Sadly, nosy questions are inevitable when you’re socializing.
The problem with a nosy question is that everyone has different standards for what nosy means. What you find intrusive, your conversation partner may be perfectly happy talking about.
So when they ask those questions, they aren’t necessarily trying to make you feel awkward or uncomfortable in the conversation.
Busybodies are a different problem. These are people who are fishing for information to use negatively. They might want to use it to start drama, gossip, or judge you for how you conduct your life.
The busybody is always trying to get into other peoples’ business because they want to use your business as their entertainment. If it’s a friend, relative, or coworker, they may want that information to try to use it as leverage to influence you.
A single person may have their parent asking them when they are going to get a partner. People in a relationship may be asking when they are going to get married. Married people may be asked when they are going to have kids. They may ask about finances, what you do in your home, what kind of extracurricular activities you’re getting up, why you’re doing this, why you’re not doing that.
On and on the intrusive questions go. Dealing with nosy people and their questions doesn’t have to be complicated, though. There are things you should and shouldn’t do when handling those nosy questions.
1. Don’t lie about the answers.
It may be tempting to make something up to get a nosy person off your back, but don’t do it. This can easily come back around to you later.
You may have just met someone and you’re in the process of getting to know one another, they ask you a question you’re not comfortable with, you don’t tell them the truth, and now you have that lie hanging between you.
What happens if you become closer friends? You may not feel comfortable answering their question right now, but maybe you will later on when you get to know each other better.
You’ll either have to maintain the lie, which gets exhausting and annoying really quick. Or you’ll need to confess that you lied and hope that person won’t think you’re just a dishonest person. They may even find out on their own volition through a third party later on.
Whatever you do, don’t lie if you can avoid it. Lying will end badly for you.
2. Understand and speak up about your boundaries.
People won’t always realize when they’re coming close to one of your boundaries. You have to be willing to speak up about it and inform them that they have encountered one.
All you should have to say is, “I don’t really feel comfortable talking about that. Can we talk about something else?”
Reasonable, well-meaning people are going to respect that. They understand that there are some things you don’t want to talk about. And guess what? They probably have things they aren’t comfortable talking about either!
Be vocal if you feel like someone is getting a little too close to your boundaries for comfort.
3. Prepare soft answers ahead of time.
Preparing an answer ahead of time can take some of the awkwardness out of the situation. If there is a question you are often asked that feels inappropriate or causes you to stumble, consider having an answer ahead of time, so you don’t really have to think about it.
“That’s not something I’m comfortable talking about.” works just fine in most scenarios.
But, if you do want to answer so you can get people to stop asking, then it might be worthwhile to develop an answer you can be comfortable with.
For example, in the scenario where someone is asking when you are going to have children, you can answer with something like, “Maybe in the future.” or “We’re not planning on having any kids.”
4. Tell them the unfiltered truth.
The other option for derailing a nosy person is just to give them the unfiltered, unvarnished truth, so they stop asking questions.
“We’ve tried to have kids, but it resulted in miscarriages, so we’re not having kids.”
It can be uncomfortable, but sometimes that is the best way to get someone who can’t take a hint to back off if you’re okay with going down that route. After all, people don’t always consider the uglier aspects of life and humanity when they ask questions.
Sometimes we don’t want to answer because a situation is too hurtful or has too much pain attached to it. And sometimes it’s helpful to remind the nosy person that there’s a reason not to ask so many questions.
Only if you’re comfortable with that, though. You don’t owe anyone anything.
5. Change the subject or deflect.
A good way to keep the conversation moving and away from the sensitive subject is to deflect and change the subject.
All you need to do is say something like, “I’m not comfortable answering that question, but hey, how are your kids doing?”
Not only can you shift the conversation, but you also avoid any potential for awkward silences in which the person might begin to feel self-conscious or inadequate about asking the question. Instead, you can move straight on to a different subject.
If they have any social grace at all, they will understand what you’re doing and follow the lead that you’re trying to set.
But, if they don’t, then they may come back around to it, in which case you may want to take a harder approach of restating your desire to not talk about the thing.
6. Consider if you are sending the appropriate message.
What kind of questions are you asking? Are your questions generally intrusive or personal?
Because if you’re asking personal questions, then the person you’re talking to may be responding to your social cue by asking their own personal questions.
There are different levels of appropriate conversation, depending on how well you know a person. They may think that their level of question is appropriate for the situation.
If you’re not a comfortable conversationalist, you may want to take some time to consider what kind of questions are appropriate for you to ask of a new acquaintance or friend, so you have it ready to go in future conversations.
Working that out ahead of time means you don’t have to try to do it on the spot, which can be more uncomfortable or awkward for you.
7. Become the Gray Rock.
If polite deflection or boundary setting doesn’t work, you always have the option to become the Gray Rock.
The Gray Rock is a strategy for dealing with narcissists and people who look for information to use as ammunition against you. The idea is to make yourself a gray rock – be as dull, boring, and uninteresting as possible.
You do this through vague responses that answer the question but offer no real information.
“How are you doing?”
“Oh, I’m fine. And you?”
“Do you know anything about X and Y’s break up?”
“Nope. I don’t know anything at all.”
“When are you and your partner going to have kids?”
“I don’t know.”
Dull, uninteresting, unexciting, and disengaged. The person will usually lose interest and move on to something more exciting for them.
The Gray Rock method is an excellent way to navigate undesirable social situations that you may not otherwise be able to avoid.
Remember, though, try to avoid lying as much as possible. If they figure out that you lied, that may just pique their interest more and increase their nosiness.
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