How to Graciously Answer Nosy Questions

Some folks will ask you anything, often not realizing they’re asking nosy questions. Here are some amazingly easy, quick answers that politely tell them that you have no intention of answering nosy questions about your life.

How to Graciously Answer Nosy Questions

By: Maralee McKee

Greetings Everyone!

Here’s some good news: Etiquette gifts us with a way to set our GPS to the High Road and not have to reply to rude and nosy questions by taking the much traveled and 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 offenders to continually wipe their prying questions on.

Sound great?

So what exactly do you say the next time someone puts a prying nose where you’d rather it not be?

Here’s an email I received this week from one of our blog family members. Have you ever felt the same way?

Dear Maralee,

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 people press me about why I can’t come to their party or event.

So what should we say?


Questioners May Be Nosy or Normal

Before you reply, keep in mind the two points above about taking the High Road. Next, if you know the people who are questioning you, get a sense for their motives. Are they trying to bully information out of you, or are they extra-extroverted and will tell you anything about themselves? With the latter, the question probably was just their way of making conversation, and they honestly don’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.


Humor May Humble Them

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?”


Directness May Dissuade Them

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 children can say, “Yes, Mom,” and those are the sweetest two words being spoken at that moment in the whole world. Or they 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 these children!

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 people waiting in line to use the copier at a large public library whether she could please go ahead of them 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 a nonreason (“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 any time 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 simply to say that you’d rather not say or that it’s private, especially if you believe the person is trying to intimidate you with the 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.

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.

Blessings galore,

Maralee McKee

About Maralee McKee

Maralee McKee is the founder of Manners Mentor. With her best-friend style, sense of humor, and knack for updating etiquette to meet our modern sensibilities, she has been referred to as "Sandra Bullock meets Emily Post!" Maralee shows you how to become the best version of yourself. No fluff. No pretense. Just you at your authentic best! The person you were always meant to be! To learn more about Maralee click on the "Meet Maralee" or "New? Start Here" links at the top of this page.

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