how to fend off nosy coworkers

If you read last month’s post about the nosiest of nosy coworkers, you know that some people can be remarkably persistent when they want details about your love life, your reproductive choices, your salary, or other personal topics.

If you’re look for ways to shut down these types of intrusions in the workplace while still keeping the peace, the most important thing you can do is to get clear in your mind about the fact that you aren’t obligated to share personal details when you don’t want to. People often resist shutting down inappropriate boundary-violators because they don’t want to feel rude. It’s helpful to remember that the boundary-violator is the rude one, not you – all you’re doing is politely but firmly declining to share overly personal information.

So what do you say to coworkers who press you to share details that you’d rather not divulge? If someone doesn’t get your first few hints, it’s time to be direct! It’s okay to simply explain, nicely, that a particular topic is off-limits. For instance, you could use lines like these:

  • “That’s awfully personal!”
  • “I’m pretty private, actually, and would rather not talk about my dating life.”
  • “I’d rather not get into it at work – I like to keep that type of thing private.”
  • “Please don’t ask me personal questions like that.”
  • “That’s between me and my husband/wife/accountant.”
  • “I’m not comfortable talking about that.”

These lines will be enough to shut down most nosiness. But occasionally you might run into someone who isn’t cowed by being nicely signaled that a subject is off-limits. If that happens, you’ll have to get more direct and more firm. For instance, if your coworker is badgering you about when you’re planning to get pregnant, you might say, “Jane, please stopping asking me that. It’s inappropriate and it’s making me uncomfortable.” Direct? Yes. But again, remember that the other person is the one who has been rude and crossed normal lines of courtesy. You’re simply asserting that those boundaries do indeed exist and refusing to be pushed into a conversation you’re under no obligation to have.

And if you think you might be your office’s resident busybody, take this as a clarion call to give your coworkers some personal space! They’ll far more likely to form the type of close relationship with you where they willingly share personal details if you don’t try to drag those details out of them by force!

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase’s blog.

{ 145 comments… read them below }

  1. Questioner*

    If you can, walking away can be effective, too. With or without comment. They’ll either stop talking or look like idiots.

    1. CS*

      I actually move on from my last job because of a nosy co-worker. Ignoring the comments, telling her to stop and excluding her from lunch failed to send her the signals.

      1. S*

        I have quit too many jobs over ‘a-holes’. I turn out to be the loser! If they insist on being this way- the only recourse is to tell God and make a report to HR. The first is best, because He has a way to move them out or on!

  2. Another J*

    I have found that asking someone “Why do you need to know that about me?” and delivering it with an expressionless face is effective. It pretty much shuts down the other person.

    1. Darcy Pennell*

      Sometimes when I deflect a nosy question, the person comes back with “You didn’t answer my question.” To which I reply “That’s true.” It’s pretty effective, though I had to teach myself to remain silent afterwards, just ride out the awkward silence, until they change the subject.

  3. Sascha*

    Another thing to keep in mind is to use phrases that don’t leave anything up for negotiation. If you say, “I don’t want to discuss this topic AT WORK,” a nosy coworker might think it’s okay to badger you about it as you’re walking to the parking lot, or at a lunch outing. If you stick with “I’m not discussing this” or “That is personal and I won’t discuss it,” there’s no room for Nosy to misinterpret.

    1. Ruffingit*

      This is a good point. Being as succinct as possible while conveying you will never discuss it is the way to go.

    1. Adam*

      If you’re not in the habit of doing so it feels INCREDIBLY weird at first, but soldier through. It feels so much better when you get good at it.

      1. Who are you??*

        Aboslutely!!! I once bought a couch and my mother (notorious for asking the cost of everything!) asked me what I paid for it. I told her that it wasn’t any of her business. She immediately and snidely said “Well, then it must’ve been very expensive.” I refused to take the bait. It was so hard to do but I kept at it and while her behavior hasn’t stopped (she still asks) I feel better saying “It’s none of your business” and moving on. And in her defense…she doesn’t push once I say it’s none of her business.

  4. PJ*

    I’m partial to “Really? How is that your business?” I save it for extenuating circumstances.

    1. Mallory*

      I use a similar, ” Well. That’s my business, isn’t it.” Also only in extenuating circumstances in which I am at the end of my rope and feeling quite snappish.

    2. Olive*

      I really like that one !!!
      I get more than my fair share of nosey
      people asking personal questions.
      Ugh!! I so totally hate that !!

  5. Interviewer*

    On the other side of the coin from the nosy co-workers are the co-workers who overshare the personal details of their lives.

    1. Apple22Over7*

      Oh yes.

      My first professional job, I worked closely with an oversharer. On our second day on the job she was telling me about her abusive ex, how she used to be on a six figure salary but had to drop everything when she left him, how much her rent was, how much her childcare fees were… she may as well have told me her national insurance number, bank account details email password. We were travelling together in her car at the time so I couldn’t back out or excuse myself from the conversation. I was young and new to the professional world, whilst she was older and slightly intimidating so I wasn’t comfortable with telling her I didn’t want to hear all the grisly details, so instead I spent an hours car journey listening to all the intricate details of her life. That wasn’t fun.

      1. tesyaa*

        I don’t agree; some people just have NO filter and no sense that it’s inappropriate to share all their personal information.

