Thursday, August 28, 2008

Nipping Nosy Nelly



Saw a great article in USA Today Magazine about how to manage nosy people and their boundary crossing questions. People who gossip or need to know your business are often driven by psychological needs.

Author Peggy Post says that if you are caught off guard, try not to fall into the trap of responding in shock with the truth. That's what a nosy person is hoping you'll do. Instead, try one of these proven strategies:

Use humor. Make a joke out of the question. If asked, "Did you lose a bundle when you sold your house?" Respond with, "Why, are you offering to make up the difference?" If asked, "Are your daughter's children adopted?" Respond with, "They do have their own distinct personalities, don't they?"

Be honest. "How much financial aid is your son getting for college?" Respond with, "I'm not comfortable discussing this." Or you can just say, "My mother always told me never to talk about money."

Give it right back. Turn the tables with this one-size-fits-all response to a nosy question: "Why do you ask?" This works with everything from "Why are you going to the doctor?" to "Do you color your hair?"

Establish conversational boundaries. Use body language to say "Don't go there." Cross your arms. Look 'em in the eye. Say, "Oh, I don't think that's something I'm going to discuss."

Change the subject. This is a more passive approach that can be effective for questions such as "How much did you pay for that?" Respond with, "I bought it at Macy's, and they were having and they were having a great sale. Can you believe all that new construction at the mall?"

Good suggestions, don't you think?

32 comments:

alan said...

I'll tell most anyone anything they want to know, much to my wife's chagrin. These I will save for a family function when those who would make something of it are in attendance, lol!

alan

The Lone Beader said...

I usually try to avoid people altogether. Then they never have the chance to ask!

CrackerLilo said...

I don't keep many secrets (kinda like Alan), but if L'Ailee doesn't want something told, I won't tell it. And sometimes I'd like to keep something to myself or think a question's being asked just to cause excitement at my expense. I think I want to print out two copies of this, one by my home phone and one in an inconspicuous place in my cubicle. :-)

Ironically enough, I get to have music on today, and I'm listening to Miranda Lambert's "Famous In a Small Town" at the moment. It's about how you can't keep anonymous in a small town: "Every grandma, in-law, ex-girlfriend/maybe knows you just a little too well/whether you're late for church or you're stuck in jail/word's gonna get around/everybody dies famous in a small town." Makes me like the city better, though Nosy Nellies certainly live here, too.

Battle Weary said...

Can I use these with my therapist? hehe just kidding!

Teresa Lynne said...

Those nosey people! You gotta love them. I tend to either give them a jaw dropping response or I ignore them. I guess it depends who it is.

To me, these nosey people must not have an exciting life or they don't feel too good about their own life.

Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Excellent suggestions! I use "Why do you ask" but sometimes let the nosy person get the best of me and just blab out the answer, then I get mad at myself!

Big Brother said...

Good ideas, or you can answer using a non sequitur, something completely beside the point. It leaves them completely baffled. ;o)

Amy said...

Just found your blog and love and appreciate it so much. I have it on my blog roll. Check out my blog sometime, too @

mybeautifulashes.blogspot.com

....blessings

traci said...

I am having this issue with my husband currently. It's not that I have secrets or anything, I'm simply more private than he is and it's hard sometimes. He puts such a negative spin on things and I have trouble with that. To him the things I don't tell him are secrets but to me they are simply private and to push me is disrespectful etc, etc.

Lynn said...

With the really inappropriately nosy ones, I don't mind actually being a little bit mean. I consider it a sport.

ohn said...

My mother-in-law was barely 5' tall and about 98 lbs and when someone would ask her something personal you could see her stiffen and in a no nonsense voice, looking them directly in the eye would ask "why do you ask"? People were always stopped in their tracks as they couldn't really respond that they were being nosy. It made me laugh so many times. She was feisty. One time she rose up to be a hero for my son. When asked if S1 was "the one" that was adopted, she looked at the person and said "I don't remember" with such finesse that I knew she had his back.

phd in yogurtry said...

I'm definately good at changing the subject, or as I call it, doing a "hopover". But sometimes I just plain get suckered into answering a question I later wish I hadn't. I'm not so good at thinking on my toes.

mal said...

As a result of working in very male dominant and often blue collar environments, I learned to be direct with "None of your business" When I was younger it was the only effective defense against questions about my spouse, sex life, etc that really had nothing to do with fracturing formations, managing sweet corrosion or any of the other many topics we were supposed to focus on.

