8 Ways To Ease Yourself Out Of Nosy Questions Without Being Rude

If you have been reading my blog for a while, you would have noticed that I rarely talk about myself. I am no different in "real life" either. I consider myself to be a private person. My closest friends' and family, are the only ones that have the "inside scoop" on my personal life. So, you can imagine that I have a lot of experience fending off nosy questions!

Most of the time when someone asks you a nosy question, you are caught off guard. It can make you annoyed, angry and even depressed. Think about it. If you have been working on your fitness and trying to loose weight for the past 3 months, and out of nowhere you meet an old colleague who asks, "Are you pregnant?"
The list goes on...
"Why were you laid off?"
"When are you two planning on getting married?"
"Is your daughter adapted?"
"How come you still are single?"

I am sure that you can add a thing or two, as well! For each person the questions rub a different sensitive point. On the other hand for some of you, these questions may not be nosy.

I have always been troubled as to why people ask nosy questions. My research led me to the following.

  • They are unaware that it is a nosy question
  • People have different boundaries when it comes to their personal lives. The person asking you these questions may not consider it a “big deal” because it's not a big deal for him or her.
    For example, I know that some people are comfortable talking about their personal finances in public. No surprise, I am not one of them!

    Each question relates differently to different people. As a result even I could be asking a nosy question unknowingly.

    Another inexcusable reason is
  • They are curious
  • They want to feed their snooping mind with the details. It may be for casual conversation or to spread the word. Or simply, they just don’t have anything better to do!
    Some people think that they should be able to know, and don't understand "what the big deal is." Its not that it’s a big deal, I just think its personal!
The painful fact is nosy questions are everywhere. Being asked a personal question is not such a big deal if it is once in a while. For some people though, it becomes a habit to get the latest scoop on others' lives. They keep crossing the line whenever you meet them. Therefore, instead of letting them ruin the rest of your day, you should know how to handle, and get around, their questioning techniques.

#1. The subtle hint by repeating
Wear them down by cheerfully repeating the same answer.

Example,
“You two were an adorable couple. Why did you break up?”
"Oh, there were a lot of complicated practicalities,"

“But why did you break up?”
"Well, as I said, there were a lot of complicated practicalities,"
If needed followed by, "I told you that there were a lot of complicated practicalities."

#2. It depends on what the meaning of “is” is
Take Bill Clinton’s Grand Jury testimony, for example,
ATTORNEY: Whether or not Mr. Bennett knew of your relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, the statement that there was “no sex of any kind in any manner, shape or form, with President Clinton,” was an utterly false statement. Is that correct?

CLINTON: It depends upon what the meaning of the word “is” is. If the-if he-if “is” means “is and never has been and is not” –that is one thing. If it mean there is none, that was completely true statement.

Now how can one retort to such answer?

#3. Redirect the conversation
Otherwise known as changing the subject! You can build up on the question and say, “Now that you mentioned… ” or “I am going to get a drink, do you want one?” etc

Thinking of a way to redirect the conversation at the snap of a nosy question is always difficult. But surely with practice, you will be able to diligently master this technique.

#4. Smile and say nothing!
Where appropriate.
This works wonders in a phone conversation. Sometimes, I just laugh and then keep silent.

#5. Vague replies
“What’s your salary like?”

“Oh well, I earn enough to get by”
Warning: This method does not work with the stubborn variety of inquisitive people, though. They just continue asking with even more persistence.

#6. Get distracted!
Proceed to get up (if you're sitting) and walk to another place. Rummage through your handbag as if you remembered something. Pick up the newspaper or magazine and leaf through it. Take out your cell phone and go through your text messages. You get the point…

#7. Be Honest
Sometimes the best approach in dealing with nosy questions are to just come right out and say it.
Example,
"I'm not comfortable talking about the specifics of our finances."
They may still feel put off, but at least they'll understand why you're clamming up.

#8. Don’t feed information
If you are a private person, don’t give out your “private” information to each and everyone. If you do, it will be a breading ground for more inquisitive questions!

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37 comments:

Vered said...

Great advice.

Smiling, saying nothing and starting a new topic works well for me.

I think people are just unaware when they overstep boundaries and make someone uncomfortable.

Helen Burton said...

I love your post. I have learned that when someone asks a question I feel uncomfortable answering I just smile and ask a question about them or change the subject. My exerience is that they feel insecure and want to take the focus off them. Helen

frugalbabe.com said...