        1. some1*

          Agreed. I’ve never met an oversharer who didn’t ask other people inappropriate and personal questions. I guess the assumption being, hey, if I volunteer my reproductive history, my open marriage, and my political opinions, I’m OBVIOUSLY entitled to know everything about you.

          1. Tomato Frog*

            I have! I would say most over-sharers I know are either a) so self-absorbed they have no interest in asking me questions or b) self-aware enough to know that their boundaries differ from others. You can be an over-sharer without being nosy.

            1. Anon1234*

              Yep. They don’t care about you (thank God) – they just want to tell you everything. And talk VERY LOUDLY about their life on the phone.

            2. anony*

              Yep. Oversharer and busy bodies or nosey-bots as we call them in the south, are different. Although some busy bodies are oversharer but usually oversharer are too self absorbed to ask you about your life. I don’t know which one I like the least…

        2. hayling*

          Yes I have a coworker like that. I usually try to change the subject but when she started talking about her sex life with her girlfriend I flat-out told her that I did not want to hear about it!

      2. Betsy Bobbins*

        I don’t agree either, sometimes blurting and oversharing are side effects of Anxiety, ADD and other such disorders.

      3. Red Librarian*

        In the case of my Old Coworker from looooooong ago I think she just didn’t have anyone else to talk to. It was just her husband and kids and I got the sense she didn’t have a lot of friends and considered all of us in the office as her friends and didn’t understand the personal/professional appropriate line.

        1. SherryD*

          Yes, I’ve encountered the probably-lonely oversharer. Unless it’s making you too uncomfortable, or taking up far too much of your time, I’d suggest you may as well listen to some of these stories — it seems like a kind thing to do.

          1. anony*

            Having worked with an oversharer for almost 6 years, and when she first joined the team I tried to make the usual small talk but within 10 min her stories started to take on a life of their own. When I tried to interject my thoughts —, her eyes would glaze over like I’m boring her…lol So I’ve learned to pretend to engage in her stories and then I disengage and go off to do something…
            It does seem like she has trouble in her friendships, I’m pretty sure her self absorbed behavior is to blame.
            Funny thing, I don’t consider her to be the loud ark ward detail type. Just talk too much about her family, and other little details…I seem to attract these types a lot. I think it’s my quiet low key personality.

            1. Clever Name*

              Heh. I’m anything but quiet and low-key, but I have all kinds of people telling me their life stories. Their pain. Their anxiety. People talk about the deaths of loved ones, some still raw and unprocessed. (I’ll never forget the man who told me of his son, who died of drowning just months prior, at age 4. I still think of him and hope he’s okay.) Sometimes it’s coworkers, sometimes it’s complete strangers.

              1. Olive*

                I don’t mind at all to listen to people who share their dreams, pain and hurts ….
                It’s the drama queens I get annoyed with.

    2. Mallory*

      I had a coworker who was always eager to tell anybody who would listen the details of his and his wife’s swinger parties. I did not want to hear that about him (doubly so because he was greasy, unkempt, and gross — but, really, not even if he were Brad Pitt).

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Wow. I’m at a loss for words but didn’t management ever overhear and tell him that was inappropriate to discuss at work? Or HR ever have a discussion with him?

        1. Mallory*

          Well, this was out on a factory floor, so management really wasn’t very concerned about such things. I just avoided that guy.

    3. Ann Furthermore*

      OMG yes. I had a cubicle next to a woman who did this, and I sat next to hear for 2 long years. Most of the time I could tune her out or wear headphones, but not always. She talked constantly about every minute detail of her life. Most aggravating was when she would watch a TV show or movie that she really enjoyed, and then want to relate every twist and turn of the plot, lines of dialogue she liked, and so on.

      She purchased a loft downtown, and had it remodeled. I knew every painful triviality of her dealings with her contractor, and there was a time when I could have told you exactly what the layout of the place was, and how it was decorated, down to the placement of the last throw pillow on the sofa, even though I’d never set foot in the place. OMG. She just never shut up. Ever.

      Then I moved into another cube, and right over the wall sat a guy with the world’s most annoying laugh. People would ask me how I was able to stand it. When I said, “Well, I sat next to Chatty McOvershare for 2 years,” they understood that the annoying laugh guy was actually a nice change.

      1. Dmented Kitty*

        My thought was to move Mr Annoying Laugh next to Chatty McOvershare’s cube. Then Mr Annoying Laugh will lose all urge to laugh.

        Problem solved. :P

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          Ha! Now that’s an ingenious solution. I wish I would have though of that.

    4. Elizabeth*

      Oh man, yes. Over the past three years, one co-worker in particular has shared wayyy too much information about her pregnancy, labor and delivery, and her child’s bodily functions.

      I have no doubt that pregnancy and parenthood is really freaking disgusting at times. I get that without hearing stories about your third degree tear during delivery or your toddler’s explosive diarrhea.

      1. some1*

        Ugh, this is right up there on the Discomfort Scale with coworkers who complain about their bad financial situation. It’s so hard to know what to say. I can certainly relate, but it’s such an awkward topic at work.

      2. Ann Furthermore*

        I will admit to commiserating with co-workers who have kids my daughter’s age about parenting horror stories, but I would never talk about that stuff with random co-workers.

