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How do you fend off nosy acquaintences?

Indylady

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Apr 28, 2008
Messages
5,574
I have a few acquaintances, colleagues and family friends, that ask very direct, very personal questions..they're not my friends. I know they gossip, because they gossip about others to me, but it is not possible to 'terminate' the relationship as they're people I have to see often. They also don't really share that much about themselves, and I don't think that they think we're better friends than I think--they know just as well as I do that we're not really 'friends.' What can I say to stop a line of questioning? I usually respond with, "I don't know" or other short, empty responses till the ask-er gets bored, but sometimes they just switch tactics and ask what I think of so and so, etc. and that's makes things very awkward because I can't answer "I don't know" anymore. Or they'll ask me something very personal about myself, in which case I don't want to answer--specifically, one co-worker in particular, will plaster the friendliest smile you can imagine when she asks something really personal. As if she's your best friend. And if I try to avoid it, she just smiles even more and tries harder; example, when talking of a new job opening, she would ask if I wanted the position, to which I'd answer, "no, I don't want that position" and her response will be, "you do, don't you? you totally do! I would want that position if it were me" to which I just have to say louder, "no" and its just a painful interaction. If I say no, she frequently pulls the, "you do, don't you?!" card (this maneuver is done in the movie Mean Girls, Gretchen does it to Lindsay Lohan when one of the guys in the Mathletes says hi to her..she goes, "you like him, don't you?" and Lindsay says, "no" and then Gretchen responds, "omg you totally do! you like him."

Ok, so to wrap up, what do I do to get nosy acquaintances off my back?
 

kenny

Super_Ideal_Rock
Premium
Joined
Apr 30, 2005
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28,680
Why do you think you have no power?
You have the right to not have to put up with their crap.

Just be a little blunt.
If that doesn't work turn up the bluntness till it does.

Just come right out and tell them what kind of things you don't want to talk about - and do NOT give a reason.
You don't have to.
If you apologize or make excuses you'll look weak and they'll just twist the reason around to try to prevail over you, which is what you have allowed them to do up till now.

It is much less rude than what they're doing.
 

Guilty Pleasure

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
May 16, 2008
Messages
1,114
If you don't care what they think of you and don't mind being awkward, then just simply say, "I don't like to talk about things like that." Then either change the subject, walk away, or if you want to be really awkward, stare blankly until they leave.

If you do need to keep the surface cordial and want to avoid confrontation, then perhaps you could change the subject to small talk like latest movies or even be more proactive and dominate the conversation from the beginning so it never has a chance to move toward uncomfortable territory.

For example, when you see that person approaching, smile big and say, "Did you see last night's episode of Gossip Girl?" and if she watches it, then let her blabber about her opinion on the outfits or whatever. And if she doesn't, then even better because you can bore her with the plot of the show until she leaves. :Up_to_something:

And that could work with any sort of topic. Just have a string of fluffy subjects to talk about like new recipes or how to store shoes.

Hopefully you don't have to be too chatty and can just keep to yourself if you want, but I know that some work environments require a lot of chit chat to fit in unfortunately.
 

JewelFreak

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Sep 3, 2009
Messages
7,768
When that subject turns up in Miss Manners, she has a couple of suggestions that I like:

1) "Nosy question." You answer something noncommital, as in, "I haven't been offered that position so it's a moot point either way. Enough about me. What did you do lask weekend?" If she persists, "Oh, I hear the phone ringing on my desk." Or, "Gee, there's Dexter; haven't seen him in a while, excuse me." Walk away.

2) "Nosy question." You: "Why would you want to know that?"

Wish I had thought of the 2nd one when a friend of my cousin's, whom I knew kinda-sorta, but not intimately, asked if we planned to have kids. Tired of that question, I said we can't have them. (True.) She asked, "Is it you or him?" Gasp! I was flummoxed -- should have responded w/no. 2 (and a smack upside her head!).

You are under no obligation to answer questions simply because someone asks them. Took me too long to figure that out.

--- Laurie
 

missy

Super_Ideal_Rock
Premium
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Jun 8, 2008
Messages
36,150
I would either just ignore the question and ask her something else to change the subject or be direct and say you do not think it is an appropriate question. If she continues I would say excuse me I have something to do and just walk away.

