisfying if you're proud of a recent work victory or a change in your professional identity.

3) You have no idea what to talk about other than what you do for a living. You have few hobbies or interests. Life is work for you.

4) You've been conditioned to ask this question. The thought of discussing your private life with a relative stranger is anxiety-provoking.

5) You suffer from social anxiety, which limits your mental freedom to talk about risky and personal topics.

A conversation with an unfamiliar person can be steered in many directions, yet it's as though there's some strange, magnetic, American pull toward the topic of work as quickly as possible.

Yes, it's absolutely normal to feel nervous and uncomfortable when you're expected to create conversation with someone new for more than a few moments. Discussing work makes total sense since we all expect it, but does that make it a good choice?

Americans pay a heavy price for requiring passage through unnecessary and meaningless social niceties in order to get to the good stuff.

Unless you're passionate about your job and you've established some semblance of a "work-life balance" (an unattainable, silly ideal for most of us), it's not so healthy to avoid sharing more about yourself with someone new.

This habit is usually a sign that you haven't properly invested in finding and carrying out your passions.

If you're passionate about non-work activities, you'll want to talk about them. If you lack passions in your life, then work is a safe topic.

Take a moment to consider how much you tend to discuss work in ambiguous social situations. If you are a what-do-you-do-for-work kind of person, then it's a sign you need to invest more time in things that make you happy.

Many of us struggle with social anxiety. We enter a room filled with unfamiliar people and our thoughts begin to race. We wonder how we're being judged by others. We have very specific fears about the worst judgments someone can make.

Social anxiety seems to be an even larger issue among younger generations who've been raised on screens and who prefer texting over face-to-face communication.

Here's a quick conversational tip for people who grapple with social anxiety:

Enter an ambiguous social situation prepared with in-depth knowledge of one or two topics you feel comfortable talking about. Reading the New York Times, Time Magazine or some other news source that explores issues on a deeper level. This way you can always steer the conversation toward one of your comfortable topics if you're super nervous. Ideally, you will choose topics you're passionate about.

It's much easier to talk about our passions. Challenge yourself to avoid discussing your job. This will help you to value your passions more. Try to get at what your conversation partner is passionate about. Avoid asking about his or her job.

If the person you just met keeps talking about his or her job, allow him or her to talk about work for a bit and then try to steer the conversation toward what you're both passionate about in life. Let him or her speak as much as you do.

I promise you you'll get more out of the conversation.

Why do I consider this social behavior to be an American issue?

Americans seem to work more than people from most other countries. It's how we spend most of our time, so we define ourselves by what we do for a living.

In order to maintain our consumer-driven culture, we have to work long hours to afford stuffing our lives with material goods.

Feel free to comment below. I will respond to every single one.

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Dr. Greg Kushnick, the Founder of Techealthiest, strives to offer readers the most actionable tips on the web for living powerfully. He is on a mission to teach the world the technology of health and happiness.

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