        1. Elizabeth*

          Totally understand that. No kids yet, but I’ve had private conversations with co-workers on subjects we have in common that probably wouldn’t be of interest to the staff at large. Maybe it’s our open-plan office? It seems like in this type of space, people tend (or feel obligated) to share stories office-wide that might, in another context, be a two- or three-person conversation with co-workers who can relate.

      3. Anon Accountant*

        Yes! Or their bathroom issues to phrase it nicely. I stopped that in its tracks when I was getting a migraine and said “please stop telling me about it and if it worries you then see a doctor”.

        Not intended to be short with her but it stopped the oversharing.

      4. James M*

        Lol! That might be worse than the coworker who shirks whatever they can by using IBS as an excuse… and going into detail when pressed on the issue.

  6. Kay*

    Of course, sometimes the basic: “Wow…” works too when the nosiness bleeds into rudeness.

    1. Mallory*

      I always hear “Wow” recommended as a tactic. Am I the only person who is surrounded by people who lack the subtlety to pick up on that one? So many people recommend it that it must be working on somebody. It really makes me suspect that my people are way more obtuse than others, because that would not even register with them, and they’d just plow on with their line of questioning as if it were a mere sneeze.

      1. Kay*

        It requires a specific tone of voice, sometimes combined with walking away if people are particularly obtuse. But it’s also possible that you just work with a very special group.

      2. Jillociraptor*

        Eh…I also know some people who proactively refuse to read more subtle stuff like this. They keep pushing your boundaries until you tell them directly and specifically to stop (and often then it’s “GOSH you don’t have to be such a JERK about it”).

        1. The Real Ash*

          And then you say, “You don’t have to be one either” as you walk away. :)

        2. Mallory*

          Most everyone I know (or at least with whom I have regular dealings) falls into one of two camps: either they have the sensibility not to pry into personal stuff so that I never have to say anything to them, or they are so brazen about prying and so obtuse about signals to stop that I have to be flat-out direct with them.

          I think saying it with a very “WTF” expression AND walking away like Kay says would probably get the point across. Like, you can’t say, “Wow” and then hang around to see what-all else they have to say.

  7. Anonymous*

    I think my reaction alone lets people know they’re being nosy. I can’t help but pause and say “uhh …” when I’m asked a personal question. I don’t do it on purpose but it works, they move on to other topics. Or I playfully say “why are you in my business?” and leave it at that, no further response needed.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Good point- some of these nosy people do not even realize we have not answer their question. That is almost funny, really.

  8. AHK*

    I’ve been working a lot on my replies to these sorts of inquiries at work (especially now that I’m actually at my due date). Lately I’ve been just replying with a raised eyebrow or headshake and walking away. But this has not been enough, and now I really need to be more direct with people, because it’s gotten unpleasant enough that I actually sort of dread coming into the office, never sure of who will say what unintentionally invasive/offensive thing to me.

    1. LQ*

      If these questions are coming up with regularity when you are in a place where you can redirect to work I’d just really focus on work.

      “Oh so I’m going to ask an inappropriate question now!?!”
      “We need to get the new schematics for the Chocolate Handles done by 5 pm friday, can you do that?”
      “Are you going to go in and be induced?”
      “So friday by 5 pm won’t be a problem for you?”

      Alternately if you want people to know I have a coworker who put up a sign with answers to questions people must have asked her a thousand times as her due date neared. Apparently when someone passed her in the hall or anything she just referred them to her sign.
      “No, it’s not twins.
      Yes, it’s healthy.
      No, we don’t know if it’s a boy or girl.”

      1. Kay*

        I would be so tempted to make a snarky sign in this situation, but it would probably do more harm than good.

        “No, I’m not fat enough for this to be twins”
        “Yes, it’s healthy” <– leave one normal answer
        "Actually we were hoping for puppies, but I guess we'll find out soon enough"

        Can sarcasm be a method of dealing with inappropriately nosy people? I know it's not the most professional way, but it could be effective.

    2. KJR*

      I don’t know what it is about pregnancy that makes people think it’s OK to make rude comments they wouldn’t normally make, especially weight-related ones! Infuriating.

      1. Red Librarian*

        Oh, yes. We have a pregnant woman in our office now and it’s amazing to me the comments I overhear people make regarding her size.

        1. Excel Geek*

          I had a boss (male) ask me, on a conference call, if I was planning on nursing and how I was going to pump when I came back to work.

          1. Diet Coke Addict*

            My boss’s wife once walked into our office and directly over to my very pregnant coworker, began patting her belly without even a greeting, and asked if she was planning a vaginal or C-section delivery, and if she planned on an epidural, or what? My coworker’s response was a blank stare. God but I wish I could make this stuff up.

          2. cv*

            To be fair, asked in private this could conceivably be a reasonable, work-related questions. Nursing mothers in the US are legally allowed breaks to pump and have to be provided with an appropriate private place to do so. In some offices (like the 6-person office I worked in a couple of years ago), providing that private space on a regular schedule would take some forethought. But it would have to be framed in a professional way, like “Will you be needing accommodations for nursing and pumping when you get back from leave?”

            I think I squicked out my 20-something gay male supervisor when I had to go through him to figure out the pumping arrangements during a grad school internship, though he was very nice about it. But it’s a genuine managerial/HR issue.