By the time I was about five months pregnant with our son, strangers began to comment on it. I didn't mind, because we were thrilled to be pregnant and people were invariably positive about it. But one guy (I only know him because he's a frequent patron at the library where I work), after verifying that I was indeed pregnant, asked "was it planned?". Happily in my case, it was, but how would a person feel if it wasn't, and they got asked that question?

Martin Wildam said...

I think there is a third reason for asking nose question (which somehow is related to the first you pointed out): People want to learn from others or search for confirmation from others and that's why they ask those questions.

Anonymous said...

intrusive & nosy people, asking personal questions:-

Most nosy people are unhappy or dissatisfied with their own lives. There is often a real void in their lives and they have to fill it with the lives and events of others, Quite sad really!

There are many strategies that you could try!

Here are some : -

You need to Practise them

1) Keep Pushing back the question to them (e.g. Q - "what are you doing this weekend?" A- "not sure, what are you doing?)


2) Answer questions briefly, with no explanation., avoid definite YES and NO answers. Do not "close" or "finish" questions". This will stop more questions coming and you will not be feeding the problem. Instead use humor, Vagueness, avoidance without divulging any real information. The person will give up when they realize they aren't getting proper answers.

examples:
Q) "are you going away?" A) not sure, don't know, be great if we could (AVOIDANCE, VAGUENESS)
Q) "are you dating anyone" A) we all need somebody (AVOIDANCE), why have you got someone for me (HUMOUR), lines of them (HUMOUR)
Q) "have you received any offers on your house" A) I leave it to the my husband, estate agents (AVOIDANCE), Its still on the market (AVOIDANCE)
Q) "Is that a brand new car" - It's a lovely model (AVOIDANCE), i fell in love with the colour
Q) are you working? A) all the time Q) where are you working? A) there's so much to do all the time Q) so what do you do Q) I do many things, i've got many skills (AVOIDANCE AVOIDANCE AVOIDANCE)
Q) "Have you put on weight?" Answer: "well, i can't see the scales anymore" (HUMOUR)


Avoid replies like: "thats a good question" as this encourages them to ask more personal questions.


3) Distraction,excuse or Change the subject immediately and Talk about something else. Q) "How much is your mortgage"? A) could you excuse me a second, my phone is ringing or I can't talk right now i'm in a rush, or ouch! my stomach... cramps! (anything really have a few ideas prepared).


** IN EVERYTHING HERE YOU ARE SUBTLY SENDING THE MESSAGES THAT YOU ARE NOT PREPARED TO ANSWER PERSONAL QUESTIONS ( the other person may have not been aware that they were being nosy and you have helped them)

4) Send subtle (disapproving) verbal and body language messages, to show show that you are not happy with the questions.
- Mumble, talk quieter and make it hard for the person to hear what you are saying
- ....use (mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm), (yeeeeesssssss( ohhh well!) ..... as if you are thinking about the question (the silence will be equally uncomfortable for them)...then change the subject.
- home in on one of the words and then answer a similar but different question (it will sound like you mis-heared them) e.g how long have you been trying for a BABY A) I know BABY's are so cute and cuddly). They may repeat the question but that would show how stupid and unobservant they are.
- Just talk nonsense (e.g Q - Are you in debt? A) oh yes, i came out of the house this morning and could't get the car started
- give the school-kid treatment "Nothing". What have you done at school today "Nothing", what did you have for lunch "Nothing".

Body language:
- Use all the facial expressions that you can think of to show disapproval.


If you feel that you must be truthful
Then keep your answers short and vague. I wouldn't say anything that sounds like your showing off or that things are better than they are. (The main cause of nosiness is that the person is unhappy with their lives)



Other things to bear in mind
-You may have to temporarily avoid the person If the nosiness is unbearable. But don't make the avoidance obvious. It's more about letting the other person know that you are a private person.

-If you can't avoid the person then keep the encounter short & polite (as you do not wish to hold a "dislike" or "hate" to the person). Keep optimistic that the person can change.

- model the correct behavior to the other person (i.e. don't ask intrusive questions to them). Ask gentle /unassuming questions (e.g. nice whether, nice day, oh nice to see the kids out playing etc.

Last resort
If the person's fails to understand your the subtle hints then you may have to be more direct and blunt, but try not to be rude. don't embarrass them , make them feel stupid or put them down


Here's some Lat Resort replies (when you have just about had enough): -

"No comment"
"secret information", i'd have to kill you (HUMOUR)
"That's a personal matter"
"now theres a question, do i have to answer that?"
"that's private"
"please, you are making me feel uncomfortable"

4) No matter how tempted you are to overreact, don't do it. The idea is to stay in control of the situation. As soon as you start getting defensive or going on the attack, you are no longer in charge


All this will take practice and trial and error. Don't worry if you mess-up. Go through each situation after the event and sort out what you should have done & what you will do next time. Before long things will become more and more automatic


***YOU HAVE GOT MY PERMISSION TO COPY AND PASTE AND RE-WRITE A BETTER VERSION, IN FACT I ENCOURAGE YOU TO DO SO!!!!

Anonymous said...