I have come out and said to a colleague (who asked what I earn) that is an inappropriate question and none of their business. This person meant no malice by asking though. He is young and immature (despite his age of 30 LOL) and is like a puppy dog and often asks questions that would shock most people. I have never had to deal with someone who is a "mean girl" thankfully but I would definitely not answer her personal and rude queries and either call her on these questions or just walk away. No need to be rude yourself but polite and aloof.

There is also no reason you have to offer any explanation about why you don't want to answer their question(s).
 

Indylady

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Apr 28, 2008
Messages
5,574
Thank you Kenny, GP, JW and Missy.

Kenny, you're right in that I should have put an end to this a long time ago.

GP, all good ideas. I will stock up on my arsenal of small talk topics.

JW, I can't believe that someone would ask that. Its also taken me too long to realize that I'm not obligated to answer questions others ask me.

Missy, calling someone out on an inappropriate question is also a good idea. I will try that one as well.
 

movie zombie

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Jan 20, 2005
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IndyLady, i have a feeling that you're a person who is honest rather than merely a pushover. unfortunately, there are pushy people in the world and it is necessary to draw a line of privacy in the sand as it were. you were given very good suggestions. i know you'll start implementing them.

MoZo
 

wannaBMrsH

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
Sep 27, 2008
Messages
1,049
I also speak up when others are being bullied.

Last month, at work, someone was bullying one of our admins that was leaving on maternity leave regarding her marital status. She was trying to pretend it was all friendly, but the poor admin was completely mortified. I finally had enough and I very sweetly turned to the bully and asked, "Why are you so interested in her marital status? I think you have wedding fever! When is your wedding?" the bully flushed bright red and said, "well, he hasn't asked yet..." and walked away.

I don't get people who ask questions just to watch you squirm and spread gossip.
 

Guilty Pleasure

Brilliant_Rock
Joined
May 16, 2008
Messages
1,114
I was thinking more about this and wanted to add something - try to avoid any topics that could lead to subjects you are uncomfortable with. Walk away when they start talking about other people (bathroom excuse always works) before they can ask you to join in the trash-talking or ask you a personal question. I know you said that these are mean girls and are probably prying on purpose, but sometimes intrusive questions flow in natural conversation. For example, I was in the car with two girls that I didn't know very well. They work together, and I'm married to their coworker. One girl was talking about her relationship a lot, and they were both discussing other people who were dating, and since the first girl was dominating the conversation, I asked the other girl if she was seeing anyone special. I really could care less who she was dating, but I was trying to be polite. She literally flipped out, sputtering and acting as if I had asked the most intrusive question ever. She could have lied if she wanted (said no), or she could have told me that she doesn't talk about it with a smile and changed the subject - really no big deal. How she handled it was really awkward. Apparently, she wanted to be secretive about who she was dating. Perhaps she shouldn't have been talking about another's dating situation if she didn't want to talk about her own?
 

AmeliaG

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Jan 8, 2011
Messages
880
Guilty Pleasure|1305473031|2922328 said:
Perhaps she shouldn't have been talking about another's dating situation if she didn't want to talk about her own?
ditto. The easiest (or some say hardest) way to avoid intrusive questions is to let it be known that you don't like to participate in gossipy conversations in general - whether or not they are about you.

I learned this at my last job where the after hours conversations were a bit brutal. I knew they were talking about me behind my back because they talked about everyone else too. And yes, I did get intrusive questions; everybody did. I learned how to avoid them as much as I could. Drinks after work were fine but lunches and dinners were to be avoided. Getting to a meeting early was OK; staying after a meeting to chat definitely wasn't. It was like people needed to feel they had a lot of time to ask intrusive questions or gossip. If time was limited, they behaved just fine.

But I had to develop an intolerance for gossip in general for it to work and not just be intolerant of intrusive questions about myself.
 

CherryBlossom

Shiny_Rock
Joined
Jan 20, 2011
Messages
311
I either call them out on what they are doing, or I am nosy back to them and make sure they know how uncomfortable it feels. pretty passive aggressive but it usually does the trick.