  9. Artemesia*

    When interviewing close to 40 years ago for an academic job fresh out of my PhD and with one toddler at the time, I was asked in a meeting with department faculty what my plans for future children were. I felt that it was horribly out of line but of course, these people were going to decide if I got the job or not and so I didn’t want to say that. What I said was ‘That is between my God, my husband and myself.”

    I am a freethinker who has never consulted God about any such matter.

    Years later I discovered written evidence that one of the key members of the committee encouraged a positive vote for me because of my strong Christian values.

  10. Anon Accountant*

    I’m so immature at times but I love to ask “Can you keep a secret?” and if they say yes then smile and say “So can I and this is 1 of them”.

    I only use that on nosy family though.

      1. Phyllis*

        My brother has a good way to handle that. He’ll say, “You writin’ a book?” Of course, the answer is no. He’ll say, “Why do you want to know?” If you’re feeling snarky and say yes, he’ll say, “Leave that chapter out.” :-)

  11. T*

    I have two thoughts related, but on the other side of the nosy-neighbor fence. One is about coworkers that over share (as Interviewer mentioned) and the other is about culture. I think our culture in general is more open about sharing private information in a public forum. Even on this blog, people share very personal information. I assume because it’s anonymous, such sharing feels safer, but it is still sharing private details in a public setting. I think this, in addition to some of the possible reasons already mentioned by others, may make both over sharers and nosy people feel that their behavior is acceptable or appropriate. Additionally, some offices have cultures that are more open to such behavior. I recently worked a temp job at a company whose president was pregnant and close to her due date. As a temp receptionist, one of the calls I answered was from someone whose first words were to ask if she’d had her baby yet and to ask me for more information about when that was supposed to happen. I wasn’t comfortable sharing that information, and it struck me as odd that someone who hadn’t even identified himself had asked such a thing, but in that company’s culture, his doing so seemed perfectly normal.

    My thoughts regarding over sharers is not about getting them to stop (although the topic might be a good one for a future post), but more for those who don’t like nosy questions. If you are one of the people bothered by nosiness, are you careful about how you share personal information at work? If you talk in a even a normal voice about personal matters with coworkers, someone else can probably hear it, in which case inquisitive people probably think it’s ok to ask about it. I’m not making assumptions about anyone here who has been offended by rude inquisitors, but I am encouraging people to use discretion when sharing information at work or with coworkers, particularly if you don’t want certain people or the office at large to know your business.

  12. Wren*

    I always say, if you’re scared of the awkwardness of being direct, remember that you’re already feeling awkward. Why be alone in your awkwardness? Dilute it by spreading it around, and reap some boundary setting in one move!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I have found this very helpful. I match the words coming at me.
      Gentler questions get a gentler answer. Bold questions get a bold answer.

  13. C Average*

    I think what’s tricky about both nosiness and oversharing behavior at work (or in any other large group that’s not self-selected, really) is that it only bothers us when SOME people do it. I’ve rarely met anyone who was ALWAYS private at work. So I think treating this as a “boundaries in the workplace” question might be a mis-framing. This is a “boundaries with people who are trying to force an unwanted level of intimacy.” We just happen to work with these people.

    It’s like the friendly guy who’s attractively attentive if you happen to be attracted to him, but a creeper if you don’t. It’s situational and subjective, and it’s really hard to make consistent rules because we don’t react to the people around us consistently.

    The colleague I sometimes run with on my lunch break? She could ask or tell me just about anything, and it wouldn’t bother me a bit. We’ve worked together for 8 years, logged many miles together, and spent time hanging out outside the office.

    The new guy who won’t shut up about his infant daughter’s sleep habits and asks me about my weekend every Monday? He pushes my buttons, because I don’t know him from Adam and wouldn’t be talking to him at all if he didn’t sit in the next cube, and his efforts to be friendly feel like way too much way too soon.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Yeah, I think that’s what bothers a lot of people. If you are friendly with and know the coworker better, it somehow feels less intrusive, whether they’re asking something or sharing their own stuff. But I often wonder about people who ask nosy questions when they really don’t know you. What possible difference does it make to their lives?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yep. It’s the reciprocity combined with the thoughtfulness of what a coworker says.

        I will also add it involves consistency. I have worked with people similar to this example but this is not any one particular person. Sue comes over and strikes up a conversation- we have a lovely chat. The conversation feels like a back and forth sharing. Two hours later, Sue is back. This time she is raging angry over some trivial thing that may or may not be my fault. However, she has decided it’s my fault, without my inputs. I drew the short straw for whatever reason. This is not a one-off this has happened several times.
        It’s that inconsistency that tells me this is not a trust-worthy person. Okay, maybe she doesn’t steal or lie but I cannot trust her to be even-keeled. I cannot trust her not to make mountains out of mole hills. I don’t want to share a lot about myself with her. And frankly, I am not that interested in her at home stuff, either.

        Likewise, I am cautious around the coworker who is pleasant most of the time EXCEPT work place questions. “GET your own pens!” “Sorry, I can’t help you with X.” [picture angry voice here] I have had a few of those types, too. Don’t ask them anything work related. But it makes me want to just stay away from them.

    2. Who are you??*

      This nailed it on the head!!! I work with two women…one I like and one I don’t. When the one I like asks me about my weekend it doesn’t bother me. When the one I don’t like asks me the same question I turn cold and snappish.

