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Deflect prying questions with honesty and brevity

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in Your Office Coach

Question: "How do you respond to colleagues who ask a lot of personal questions? Recently, I had to take vacation on short notice to care for my sick daughter-in-law. Before I left, my co-workers kept asking where I was going and whether my husband was going with me. I managed to dodge the questions, but their nosiness caught me off guard. How should I handle this in the future?"  Not a Busybody

Answer: People vary greatly in their willingness to share personal information. Some are intensely private, while others happily prattle on about every detail of their lives. When these two types work together, misunderstandings often arise.

To prevent conflict, highly inquisitive folks need to get a grip on their curiosity, and extremely reserved people must learn to politely deflect inquiries. One useful technique is to answer honestly, but briefly.

For example, an appropriately vague reply to questions about your “vacation” might be “Oh, we’re not going anywhere. I’m just taking time off to do some things at home.” If pressed for details, simply say you’re not doing anything interesting, then change the subject.

You must realize, however, that “Where are you going?” is a normal response to any mention of vacation. In fact, people headed for exciting leisure destinations might be offended if no one inquired about their plans. 

If you had been taking sick leave, that would be an entirely different matter. Co-workers should never ask prying questions about a colleague’s illness or family difficulties.

Do you get irritated by people who are either very chatty or very quiet? Our Quick Quiz can help you understand these differences ... Quick Quiz: Are you more extroverted or introverted?   

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Lori December 11, 2012 at 8:41 am

I can see how someone might think the coworkers are being nosy, but could it also be that they are just trying to make conversation with you? I’ve had coworkers who are very quiet and never say anything and it’s hard to strike up a conversation with them without seeming like you are prying. The vacation topic would be the perfect opportunity to get a conversation rolling. Honestly, it might just be someone’s attempt at trying to be friendly to a few face in the workplace. Not responding at all would just seem stuck up to me.


Lisa Caulfield December 10, 2012 at 10:54 am

In response to nosey co-workers who ask about vacation and you’d rather not say, tell them you’re “just relaxing.” That’s vague enough but seems to always put a stop to the fishing for information.


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