My wife and I are very happily married. By choice we have no children. People occasionally ask me 1.) If we have children; and 2) Why we don't have them?

My usual answer in order are: 1.) It makes us happy, and I'm all for happines; 2) Or, either of these two favorites: It's really none of your business, or why do you need to know?

Non Consumer Girls said...

On the occasions when I am asked a very uncomfortable question, I reply with " Why do you want to know that?"

It usually works, as a distraction at least in the meantime.

S. Godfrey said...

I agree that people are often nosy due to their own dissatisfaction with their own lives.

There is often a vibe that, their motivation is to elicit negative information. They want you to answer their questions in a way that makes you sound like loser. That way, they can either feel superior, or at least avoid feeling inferior.

They want you to describe your life, and yourself, as being just as inadequate as them, or worse. Any answers suggesting that you posses more resources or control than them, will result in them acting like those things should be negotiable with them, or that they are entitled to benefit from, or even destructively sabatage those things.

soldierette said...

20 years after my father died I still tear up when people ask me about it.

Personally, I think that asking for details of how a loved one died is extremely personal and somewhat rude.

I've actually had potential employers ask me how he died during job interviews!

Nowadays I say, very blunty, that I don't want to discuss it.

If anyone pushes, I tell them its none of their business!

Paula said...

How about if people decide to relax and not take things so personally? If I had to worry what everyone thought of me, I'd never say a word.

How else are you going to know someone if you don't ask questions? If you are uncomfortable, just say so!

Humans are social creatures. If you are so uncomfortable with sharing and giving information about yourself, you should consider boosting your confidence and looking within yourself and asking if this is a legitimate thing to not want to share with people.

Paula said...

Another example, to illustrate my point. I was at a mingling event for singles and asked a guy, after chatting with him for several minutes what he does for work and he got all defensive and didn't want to answer. He started to make me feel like some freak for asking, but that is a standard question to ask ANYONE!!

My impression of him was that I no longer trusted him and viewed him as shady.

If you want to be closed, then you have to realize how people will perceive you. It's better to be perceived as warm and friendly as opposed to cold, and secretive is it not?

That's why I think one has to self examine the things they don't like to talk about and maybe realize it's a neurotic quirk that maybe they should try to change and be more open.

Anonymous said...

I work with a lady who is the mother of all gossips. Her mission in life is to get into other people's business. What I cannot understand is that she has major issues of her own (i.e health problems, childless). Yet she has the nerve to probe into the personal matters of people.

Yummy said...

The old "what are you trying to hide" and "just trying to get to know you" are standard excuses for being nosy. "People want to learn from others or search for confirmation from others and that's why they ask those questions" is just a nice and long way to say NOSY. Sorry, maybe you're just a little bit curious about people and not quite the town gossip, but nosy is nosy.

Peppering people with questions within the first few minutes of meeting them is not "getting to know them". It's information gathering to see if they are worthy of your time. And we can see how this process works from the way Paula dismissed that guy as soon as he does not answer her first question to her satisfaction. It's really a very cold way to be "social".

Getting to know someone takes time. It's a wonderful thing to slowly become more familiar with someone by spending time with them until they can't help but reveal more and more about themselves. It's like how a good story doesn't give away all of the plot in the first few pages.

Some might ask "well, how do you know you want to spend all that time if you don't question the person to get some stats first?" The truth is, you don't know, not for sure. Someone can give you seemingly perfect answers in a Q & A session like great job, great car, went to a great school, live in a great neighborhood, charity work, fun hobbies, and you still don't know who they are, not really.

Go ahead and break the ice with the old "talk about the weather" or talk about the stuff around you. Just relax and see where it goes from there. People often reveal things about themselves without being asked point blank. It tends to be more natural and comfortable that way.

Anonymous said...

There used to be something called 'good manners'. Personal questions of any kind were considered rude and taboo. I still consider them rude, including the "what do you do for a living" question. This is not standard and asking it speaks volumes about the social immaturity of someone who thinks it is.