      1. MaggietheCat*

        I didn’t realize some people considered asking about a co-worker’s weekend was nosey! I always thought of that as friendly like saying “have a good weekend” on Friday is the same as “did you have a good weekend?” Monday. Is your co-worker asking for more detail than that – like what you did? Even then, I would consider someone asking friendly. I’m wondering if I am being considered rude now…

        1. C Average*

          Yeah, that’s kind of my point. The question itself is perfectly innocuous, but when it feels like some kind of forced intimacy campaign from someone you don’t know well and/or don’t particularly like, it can still grate.

          Friendly from someone you want to be friendly with = good.
          Friendly from someone you don’t want to be friendly with = not so good.

          The trick is to disengage from the unwanted friendliness without coming across as prickly. I’m still working to master that.

          1. Tina*

            I agree with C, it’s not an inherently nosy question, but depending on who it is, I sometimes want to say “none of your business.” If I don’t want to tell them, I usually say “fine and yours?”

          2. Clever Name*

            Yep. Some coworkers I’m friends with and some I’m not. I’ll ask my friends how their weekend was, because I’m genuinely interested. The others, I really don’t give a rat’s ass how their weekend went, but it’s an innocuous small-talk filler, at least in my office, so I’ll ask.

            Same if it’s the other way around. I’ll answer my friend’s “how was your weekend” much differently than a coworker I’m not friends with.

    3. Jillociraptor*

      I think you’re right that oversharing is not so much about quantity or even type of information as about effectively reading the signals of the person you’re talking to. There probably are some bright lines in the workplace, but I bet that much more of it is this.

    4. anony*

      This. I will go a step further and say that it depends on whether or not I like you and what I judge your intention to be. Some people just like being involved in all the office gossip just to pass time and some just over share to much. I shut them both out…

  14. StarHopper*

    My coworkers aren’t so bad, but teaching high school, I deal with a lot of students asking nosy questions, especially since I had a baby last year. This past spring, after relating a funny story about the baby to a group of students, a male student started to ask a question. I am 99% sure it was going to be either about breastfeeding or natural childbirth, but I guess I’ll never know because he quickly backtracked with a “Nevermind, I don’t need to know.” I love a teenager who can course-correct like that!

    1. KJR*

      I have the utmost admiration for good high school teachers. It’s such a fine line between being accessible/approachable and getting the subject matter across effectively. I sometimes cringe when I hear the stuff that gets thrown at them (figuratively) in the course of a class session. Teenagers are an inquisitive bunch!

    2. Muriel Heslop*

      My high schoolers asked all kinds of questions (How come you aren’t married? But why don’t you want to be on Big Brother? ) but my middle schoolers were much more so. And they thought every man over the age of 18 that I spoke to was my secret boyfriend. I probably work with lots of nosy people but teaching school has hardened me to them. I just ignore them or change the subject without acknowledging the question.

      1. Midge*

        It’s funny how little kids that age understand the dynamics of adult dating. I remember during summer camp one year, my bunk decided our counselor should date one of the male counselors because they had the same color toothbrush. I wish I could go back and apologize for hassling her like that!

        1. Ethyl*

          OMG yes! I volunteer with a local food pantry/community garden that is run by Franciscan friars. One day we were planting seedlings with “help” from a group of kids, and they were insistent that I was married to the brother who was running the show that day!

  15. Lachesis*

    I had a coworker who was in the late stages of pregnancy. We were both tellers at a bank and customers and employees alike would constantly ask her all kinds of questions. So much so that I memorized the answers of the most frequent. When she had the day off, people would freak and ask if she had gone into labor.

    When she finally did go on maternity leave and had the baby, we just framed the birth announcement and left it on the teller line so we wouldn’t be questioned about the details so much.

  16. Who are you??*

    My mother is (and always has been) the nosy person at work. She’s asked co-workers, friends, family and strangers questions I wouldn’t think to ask good friends (financial, medical, etc). Recently she started working for a new manager who happens to be my age. This manager apparently set up some boundaries for the barrage of nosy questions my mother threw at her in the first few weeks for work. Since then my mother has considered this woman her mortal enemy. As someone who had dealt with the annoying questions all her life (and has mother issues :) ) I envy this woman’s ability to not only stop the flow of nosiness but the ability to get my mother to talk to her only for work related/professional reasons.
    **Note: the only people who know that this woman is so hated by my mother are my sisters and I. I swear my mother could win an academy award with her professionalism at work. LOL!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

      I know a bit about what you are talking about. That is so tiring to deal with. (head shaking..)

  17. Pennalynn Lott*

    When someone asks me an overly-personal / nosy question, I like to say in an almost conspiratorial tone, “You know, you should be careful when asking people those types of questions, because a lot of folks would be offended by that.” I effectively dodge their question by giving advice about “other people” who might be offended.

  18. OhNo*

    I’m going to have to try a few of these on one of my coworkers. She has been trying to figure out if I’m gay for the better part of a year, and she is nowhere near as subtle as she thinks she is. She isn’t so crude as to come out and ask, but I am constantly being interrogated on what I think of such-and-such star(let), was I aware that many famous people who went to my school are gay, and did I know that I have the same hairstyle as her butch lesbian neighbor? And my favorite, “Oh, you went to pride? Who did you go with? Did you meet anyone there? Did you know that Pride is FULL of gay people?”

