“What do you do?”? is the easy default opener when meeting someone new. With just one question we learn so much about a person as their identity is often wrapped up in their job. “I’m an accountant, a teacher, or a nurse” is an easy way for people to find a launching pad for conversational connections.

But for the 30 million who are unemployed right now, “What do you do?” becomes tricky. It can even bring on waves of shame or self-doubt, even though it shouldn’t. What you do is a vastly different proposition than who you are. That hasn’t changed whether or not you have a current position; if you were talented, amazing, generous and creative before the pink slip, you remain so today.

Be conscious of those who are seeking jobs right now and rephrase your introductory questions or casual queries. Things like: “Tell me a nugget about yourself; What’s something you learned in the last month?, or What do people say about you a lot?” get the conversation rolling without that awkward moment of angst for those who don’t have a position or title to share with you right now.

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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