You never know what might be going on in someone else's life. Practicing good manners is about treating others with dignity and respect, and seeing to their ease and comfort. Interrogating someone with a list of personal questions is brazen. I don't know what happened to practicing good manners in social settings, but I'm glad to see Yummy's comment because it give me hope!

Rationalizing personal questions as "getting to know you", or "she means well" misses the important point that personal questions are NRVER innocent. Refusing to answer them remains a very appropriate and wise choice.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty open and love socializing, but when someone asks me what do i do and how much I make, that is awfully rude!! A good question to ask someone you've just met is how do you like to spend your time? If they love their job and want to discuss that, then that's great, but most people open up to their hobbies and interests. Point is: talking about professions and salaries definitely leaves things on a sour note. It's none of anybody's business!!!

Anonymous said...

It's great blog. Thanks for an advise. It takes time to learn how to behave in such a situation.
But what would you do in a case when it is your supervisor who is nosy. The person is using their position at work to put pressure on you to reply.

Anonymous said...

If the company has a human resources department, maybe they could help, though it might be a good idea to become familiar with the ways of the HR dept. first.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for a suggestion but unfortunately our HR is known for being useless in such a cases. They knew about bulling in another department and done nothing about it purely because it was easier to ignore it.
Also, I cannot see myself going there and saying that my supervisor is asking me ‘too much questions and is to nosy’. I think I need to sorted out by myself with this person. It is hard though.

Anonymous said...

It’s so good to see that there is some intelligent life here on planet earth, as evidenced by most of these comments.

The world seems to have plenty of nosy people, though some might feel they are “being friendly” or “showing interest”, but frankly I feel they have a strange and cold way of doing it.

The question of where I work or what I do for a living is the one that bugs me most of all, I’ve never had anyone ask how much I make, but I know that in many instances they’re wanting to size up my income level based on my occupation.

If I respond with a vague answer such as “I have a technical career”, the more obnoxious questioners will invariably think I owe them an explanation, and if I meet up with any more of these people in the future I’m going to respond with “WHY ARE YOU WORRIED ABOUT IT?”.

I don’t enjoy meeting new people because many are so hung up on a person’s occupation, it seems almost impossible to go places where people are reserved and intelligent enough to realize that people might be comfortable talking about jobs once a comfort zone is established; Even church congregations are bad this way.

Because so many people are hung up on who you are professionally before they decide if they want to be friends with you, I’ve about decided that a dog is the only living creature one should call a friend.

My precious Mother, God rest her soul, was of a mind that people who don’t want to talk about their occupation could be shady, underworld types, but she lived in more innocent times when people didn’t have such nefarious reasons for thinking they needed to know these things, and people were once better mannered than to pry into such a matter.

Many times, the people who are worst about asking intrusive questions are also the least willing to tell you much about themselves, it’s tempting to ask them “you’re intrusive enough to ask me such a question, why don’t you first tell me what YOU do for a living?”.

Anonymous said...

wonderful advice. I have a group of people very interested in me. They like to rub against me and ask all kinds of invasive questions, and to a large extent, ive been too friendly with folks in my life. Id suspect they wish to have sex with me, which, it just isnt going to happen. This group in particular seems to think certain persons are obligated to sleep with them...a ham fisted bit of political manipulation if ever i saw it. worst of all, it's well known if i did become involved with them, id eventually be the victim of a violent physical attack. Then, when you try to avoid them, your a racist. They even go further and think they know my sexual practices...and the powers that be have somehow placed them in charge of watching americans. HE HANGED UP!

Anonymous said...

Another thing to do is to throw a question back at them, such as "Why do you ask?"

Anonymous said...

I just respond to a nosy question by saying "Why do you want to know? It throws the attention back on the person asking, and the person asking is therefore required to come up with an explanation for why he or she is asking, which he or she is not expecting. I have literally seen people stiffen up when asked why he or she wants to know.

The person asking is not going to admit nosiness by saying "I just want to be nosy". For me this technique works every time.

Anonymous said...

I have religious relatives grill me about my other family members sex lives, marriage problems and sexual orientation. If you are not married, they gossip that you are gay, and if you are seeing someone - they want to know if the vows of christian chastity have been broken. I have had to distance myself from these people for my own sanity.

Anonymous said...

We are talking about extreme nosy people. I started being more open with nosy people when I analyzed what was I trying to hide, why couldn't I be more open. We were growing friendlier but I decided to keep my distance when I started noticing that they were trying to sabotage me. I had declared I was giving up on coffee, and what does she do, bring in coffee the next day. I didn't accept it and reminded her I gave it up. Same thing for the donuts. That's for the suggestion "Why do you need to know that?". I love that. That will be my remark to her. Another thing this lady as are many nosy people, she is a gossip so I didn't aprreciate her need to update everyone on my personal status. I avoid her now and don't provide any new info. Good luck. Don't let it get to you but do fade them out from your life. Some people (relatives) go as far as ask then preach about marriage or children. So I've learned its best not to answer.

