How to Graciously Answer Nosy Questions
By: Maralee McKee
Here’s some good news for our Wednesday: Etiquette gifts us with a way to reply to rude and nosy questions without us having to take the bumpy Low Road to one of two ungracious destinations.
The Low Road-
1. Repaying the offense with a curt response.
2. Caving in just to “be nice,” despite not wanting to, and sharing the information the other person has no right or need to know.
The High Road-
1. Realizing that repaying evil for evil (or, in this case, plain old “impolite for impolite”) always bears like fruit. Always!
2. Realizing that the foundation of etiquette is pleasant boundaries. You can set them and never again feel like the proverbial doormat for the offender to continually wipe his or her prying questions on.
So, what exactly do you say the next time someone puts his or her nose where you’d rather he or she didn’t?
Wednesday is Readers’ Q & A day!
Here’s a letter I received this week from one of our blog family members. Have you ever felt the same way?
What’s the best way to answer questions such as: “How much money do you make?” Or, “How much did that cost?” Also, what do I say when I make arrangements to take off work to take care of personal business and I’m pressed for more details by a coworker being nosy. This happens to me quite a lot…maybe because I’m shy about standing my ground. Thanks so much!
Great question! We’ve all been right there with her, or in a similar place. My favorite (actually my least favorite!) is when someone presses me about why I can’t come to his or her party or event.
So, what should we say?
Before you reply, keep in mind the two points above about taking the High Road.
Next, if you know the other person, get a sense for his or her motives. Is he or she trying to bully information out of you, or is the person an extra-extrovert who will tell you anything about himself or herself? With the latter, the question was probably just his or her way of making conversation, and he or she honestly doesn’t mean to intrude at all. When you live your life “wide open,” you tend to think everyone else does as well. When you’re the close-to-your-vest type, you tend to prefer the details of your life to remain nicely arranged in a locked and closely guarded vault.
Next, humor is always a polite way of keeping things light and civil.
Using this method, if you’re asked:
• “How much are you paid?” You could say, “Half what I’m worth!”
• “How much did that cost?” You could say, “Only my hairdresser…I mean, only my accountant knows!”
• “Why are you taking the day off?” You could say, “My coworkers are driving me crazy! Do you ever feel like that?”
There are other options. A more direct, but still gracious approach is fine. In this case, your tone of voice is going to convey your message even more so than your words. If you’re a parent, you know exactly what I mean! Your child can say, “Yes, Mom,” and it’s the sweetest two words being spoken at that moment in the whole world. Or, he can say the same two words with a different tone and you think there must have been a mix-up at the hospital because surely your DNA could not have created this child!
So, using the more direct method, if you’re asked:
• “How much are you paid?” You could say, “My mom taught me never to discuss money or politics.”
• “How much did that cost?” You could say, “Not as much as it looks like.” Or, “I got a good deal.”
• “Why are you taking the day off?” You could say, “I’m taking a personal day for personal reasons, of course.”
When you use either of these two methods, the person should get the idea (nicely) that you’re finished providing information.
Another helpful (and interesting) hint!
The word because is powerful. It can act as its own complete explanation. No one is quite sure why, but social experiments have proven it true. It probably goes back to the days of our childhood when mom or dad’s answer to our question “Why?” was simply “Because.”
There was a study that involved having a young lady ask the person waiting in line to use the copier at a large public library if she could please go ahead of him or her in line. When she asked if she could cut in front and gave no explanation, only 60% of the people let her go before them.
When she added a reason to her request (“My class starts in ten minutes and I have to have these papers to complete my assignment”), more than 90% said, “Sure, go ahead.”
Here’s where it gets interesting.
When she asked to go ahead of others and gave this reason: “May I please step in front of you because I need to make some copies?”, more than 90% of the people also said, “Yes.” Her only reason was “because,” which really isn’t a reason at all.
This tidbit is useful to remember anytime we’re pressed by someone for additional information.
Take for instance a coworker asking, “No really, why are you taking next Thursday off?” You could answer, “I’m taking a personal day, because I need the day off.” Or, when asked why you’re not going to a party, you could say, “Because I’m not able to attend.” Again, just keep in mind your tone of voice.
It’s also OK to simply say, “I’d rather not say” or, “That’s private,” especially if you believe the person is trying to intimidate you with his or her question.
One last thing…
We live in a new age of “no secrets.” Whether on reality TV, Facebook, Twitter, or video sharing sites—you name it—the smallest details of everyone’s lives seem to fill every nook and cranny of our days. Still, be slow to ask personal questions. There’s a difference between what we choose to share and what we want to be asked to share.
You know me—I could go on and on, but now it’s your turn. What questions have you been asked, and how have you nicely handled them? Or, what nosy question would you like a pat answer for? E-mail me. I love hearing from you!
This is all for now. Corbett, my little one, catches every illness within ten miles of a sneeze. He’s home today with the start of a sore throat and stuffy nose. He needs my attention. I’m off to read him a story and scratch his back.
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See you on Friday for Quick Tip day. I’ll share the polite way to talk with food in your mouth! Just please don’t tell my children!
PS: I just got a return call from the White House! Honestly! I’m so excited! I’ll share on Friday. Corbett awaits!