Your Office Coach: Develop a conversational escape plan

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Posted: Sunday, April 13, 2014 12:00 am

Q: I’m having difficulty with the person who was recently assigned to be my mentor. “Mark” is supposed to help me learn procedures in the research lab where I work as a graduate assistant. Although we get along well, he tends to ask a lot of personal questions.

Every Monday, for example, Mark asks what I did over the weekend. If I mention eating out, he wants to talk about the restaurant. Whenever I wear something new, he asks where I bought it, then makes comments about the store. Sometimes his questions sound like lectures. For instance, he might say, “Do you know how much salt is in those chips?”

This makes me uncomfortable, but since Mark will be grading me on my lab assignment, I don’t want to offend him. Do you have any advice?

A: While some people hate divulging personal information, others view their life as an open book and will happily share almost anything. If you and Mark are at opposite ends of this spectrum, you may have conflicting communication styles. His questions don’t sound particularly intrusive or creepy, so he’s probably just trying to make conversation.

To evade these inquiries without being rude, you need a conversational escape plan. One simple strategy is to provide a brief answer, then quickly change the subject. For example, when Mark asks what you did on the weekend, just smile and say, “Nothing very interesting.” Then introduce a work-related topic before he has time for another question.

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