DEAR ABBY: I am a big fan and read your column daily. I am writing because I have a very hard time making conversation. I read your mother's booklet which suggests asking people questions about themselves to stimulate dialogue.
Apparently, I am doing something wrong because family and friends accuse me of "interrogating" them. I'm not! I am truly just trying to chat. I have also failed several job interviews, so I must be missing something.
What's the correct way to have a conversation? How many questions are too many? How do I make amends to the people who aren't speaking to me anymore? I honestly never meant to offend anyone. Thank you very much for your help. -- IGNORANT, NOT INTERROGATING
DEAR "IGNORANT": You may have taken my late mother's advice too literally. What she was trying to convey is that people are usually attracted to those who find them interesting, and asking a question is a conversation opener and a way to draw someone out.
However, conversations are supposed to be an exchange of information. Because people accuse you of "grilling" them, you may be asking a barrage of questions without giving anything back. A better example of a conversation starter might be:
Q. "How was your weekend? We went skiing on Sunday afternoon." Then describe something that happened. (Saw the cutest family, got a nasty sunburn, etc.)
Q. "Did you hear about (insert news item). I was really surprised (shocked, fascinated, etc.)." Express how it affected you and ask what the person thinks about it.
You may have better luck with this approach.