    If anyone has any suggestions for shutting down a nosy line of conversation when the nosy person doesn’t ask you a direct question, I’m all ears.

    1. KJR*

      People have too much time on their hands…or not enough going on in their own lives! I dunno, I might like to keep her guessing just for the hell of it! She sounds super obnoxious.

      1. OhNo*

        I have no intention of actually answering her non-question, no matter how many times she asks, so I fear she will have to remain confused and curious forever!

    2. C Average*

      If colleagues did this to me, I’d be so tempted to mess with them.

      “Her? . . . She’s all right, if you’re into that kind of thing. . . . What kind of thing did I mean? Oh, y’know. Films. Acting. That kind of thing.”

      “Wow. You pay a lot of attention to this stuff. Who knew?”

      “Butch? You think? Huh. Lopping it all off was the easiest way to get rid of the head lice, but now that you mention it, I guess I could see how someone who’s really sensitive to these things might find it a bit butch.”

      “Pride? That’s not really my scene, but my friends Pat and Lee wanted to watch part of the parade, so I went with them for a bit. Were you there? I thought I saw someone who looked like you, but it was hard to tell for sure with the rainbow wig and face paint.”

      1. LCL*

        This is also my style. It works great as long as the questioner isn’t in a position of authority over you. For those in authority, I try to deflect the question or answer with a complete nonsequitor.

    3. The Real Ash*

      Did you know that Pride is FULL of gay people?

      XD This is the best one! You should’ve made a really incredulous face and said, “Oh my god, are you serious?! I had no idea!”.

    4. Not So NewReader*

      “I noticed you have a lot of questions about gay people. Probably you can find most answers on the internet. There is no need to ask me. Thank you.”

      “More questions about gay people? Hmm. I have work to do, excuse me.” [Turn away, walk away whatever fits.]

      1. Not So NewReader*

        My post got away from me. One more:

        “You know, talking about people’s sexual orientation is really not appropriate in the work place. You might want to be careful about doing that.”

        1. YepReally*

          I f they are the same sex as you- “politely” decline their “advances.” Say something like- I am really sorry, I think you have misinterpeted my friendliness- I am not interested in you THAT way.

    5. flanny*

      I’m sorry you’re experiencing that; that’s not cool. This sort of thing happened to a friend of mine, but the coworker in question did eventually just come out and ask him if he was gay or not, because she was that special. He didn’t know what to do, either, so he just told her, but it’s a really awful, potentially unsafe situation to put someone in.

      In my experience the only real way to shut down someone like that for good is to make them really mad at you, such as by you totally ignoring them, no longer pretending to be interested in them when they’re talking, avoiding them at all costs, or doing something else that will piss them off. If you do that right they’ll never talk to you again, which will of course make for some awkward work situations, but over time you’ll ignore each other. It’s inelegant and awkward, yes.

      Or else maybe you can try responding to her indirectness with directness, like, ‘Are you asking me that because you want to know whether or not I’m gay?’ and seeing what happens.

    6. Jks*

      This reminds me of a new colleague who, the first time I met her, when she saw the lambda charm on my necklace, asked me a whole bunch of questions about it. To be fair, she was asking because she wanted me to tell her that I was gay so she could tell me that she’s pro-gay, but jeez, I had just met her. Couldn’t that kind of conversation wait until we knew each other a little better?! I felt cornered, and I didn’t appreciate the pressure I did not answer her questions the way she wanted me to, and I didn’t mind at all leaving her wondering.

      I finally came to the conclusion that I couldn’t wear the necklace without paying the price of fielding questions, but I’ve noticed lately (in the last couple of years) that no one asks me about it anymore – probably because I just don’t care anymore what anyone might say about it. Or because I live in Boston now, and people here are either very polite and mind their own business, or we’re so accustomed to people having all manner of sexualities, that it’s just not a big deal, which is mostly a big relief, but I have to admit that sometimes it’s almost a let-down that no one is shocked that I’m gay.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Oh my.

      “Is there a particular reason why you always ask me questions about my spouse’s disability?”

      “You know. My time at work is my time out from that topic. I would appreciate your understanding of that.”

      “This is a difficult time for my spouse and I would prefer to respect his privacy and not talk about it with others.”

      “For me, that is an ‘at home’ situation and I will not be discussing it at work.”

    2. OhNo*

      If it’s questions about “Can he do X?” or “How does that work?”, I suggest telling them, “I’m busy right now, but if you’re interested in [disability], you can look it up online”. As a person with a disability myself, I often use that as an out for talking specifics.

      Or, even better: “I’m not comfortable sharing my spouse’s private medical information without their permission.” This has the bonus of pointing out that disability is actually private medical info that is none of their dang business. Again, something I (and some of my friends) have used in the past to great effect.

      1. YepReally*

        Thank you for your replies- there were worse, more intrusive questions, and I have been floored as to how to reply as I was just shocked. They really suck. I don’t want drama ,but I want to tell them to mind their fing business. I have chosen just to ignore it as I don’t want to be accused of being sensitive. I am not sensitive, it is just not any of their business …I don’t ask why they are so socially inept, rude nor do I question their etiquette or IQ all of which I could. Next time I will ask them if they wold like to ask my spouse.

