We have all dealt with nosey people in our lives. Some individuals just don’t have a sensitivity filter. We see this all the time:
- Direct questions from people you don’t know
- Intrusive or highly personal conversations that do not feel appropriate
- Controversial statements made to elicit a response
So how can you manage nosey people, and deflect uncomfortable conversations without causing offense?
Tact is a valuable skill, and those who do not understand personal boundaries lack it. Here are some ways to use your politeness to avoid being drawn into conversations, or answering questions, that you do not wish to.
Just say you aren’t comfortable!
This isn’t always the easiest response, but in some situations simply telling someone you’d prefer not to discuss it is the quickest way to shut down the topic.
For example, if someone asks whether you are planning to have children, you could try responding, ‘I’m sorry; I’d prefer not to talk about it. Why don’t you tell me about your family?’
Very often personal questions aren’t meant to cause upset or offense. Particularly coming from a stranger, the question might be intended as a conversation starter where they are looking for something in common. Turning it around can deflect the discussion and allow them to talk instead.
Use your intuition
It is sometimes quite obvious that you are encountering a nosey person who is gearing up to ask all sorts of intrusive questions. Situations like sitting next to nosey people on a plane are perfect examples, where you can’t walk away and don’t particularly want to talk about the details of your divorce at length with a stranger.
If you feel like an uncomfortable conversation is about to begin, use a distraction technique to signal that you don’t wish to chat. Put in your headphones, start watching a movie, open your book or take a nap.
Are they being nosey?
Situations that are emotional for us might not be seen as sensitive areas for everyone. If you are asked an awkward question, try pausing to consider why you think this person is being nosey.
They might innocently be asking a question, and mean no offense by it. It is easy to bristle at something relevant or causing stress in your life, so remember that other people won’t know you have just been through a break-up, and haven’t intended to upset you by asking.
Maintain conversational boundaries
Some people are intrusive because they love sharing all the juicy details of their own intimate life! However, this doesn’t apply to everybody, and you need to be able to stand your ground and not answer personal questions that you find inappropriate.
There are a few responses that can help demonstrate that you don’t wish to answer, without seeming rude or showing that you might have taken offense:
- Why do you ask that?
- I’m afraid there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to answer that!
- That’s an interesting question – what about you?
- It’s a sensitive subject for me, so why don’t you tell me about your experience?
- That is a bit too complicated to get into!
Money, money, money
Aside from personal relationships, one of the awkward questions most often asked is about money. Some of us are happy to share what we paid for our new home, or how much we are investing in our children’s education. But for a lot of people, finances are private and not something they wish to talk about in polite conversation.
If someone asks a financial question, they might have a very good reason. For example, they might be considering buying a home in a similar area, or be thinking about switching schools and be interested to know the comparable cost.
Try not to balk, and answer with consideration but without feeling pressured to disclose anything that you’d rather not.
- More than I like to think about, to be honest!
- Well, you know what house prices are like in this area, but we love having the park nearby…
- Thanks for noticing! If you like it, they have a great new range at the store
If you are asked a question you deem inappropriate, you can divert the conversation into an area that you feel more comfortable with.
People love to talk, and so asking a question is a great way to switch attention away from you, and back at the nosey person asking the questions! For example:
A colleague says: ‘You’re in late today – have you been at a job interview?’
Rather than squirming at either lying or disclosing confidential information, you could respond:
- ‘I’m sure you missed me, but I’m here now! What’s happened today – have I missed anything exciting?’
- ‘Better late than never! How’s everything going so far?’
- ‘Yeah I know, I’m sure I have a million emails backed up waiting for me! Are you guys busy today too?’
Whatever your response, know that a person with good intentions might not mean to ask uncomfortable questions. However, if you know somebody is deliberately trying to put you on the back foot, don’t be afraid to just walk away.
It is better for our peace of mind not to rise to the bait, so laugh it off or shrug if you can, or simply don’t answer. You do not have to validate yourself and have the right to keep things personal if you don’t feel happy talking about them with nosey people.
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