Anonymous said...

When Thomas reads my diary to see what I wrote in it I tell him that it is none of his business what I write.

Anonymous said...

I am SO GRATEFUL to have found your blog. I cannot stand it when I choose in interact with people SOMEWHAT - and they feel they are entitled to assault me with a barrage of personal questions. If online, maybe I don't WANT to tell them where I live, Etc. - what I do for a living, etc. Maybe I just want to interact concerning what the forum TOPIC is about. Then - when I do not divulge all but my social security number and banking details (exaggerating here, but you get what I mean, I'm sure) --- they later snub me and ignore me - even though I tried very hard to apologize for not being an open book. "I'm sorry, I don't give out that information online." seems to make some of them turn into hatemongers. And some of these are the "religious" "godly" folk. Hahaha. Oh well - go figure. Additionally - any halfway cultured, educated person KNOWS that personal questions - especially to the reserved - are highly rude - if not completely taboo.

Anonymous said...

How do you answer the annoying question: "are you guys trying to get pregnant?". I am very sensitive to this question and many friends ask us ... They are not strangers but we don't want to discuss with them. They always continue to ask, even if I dodge the question. "you're already in your thirties - you can't wait forever."

TabbyCat said...

I'm fond of a simple and direct, "That's not your business." Sure, it's rude, but so is asking personal questions a person doesn't have a right to be answered. It gets the point across really quickly.

TabbyCat said...

I'm fond of a simple and direct, "That's not your business." Sure, it's rude, but so is asking personal questions a person doesn't have a right to be answered. It gets the point across really quickly.

concrete batch plant said...

They keep crossing the line whenever you meet them. Therefore, instead of letting them ruin the rest of your day, you should know how to handle, and get around, their questioning techniques.

Anonymous said...

My pet pieve is when someone very private asks you nosey questions and they never divulge anything to you after you confide in them.

concrete batch plant said...

I wouldn't say anything that sounds like your showing off or that things are better than they are.

S.S. said...

Excellent Blog!
I face this kind of people everyday, they are all over, we just need to build our safe barricades with words.
S.S.

Anonymous said...

Great Blog and comments from others! I grew up with an overbearing borderline mother who had no boundaries and never let me have any. I thought I had to relate to others by asking personal information, but something about it never felt quite right and occasionally elicited strange responses. I also felt as if I hadn't the ability to protect myself from other's intrusions. Unfortunately when I tried to set reasonable boundaries with my borderline mother I was disowned by my entire family and it took awhile to recover from that reality. This article really gave me a lot of clarity about my past interactions with others and how I wish to proceed in the future. It's such a relief to know that I don't have to intrude on other people and I don't have to let them intrude upon me either. Whew!!!

Anonymous said...

I have faced uncomfortable personal questions so many times from nosy colleagues. I don't want to be rude so this is how I handled some of them..Q1: What is your age (direct :)): Ans: Why do you want to know with real curious look on face.
Q2: How much did you buy your house for? Ans: I will tell you later. Q3: When are you planning for a baby. Ans: Will let you know when I plan one. Q4: Are you pregnant when I was 2 months prego so I did not want to tell anyone. Ans: Don't worry I will come by your desk to give you the good news. I will definitely want to share such a good news with everyone.

OMG but the questions never end you know. Don't you all think these are such personal and nosey questions none of anybody's business and the questions have come from my colleagues whom I am not very great friends with either.

DigitalCosmos said...

Nosey questions are often looking for vulnerabilities to shaft you at a time of their choosing. Especially from work colleagues. Or they are looking for advantage such as your income, investments or 'useful' people that you may know.

Its all very Darwinian and difficult and there is no fit-all solution.

But I have learnt some good tactics from this blog to protect me at the sports club I attend!! - lol

Anonymous said...

As someone else said, nosy is nosy. It's also pathetic. I have tried many approaches to get someone to back off and stay out of my business. One that keeps me calm is avoding contact with certain people. It's really quite ridiculous to have to do that but some people are so clueless and just don't get it. Also, if someone perceives that I have something to hide if I don't share that's their problem-not mine. If I choose to share, it's up to ME with whom I share and how much. Nobody has a right to make that decision for me. Seriously, people MYOB and get a life.

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