Bruce Clements: Questions You Should Never Ask

Mar 31, 2014

Credit Ben R/flickr creative commons

From Faith Middleton: Never ask a seriously sick person what she needs, despite the best intentions. Your sick friend will be better off if you select something and offer your services with confidence. She or he will tell you if it's needed. The idea is not to put an added burden of choice on someone ill.

If you're job hunting, never ask the interviewer in your first meeting how quickly you can move up the food chain, or about the benefits. If you were hiring to accomplish a set of tasks, would you be happy to know the candidate wants out of your department as fast as is humanly possible? And while benefits and salary are crucial, it's important not to make it all about you. Better not to ask until the person doing the hiring brings it up.

These are two suggestions among millions about what one shouldn't ask in various situations. To consider them is to adopt a measure of civility, and lessen the chances of offending those whom you wish not to offend.

In preparing for an interview I'm doing on stage at Wesleyan University this Saturday, where I'll talk with authors Michael Cunningham and Colum McCann as part of The Sasha Writing Conference, I've been thinking about what not to ask.

One thing I will not say is, where do your ideas come from? Or what was once asked of me on book tour for something I wrote: "What's your book about?"

I don't remember my answer. Perhaps I said, "Huh?" Or, I looked like a deer in the headlights, since it never occurred to me that I would be asked this by a person who had chosen to, or been assigned to, interview me. I had this daffy idea that the interviewer would have glanced at the book jacket flap copy. This is why I am generally sympathetic to writers, like other artists, who've been through the nutty parts of the publicity tour. (Needless to say, but make no mistake, I have asked my share of questions I regret.)

We have links to stories that will, hopefully, enlighten you, as they have enlightened us, about what you should rarely ask in a given situation, including, as mentioned, on job interviews, and of someone very sick

As my guest Bruce Clements will explain during our live call-in, there are also moments when we feel pressure not to inquire, yet should. Think of the controversial arena of adolescents, who often see themselves as invincible, and venture into worlds from which they should be protected. Independence vs. parental control.

Tell us if you've been asked questions you wish hadn't been asked, or if you, like Bruce and me, have been the one asking an inappropriate question, tell us about that, too.

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  • Bruce Clements is our senior contributor, a young adult novelist, former board chair of The Children's Law Center in Hartford, a divorce mediator, and a former literature professor at Eastern Connecticut State University.


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