        1. The Real Ash*

          If someone accuses you of being sensitive, ask them what’s so wrong with being sensitive about not talking about your spouse’s physical disabilities? I honestly cannot fathom how you would ignore that, because if I were in your shoes, I would be livid and I would definitely be telling people to fuck off after a certain point.

          1. YepReally*

            It’s knowing where I am- an explosion, or telling them off would be gossip forever. I think they would relish it actually b/c that’s the way they are. Put on weight, lose weight, have a change in your personal life…blah, blah, blah….nothing is sacred. I guess I just need to accept it. I can only starve them of details and/or reaction.

  19. anony*

    I’m a private person and I work closely with an oversharer. I think we compliment each other. She talks and I tune her out…lol

    1. Vancouver Reader*

      I prefer it that way, as long as the oversharer doesn’t ask me anything.

  20. Mike C.*

    I’m always surprised at the number of “secret tricks” that people use in these situations. Instead of beating around the bush, why not skip to being direct?

    1. Not So NewReader*

      For me, I have to wait until I am motivated (read: ticked-off enough) to cut to the direct response. I prefer not to make people feel cornered, either. If I can offer them an easy out, I will. Some people get it, some people don’t.

      But to be fair- I have had many conversations at work that might be hair-curling to others. It depends on the person and the topic. There are many factors.

      1. YepReally*

        I am not quick enough and generally shocked by how rude people can be. I think it’s just the shock.

    2. Tinker*

      It falls into the category of a “direct no” and many folks are socialized to believe that doing so is rude and/or can invite substantial escalation (that latter, at least, isn’t even necessarily incorrect). If one holds that perspective and yet wants the behavior to stop, “secret tricks” are the next logical step.

      That’s not to say it works, but that’s one reason why it is.

  21. anonintheUK*

    I have had hours of amusement with one nosy ex-colleague in starting a rumour about myself and seeing if I recognised it when it got back to me.

  22. Cassie*

    My coworkers aren’t that nosy, but I hate having to answer questions about what my plans are for the weekend or what I did for the holidays. One coworker in particular won’t accept my answer of “nothing” – she will say “really? Nothing? You’re going to do nothing all weekend?” so I end up saying I’ll watch tv (true), read (also sometimes true), errands (also true). Then she’ll ask what I watch on tv – she was horrified to find out I don’t have cable (she actually asked how I can watch tv without cable). Uh, there’s Hulu, PBS, network tv…?

    I know she’s just trying to be sociable but I don’t get why she keeps trying. (And I know I should be direct and ask her to stop asking me, but I’m a coward so I won’t). It’s this 10 minute conversation where I’m practically giving one word answers and she just keeps pressing and pressing. I’m surprised she doesn’t get the hint.

  23. Dry White Whine*

    I just say ‘if I told you, I’d have to kill you’ with a slight smile and walk away. Works every time.

  24. Confused*

    A question I find really invasive is “Where do you live?” In the government sector/non-profit, I feel like it’s used as a gauge to determine how well you’re doing financially. I don’t wonder about where people live – but a lot of times people want to know where I live down to the intersection. Are they going to try to rob me? I’m single and I’m also asked if I live with roommates. I don’t know how to answer this question though. How can you deflect that type of question?

    I also really dislike the “What are you doing this weekend?” from people I don’t know that well or socialize with.

    1. CdnAcct*

      I work in a conservative environment (Bank) and have some niche hobbies. I’ve found that very general replies are good enough for most people: “What are you doing this weekend?”

      “Going out with friends”
      “Hanging out with friends”
      “Not much”

      If they start being pushy, I give another vague answer then switch to the weather forecast. Weather is a great topic to distract.

    2. Ruffingit*

      When they asked where you live down to the intersection or apartment number, you can just repeat your same reply “I live over by the library” or “I live in the area of 5th and Lincoln” assuming it’s a huge area as is the case where I live so that it would encompass a large swath of the city. Just repeat the general answer. They’ll either get the hint or you can just walk away, but it’s not their business where you live. If they ask if you live with roommates, you can say “No, but my friends are over all the time” if you’re concerned about why they’re asking that question. People just get really nosy sometimes.

  25. Nikki*

    I know what you mean. At my first real full-time job, I took the bait on many of these types of questions, which at first seem very innocent. I just thought people were being friendly or just trying to pass the time by making innocent conversation. However, “what are you doing this weekend?” eventually turned into “why don’t you go anywhere interesting? doesn’t your boyfriend take you nice places”? Then it was “oh, you are together 5 years? How wonderful!”, turned into “why aren’t you married yet”? Then, “oh you live at home? How lucky for you not to pay rent”. I got really sick of this really fast, and felt like such a fool for taking the bait. I really was naive. Now, at my new job, I answer vaguely with a slight smile. If they don’t take that nice hint that I don’t want to talk about it, then I just say “I keep my private life outside of work”.

    1. Confused*

      I totally hear you, Nikki. I don’t get why people are so fascinated by what other people do during the weekend. I mean, what do people do? Run errands and catch up on stuff they didn’t get done during the week. And if I take a romantic trip with my boyfriend, do you really think it’s something I want to share? “Yeah, me and my boyfriend made sweet love in the most beautiful little bed and breakfast – you just HAVE to go there with your husband.”

