Respond to Nosy Questions from Others

“When are you guys planning to have kids?” “Did Paul call you into his office to discuss a promotion?” No matter how ill-mannered they may be, nosy questions are one of the many tolls that come standard in a society. Reacting to and answering nosy questions is a very individual choice because what’s considered nosy to one person, may not be to another. Determine how best to respond to the nosy questions that are tossed your way by carefully considering the context and then handling it based on your comfort level. It can also help to know how to minimize nosy questions in the future.


Figuring Out a Course of Action

  1. Evaluate your relationship with the person. Self-disclosure is an essential element to lasting social bonds. If the person is a close friend or family member, they may feel affronted if you lie or deflect their question. Also, refusing to answer may jeopardize your relationship with the person.
    • Think about your connection with the asker. Have you divulged personal information with them in the past? Does this person seem trustworthy of keeping your confidences?[1]
  2. Consider if the person is trying to deepen their relationship with you. Since self-disclosure often separates general acquaintances and more intimate friendships, the person’s asking may reflect their attempt to forge a bond with you. Carefully decide if you are ready to deepen the relationship.[2]
    • Friends and partners are often expected to share personal details of their lives when forming relationships. See the questions as a sign that the person wants to get to know more about you. Then, decide if you, too, are ready to deepen the connection.
    • Try to look at things from their perspective. Do you think they're trying to be friendly or chatty? Or do you suspect that they will use this information to pressure or judge you?
  3. Check your sensitivities. With social media over-shares in today’s society, some people may not even realize their questions fall into the intrusive category. However, it’s not always the question, but the topic that makes a person become defensive.
    • Before reacting to the question, ask yourself whether it’s the question or the topic that has your feathers ruffled. For instance, maybe you feel insecure about a break up, so whenever you are asked general questions about your relationship, you get worked up.[3]
  4. Get on the same page with others. If you feel sensitive about a certain topic or would much rather not discuss it for some reason, inform others who may be involved. Your interpretation of a nosy question may not align with your mother’s or your partner’s. Let these people know what you don’t want to become public knowledge.[4]
    • For instance, if you aren’t inclined to discuss your marriage plans with your extended family, you might share your reservations with your partner. Simply say something along the lines of, “I’m not ready to discuss our relationship with anyone else. Can we keep our plans between us for now?”

Fielding Questions Gracefully

  1. Deflect. Rather than divulging something you’ll later regret, or responding harshly, lightly change the subject or offer a vague response. Deflection basically sends the message that you are not inclined to discuss the topic, without having to expressly say that.
    • You can use humor to deflect. Say someone asks how much your bonus was this quarter at work. You can say, “My bank account swallowed it so quickly I hardly noticed!”
    • Or, you can act like you didn’t hear and change the topic by catching someone else’s eye and saying, “Oh, Clarissa, the dessert is just divine!”
  2. Clue the person in on your uneasiness. Nosy people are rarely called out for their meddling. Do yourself and others in the future a favor and shut them down politely. Explain as graciously as you can how the question causes you discomfort.[5]
    • You might say, “I’m uncomfortable discussing money. I’m sure you understand, Greg.”
  3. Tell a portion of the truth, and repeat it until they get the message. You may be tempted to fudge your answer, but don’t lie. Lying can quickly ensnare you because once you start it’s hard to stop. Instead of flat-out lying offer a carefully dosed version of the truth.[6]
    • For instance, your mom asks about your troubled relationship. You say, “Mom, it’s really hard for me to talk about.” She says, “But what happened?” You can reply by repeating yourself, “Like I said, Mom, it’s hard for me to discuss right now.”
  4. Make a joke. Humor is a great way to respond in a friendly manner without revealing any information. Next time someone tries to ask an uncomfortable question, respond with humor. This may encourage the other person to stop prying.[7]
    • For example, if someone asks, "How much do you get paid?", you can respond, "Half of what I am worth."
  5. Decide on a default response to recurring queries. If you are at a stage in life in which certain nosy questions are common, go ahead and prepare a response in advance. This can prevent you from replying with sarcasm or getting wedged into a corner.
    • For instance, your family and friends regularly ask, “So, when are you having a baby?” You might spit out a tailored response like, “We’re focusing on our marriage right now. It’ll happen when we’re ready.”[8]

Dodging Nosy Questions

  1. Anticipate nosiness and send nonverbal cues. Nosy questions often follow telling environmental cues. If you want to expertly dodge intrusive questions, learn to assess your environment and behave accordingly.[5]
    • For instance, there may be a sudden pause as the person prepares to ask the question. Or, maybe something in the environment, like a crying infant, prompts the question.
    • When you sense a nosy question coming, get busy to send the message that you no longer have time to chat. Open a book and become engrossed. Or, check emails on your phone.
  2. Set boundaries with nosy people. If you have certain coworkers, acquaintances, or family members who are overly inquisitive about your personal life, set firm boundaries with them. If you would prefer to not be asked questions of a personal nature, make it your business to never answer them. If you don’t feed them with information, they won’t expect to get it from you.[6]
  3. Make discussions of sensitive topics off-limits in certain contexts. If you want to avoid being blindsided by someone’s poorly timed curiosity, communicate your stance on taboo topics. This is especially important for certain contexts like work, school, social events and community gatherings. Your opinion on taboo subjects can quickly spread like wildfire in such contexts, leaving you picking up the pieces in your personal and professional life.[9]
    • Topics like politics, religion, abortion, or your sex life should be strictly off the table in these contexts. Only share your position on such issues when you feel comfortable with those present. If you have concerns about your opinion being shared, don’t say it in the first place.

Sources and Citations

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