Of moderate irritation to me of late is the question, “So, what’s new with you?” when posed in a social setting with people I haven’t seen in a while. Here’s what that question really means.

If you’re single, they want to know if you’re dating someone.
If you’re dating someone, they want to know if you’re engaged.
If you’re married, they want to know if you’re pregnant.
If you have a child, they want to know if you’re having more children.

If the answer to any of the above is “no,” and thus “What’s new with you?” is answered by, “Not much,” the conversation often ends awkwardly and abruptly. In truth, there’s probably a lot going on with you, but you blank out when seated on the interrogation chair at a wedding reception or baby shower.

To combat this kind of boring and uninformative parlance, I’ve begun to keep a list of questions to ask in these situations:

What are you excited about right now?
What lessons have you learned lately?
What big successes have you had recently?
What is the most fun thing you’ve done since I last saw you?

These almost always precipitate an engaging dialogue, often sending the other person away thinking, consciously or not, that you are a terrific conversationalist.