By Robin Abrahams
November 12, 2007 | 10:14 AM
So here's a little bit of advice that I've never been able to condense into the 75 words or less that I get for the "My Words" that accompany my column:
If you're asking someone for a favor, or asking them a question that you feel might be a bit personal, make it a "multiple choice" rather than an "essay" question. In other words, phrase the question so that you give the person an automatic out.
"I've got a friend in from out of town the night of your dinner party. Can I bring him?"
... can leave someone feeling awkward if they have to say no. It's better to phrase it like this:
"I've got a friend in from out of town the night of your dinner party. Can I bring him, or do you need to keep the guest list down?"
And this question--"Are you guys planning to get married"--can leave people feeling judged or hassled. If you must ask, better to say, "Are you guys planning to get married, ever, or do you figure if it ain't broke, don't fix it?" (Similarly, "Do you plan to have kids, or is that dog/yoga practice/job of yours keeping you busy enough?")
If you're wondering about the status of some longstanding project, "How's the kitchen remodel going, or are you sick of talking about it?" is a tactful way of asking.
After a while you'll find yourself getting into the habit of asking questions with an "or" clause automatically. ("Honey, do you want another cup of coffee, or should I go soak my head?")
Some people are of the opinion that "personal" questions should never be asked. I think this is ridiculous. Our society is individualistic and disconnected enough already. Ask, if you genuinely care. But ask in such a way that the person you are asking knows that any answer--including, "you know, I don't like to discuss that"--is perfectly okay.