I have to be honest about something. I was on both ends of this when I was younger. I used to be part of the mean girl crew that would boss other girls around and I have also been the one being bullied in this way. The fact is that I can assure you 100% that it's only being done due to their insecurity. Figure out what they are insecure out and when they are not expecting it drop little lines, hints that you are aware of their issues.. or when telling stories mention it in an abstract way... a metaphor. Trust me, ppl like that are always in their own mind thinking about things, analyzing convos, being paranoid, etc. she will get the hint and stay away from you. you gotta set your boundaries and not allow them to cross, the next time it bothers you calmly and gently push back a little. She will stay away from you and pour on the sugar in order to be in your good graces.
 

marymm

Ideal_Rock
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Apr 21, 2010
Messages
4,189
My standard response to nosyparkers is "what an interesting question, why would you ask that?" It generally throws them off and gets them flustered enough to not bother following up on the topic.

I am also the Queen of Obfuscation and have a way of appearing like I'm answering but really saying nothing at all, i.e., "gosh, it's funny you ask that now, I was just thinking about the time when so-and-so, oh that's right you don't know her, anyway, she was asked that same question but it is so funny because she has just been promoted so why would she even think about it. Anyway, thanks for stopping by, but I've just got to get back to work."

And, I have magical powers that include the ability to don an extremely off-putting demeanor at will, so I usually go with that. At work, people come to me for info about work stuff quite a bit; I'm known for helping people in that regard, but I am completely out of the loop when it comes to gossip - I think people know by now that I just don't care. This is mostly good, but now and again it is not so good, because office gossip travels ahead of official announcements -- but if office gossip gets the info wrong (and it has, more times that I can count), well, sometimes people end up backing the wrong horse so to speak and there can be consequences.

Anyway, don't let people put you on the spot - just because you are asked a question doesn't mean you have to reply in any concrete fashion - you can still be polite without actually responding.
 

LGK

Ideal_Rock
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Nov 27, 2007
Messages
2,975
Some people don't get polite hints. If polite hinting that I'm not happy with a line of conversation fails (as a repeating pattern), I usually go for the freeze-out. No smiling or laughing to make the nosy person comfortable, no filling awkward silences. Just short, short answers and a direct stare, and if possible answer a nosy question with your own question. Eventually they give up in my experience anyway. If even that fails? Then go for blunt. And cut the conversation short if you have to.

Some people really do need to have you seriously draw a LINE for them to keep them from being rude. The funny thing is, those people that do that? Usually then think you're awesome for standing up to them and respond really well to you being very firm with what's OK and what's not OK. (It happens frequently enough to boggle me- since I do customer service work I do have to be firm with people on occasion, and almost always the rude person thinks you're the bee's knees for standing up to them. :rolleyes: )

The "Why would you ask that?" is always a good response. That's my husband's favorite response to a nosy question. I can never remember to break it out at the appropriate juncture, though.
 

Bliss

Ideal_Rock
Joined
Apr 4, 2008
Messages
3,016
I know the type of person you're talking about! What I do is, I go into Ultra Boring Mode. Take long long pauses between your responses...be vague...be boring! It really works! Most people are uncomfortable with silence so just take a zen moment and power down, daydream and just go, "Oh reaaaaally?" Then smile and wander off. Works every time!
 

Circe

Ideal_Rock
Trade
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Apr 26, 2007
Messages
8,087
I like to use The Deadpan. Whatever the inappropriate question is, you just ... fail to get it.

"So, why aren't you married?"

"I'm not following you."

"I mean, are you waiting for some special relationship marker, or ...?

"Sorry, I'm afraid I still don't understand."

"...."

This works for everything. The "Why/when are you having kids?" and the "So, how much do you earn?" and the "So, why don't you go to church?" The trick is to just stay totally deadpan and keep asking. Eventually, they get flustered and they either realize how rude/inappropriate they're being, or it becomes more trouble then it's worth.