It worked for me

Health Psych said...

The change the subject works for me...seems quite popular, patients try that one all the time :)

ellesu said...

These are good. I don't think well *on my feet.* Give me an hour or so and I'll have a good comeback. Some of these suggestions I can see myself doing.

jenji said...

As I tend to be a very private person, many individuals find me to be what they have called "enigmatic" and/or "mysterious"... unfortunately some individuals find this a challenge and continually quiz me about things that are so far from their business that it should be issued its own zip code.

It drives me nuts and follows me most places that I go; it's annoying really. A decent individual would monitor their own affairs and respect my obvious preference for privacy. In my experience, women are more likely to harass me for details than men.

For the most part, an acerbic one liner seems to shut that nonsense down. Humor and a good long stink eye can do the trick.

interesting post, deb.

jenji

S'onnie said...

This was a good thanks Deb and interestingly enough very timely Ihave been asked by two people today what I earn which I don't like to say. So today I just told one of them that I earn a little less then bill gates and the other one I asked if she was going to top it up to my ideal income of $250,000. funnily enough both just stood there dumb founded

Midwife with a Knife said...

Those are all great responses. Generally, I'm pretty open, but there are a few things I wouldn't talk about with certain people.

Kahless said...

I think they are very good suggestions; thanks!

~Just Me~ said...

That is all so true. I hate it when people dig into things they shouldn't.

jumpinginpuddles said...

please see http://lifespacings.blogspot.com/2008/09/good-bye-after-five-years.html

Casdok said...

I will have to remember some of these!

Ms.L said...

Oooh those are good!
Another one my mother taught me was
"Why ever would you ask me that?"
Turn the tables around on them!

I also like to answer nosy questions with something outrageous,said in the sweetest voice ever. Hehehe
As a homeschooler,I get asked all sorts of rude questions...I find as I get older and feel more secure,I'm better able to handle these nosy parkers.

Clare said...

Those are great suggestions Deb. I think it also depends on who is asking those types of questions as to whether they get the answer they want.

Dreaming again said...

I got a 100% A on my first Psychology paper!!!
Grades are posted on our schools online bulletin board, so I just saw my grade, not gotten the paper back yet, so don't know any feed back.

Got an A on my humanities assignment too, got feed back on that one ..she said "Great Sonnet!" that one scared me ... it took 5 minutes to write, I'd never written a sonnet before and it's probably the worst poem I've ever written ... it makes me question her taste in art!! (the sonnet is on my blog) (I expected full credit but more of a 'nice effort' or 'haha cute' )

After dropping physical science ... I'm off to a good start!

Dreaming again said...

Health Psych ... I was infamous at changing the subject with therapist!

heiresschild said...

yes, i think they're excellent suggestions. i love using humor, although i must admit, sometimes it's sarcastic humor. i'm learning to turn the question back to the other person.

Anonymous said...

I'm good at getting very vague ("Oh, I don't know...") and changing the subject :)

Donna

Deb said...

Hey All,

Great comments here. Seems that we all have had experiences where this advice can help!

STAG said...

Interesting responses. You have quite a fan club there Dr. Deb.

I find that trying to make conversation with some people is just that...making conversation. Others regard the same questions as a form of "coming on to them", or "being nosy", or "fishing for an advantage".

Ahhh...the drama.

Anonymous said...

agree with barbara and lynn. I seem to let these pushy snoops get the best of me. But, I have used the "why do you ask" and they get defensive and say "I just asked" or act as if you are touchy. So being creative is the key to avoid this reaction or I have responded by "oh not touchy I just asked cause i thought you needed something" or "oh I didn't mean to rub you the wrong way either I just asked that because I thought you needed somthing" and if they say they do then ask them where have they looked and you will find they are lying, turn the questioning around on them and make it a sport like lynn said, but nosy people are very clever and will come back time and time again at which I say "I'll tell you later" and never tell them later. They usually have an agenda if they are persistant.

Anonymous said...

In dealing with nosy neighbors, I find a garage door opener and strategic shrubbery and a backyard fence extremely helpful and liberating. And if they say you are hiding, just say not hiding just like my privacy. It will let them know you don't like anyone invading in your personal space and it sets up an instant boundary of "don't try to go there".