      But I still want to get ideas on what to do when people ask you “WHERE DO YOU LIVE? OH, IS THAT NEAR (SO AND SO). Wow, how do you afford that?”

      1. Ruffingit*

        OMG, what is it with people asking how you afford things? That is so incredibly rude! There are so many possibilities as to how someone could afford something and none of them are anyone’s business. Could be the person’s parent just died and they got the life insurance, could be they saved for years living in a hovel of an apartment so they could afford the nice house in the gorgeous neighborhood, could be someone else is paying the mortgage (parents, in-laws), could be their spouse comes from money, could be the spouse has an awesome job, could be they can’t actually afford it and they’re drowning in debt. And on and on. It’s just no one’s business how someone affords something.

        1. Nikki*

          Yes, I agree Ruffingit and Confused! I mean, a person with manners would NEVER ask someone who they aren’t that close with about their financial situation (even people you are close to, you still have to be careful)…therefore, I’ve come to realize they aren’t making innocent conversation, it’s just being rude.

      2. Nikki*

        Confused- LOL at the bed and breakfast thing!!!! I know, why would I tell people these details! I sure don’t want to know about their love lives. And who are they to insinuate we don’t have a nice relationship because we have to run errands on weekends and catch up on things? Ridiculous. As far as where you live, I’m not sure….I usually say I’m around so and so or are ten minutes away from whatever……if they ask how can you afford it, just say “my place is actually quite affordable” and keep repeating it until they get the hint you aren’t elaborating.

  26. sidewalk*

    I work with someone who keeps asking me about my credentials. I tell them yes I have valid credentials, but this person keeps insisting otherwise and goes as far as searching the internet in trying to disclaim me. At the end of the day, I do not need to prove anything to this co-worker.

  27. Ann*

    Oh, this is great. I started riding my bike to work and I get asked about that and why I don’t have a car at least several times a day. It drives me absolutely nuts. There’s one woman in particular who is every day offering me a ride at least once, asking me to call her at home for a ride, etc. I know that she is gay. I am straight woman. But she’s also really obnoxious and rude and nosy about my life. I work next to her physically and I don’t know how to handle it. I have told her I don’t want a ride over and over again. She is making me really angry. I can’t stand her. arrrhhg what should I do?

    1. Oh no not again*

      Not sure why her orientation matters here, but I’ll assume you think she fancies you (also, an aside: just because she’s gay and offering you rides doesn’t necessarily mean she’s interested–as a gay woman I worry all the time how what I do and say will be interpreted by other women at the work place because I do not want them thinking that I’m interested in them–it sucks having to be hyper vigilant, but there are some straight women who think that every lesbian wants them. Awkward.)? If she is making a pass at you, make it clear that you are not interested. If you aren’t comfortable doing that, go to management or HR. Tell her you don’t accept rides from coworkers and if she pushes, tell her it’s none of her business and to not bring it up again. There’s some good responses upthread for what to say to shut down nosy questions. Good luck.

  28. TM*


    First of all, relieved to see that I am not alone in getting frustrated by coworkers’ rudeness!

    I have a couple of really nosy colleagues, who love bringing others down, but one of them is unashamed about it, and goes around collecting gossip on everyone. Her first question to me when we were alone was about my citizenship status- I was so shocked that I blurted out the answer honestly, and then she told other people the next day (it’s something I would not have shared if I had a choice since it reveals my age etc). Since then I have been wary when I talk to her, have used ‘don’t care to discuss that’ sometimes, but she asks focussed questions and she can usually read the answer on my face.

    She has moved to another team recently, but I got an email from her last week saying ‘someone mentioned you were studying. Is this true?’ (again something I have not shared with anyone but my bosses). I tried to deflect by implying that I was studying a free online course, but I am really disturbed (I hate nosiness since I try hard to be polite and professional myself). I feel that without a direct ‘no’ she has the answer/ confirmation she wanted.

    Does anyone have any suggestions for dealing with someone like this? I feel an answer like ‘I don’t want to discuss that’ would be taken as a ‘yes’.


  29. Avidreader*

    TM unfortunately these nosy co-worker drones can be relentless and with our privacy being eroded daily there is not much that co-workers can’t find out about you, and without your knowing. With this particular person you are going to have to learn to tell her the opposite. If the answer is ‘yes’ then give her a ‘no’ and move on. These kind of people need to feed on the private lives of others because typically their lives are unfulfilled or just f’d up.

    My story – I am one who goes to work and tries to be as productive, cordial, and professional as possible. One day we were all asked to provide a contact phone number on the team roster. I foolishly provided my cell phone number and one day while a co-worker was doing the typical where do you live, how do you live, etc. he began to tell me things about myself that I had never mentioned to anyone at work. This really made me uncomfortable and I reported it to management. Well it turns out that he simply went online to one of those people search sites, entered my cell phone number and proceeded to purchase a background check report. Because I am not one to give a crap about other people’s private lives, I had no idea this information was available. I got busy deleting all of this information from the Internet from the various data broker sites and I now use Google phone. The google phone number will never reveal your information and this will allow you some privacy, but most people aren’t even aware that this exists. I wish you the best and hope that one day, nosy and intrusive folks will wake up and realize that they need to spend that energy minding their own lives…but I won’t hold my breath.

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