I first used this when somebody made an anti-Semitic remark in my presence. Worked way better than getting huffy about it. Patiently and repeatedly asking her to explain what she meant by it was actually sort of priceless.
 

missy

Super_Ideal_Rock
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Circe|1305503044|2922627 said:
I like to use The Deadpan. Whatever the inappropriate question is, you just ... fail to get it.

"So, why aren't you married?"

"I'm not following you."

"I mean, are you waiting for some special relationship marker, or ...?

"Sorry, I'm afraid I still don't understand."

"...."

This works for everything. The "Why/when are you having kids?" and the "So, how much do you earn?" and the "So, why don't you go to church?" The trick is to just stay totally deadpan and keep asking. Eventually, they get flustered and they either realize how rude/inappropriate they're being, or it becomes more trouble then it's worth.

I first used this when somebody made an anti-Semitic remark in my presence. Worked way better than getting huffy about it. Patiently and repeatedly asking her to explain what she meant by it was actually sort of priceless.
Genius! Love this method Circe. :bigsmile:
 

Winks_Elf

Brilliant_Rock
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13 Years ago I was an ex.asst. to a site director of a big mobile company's northeast region. I had 6 admins under me, and since I worked for the top guy in the office (an ex army colonial), I was not in the clique, and I really didn't give a crap what the admins thought of me. I was there to do a job for my boss, who ran a tight ship. What he thought of me was all that mattered to me. My favorite way of shutting down Monday-morning gossip and questions that were inappropriate were "Are you really asking me that question?" and "That's rather personal and unprofessional, don't you think?"
 

Haven

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Messages
13,166
Circe|1305503044|2922627 said:
I like to use The Deadpan. Whatever the inappropriate question is, you just ... fail to get it.

"So, why aren't you married?"

"I'm not following you."

"I mean, are you waiting for some special relationship marker, or ...?

"Sorry, I'm afraid I still don't understand."

"...."

This works for everything. The "Why/when are you having kids?" and the "So, how much do you earn?" and the "So, why don't you go to church?" The trick is to just stay totally deadpan and keep asking. Eventually, they get flustered and they either realize how rude/inappropriate they're being, or it becomes more trouble then it's worth.

I first used this when somebody made an anti-Semitic remark in my presence. Worked way better than getting huffy about it. Patiently and repeatedly asking her to explain what she meant by it was actually sort of priceless.
Oh, I love this. I plan on using this the first chance I get. Thank you, Circe!

IndyLady--I usually use the "That's a very interesting/strange/personal/unexpected question, why would you want to know that?" line. It generally works, but there are some ridiculously nosy people who will just say "I'm just curious" and then I'll say "Why?" and just go with that. I like to answer ridiculous or rude questions with questions, in general.
 

Indylady

Ideal_Rock
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Apr 28, 2008
Messages
5,574
Thank you all! Fantastic responses.

Mozo, thank you. Your words mean a lot to me.

WannaB, way to go for standing up for someone else. I don't get people who ask questions just to watch you squirm either, which is exactly what the acquaintances I mentioned like to do.

GP, very good point. The woman I mentioned earlier likes to bring up others relationships to spring a conversation about relationships. She's never shared anything of her own dating history, except that she once dated a guy for a two months about five years ago. :rolleyes: No kidding. Is it a lie, is it the truth? Who knows or cares..but that's all she's shared of herself. I usually keep out when I hear her dissecting other's relationships, but now I'll know that it might be a signal that she'll start asking me about mine.

Amelia, that's another good idea. I might try saying something like, "I don't like talking about others." That sounds sufficiently embarrassing.

Cherry Blossom, it is interesting to think of 'why' someone might behave this way.

MaryM, obfustication sounds like a skill to be learned!

LGK, I do think that some people don't get polite hints, but I think others certainly do get them and just chose to ignore them. The same woman I mentioned earlier once made a fellow colleague ridiculously flustered by asking really personal questions, and then all she said after was, "Did you see how frustrated he got?" with a laugh. Its counter intuitive to think that someone bossy would like you more for standing up to them, interesting!

Circe, the Deadpan sounds super. That one's going on the top of my 'to try' list!

Missy, I like it too!

Winks, good lines as well. Short and to the point.

Haven, I will try that as well. The "Why would you want to know" sounds like a classic.
 
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