how can I shut down a nosy receptionist’s questions about my appointments?

A reader writes:

How do you politely avoid questions about doctor or dental appointments from nosy coworkers?

In my workplace, we have a sign-out sheet to keep track of where employees are over the course of the day, with the times we left the building and where we’re going in case someone needs to track us down. When I have any kind of health thing scheduled during the work day, I just write “appointment” because I don’t think anyone needs to know more specifically than that what I’m up to. I’m out of the building for a personal thing; I’m taking personal time; I can be reached by cell or email if something urgent comes up.

However, the receptionist who is in charge of the sign-out sheet is quite nosy in a way that she thinks is fondly maternal (I’m in my twenties and she’s in her sixties) but feels really personal and invasive. When I’m headed out the door, she often asks where I’m going because she’s noticed I have an appointment, and she wants to know what’s going on “because I care about you” or “because I worry about you.” In the moment I get flustered and often end up saying “I’m getting my teeth cleaned” or whatever, but I wish I didn’t — we aren’t close, and if I wanted her to know, I’d volunteer the information.

Do you have any phrases I can keep in my back pocket to help maintain my boundaries and turn aside this kind of question in a polite but firm way?

Wow, insisting on personal information “because I worry about you” adds a new layer of weirdness to this. Plenty of people inadvertently ask intrusive questions because they’re making small talk and don’t realize that they’re asking someone to reveal something they intentionally might be keeping quiet. But that doesn’t sound like what’s happening here. She’s prying because she thinks she has a right to pry.

But you still don’t need to give in, just because she’s couching the nosiness in the language of concern and care.

When she asks where you’re going, it’s fine to say any of these:

* “Just an appointment! I’ll be back by 4.”
* “Taking care of something personal. See you later!”
* “I’ve got to run! I’ll be back in a few hours.”

And then leave. If you say these as you’re walking out the door, you’re cutting off the conversation quite effectively.

But if you can’t leave immediately and she replies to these statements with, “But what kind of appointment is it?” then you need to get more explicit. In that case, it’s worth saying something like:

* “I actually prefer not to share details of personal appointments.”
* “Just an appointment. I don’t want to get into the details.”
* “I’m sure you haven’t thought of this, but some appointments can be very personal and people may not want to share those details at work.” You could add, “I’d rather not be asked for that reason.”

That last one is my favorite, but you can do any of these.

If you set firm boundaries and don’t let them collapse under her pushing, she’s likely to get the message in time. (Some of these will deliver the message more quickly than others, but it just comes down to what you’re comfortable saying.)

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 524 comments… read them below }

    1. JokeyJules*

      respectfully, I wouldn’t go this route. It seems like the receptionist is being genuine in caring about the people she works with, this might be more hurtful to her than helpful to OP and others.

      1. Lilo*

        If you are genuine in caring, you leave it alone. My boss was diagnosed wit h cancer last year and 100% did not want to talk about it at work. Work was her escape from being sick. She told need to know people but asked that it be kept quiet. Caring does not mean prying. Caring means respecting her wishes. She chose not to share widely when she was given a terminal diagnosis because she didn’t want to break down crying at work. I respected her 100% for that.

        1. JokeyJules*

          that’s a tough situation and i hope your boss is well.

          But what i’m saying is that telling her in a snarky way to stop asking might not be the most effective solution for OP’s issue with OP’s receptionist asking where her appointments are.

          1. kittymommy*

            Agree, I mean I doubt the receptionist thinks/know her questions are prying. This is not something I would start out with (though may use if it continued after request to stop).

            1. MCMonkeyBean*

              I don’t know, if the receptionist didn’t know the questions were prying then there wouldn’t be any reason to “explain” that the questions is out of worry. That’s kind of a manipulative way to ask what would otherwise be a pretty casual question.

          2. Just Employed Here*

            Asking once = caring.

            Not taking a polite white lie for an answer = prying.

            I don’t care if some random colleague of mine is a worrier (as mentioned below) It’s not part of my job to keep her from worrying (about my private matters!). It’s part of my job to get along with my colleagues, sure, but this is not about getting along, as long as one doesn’t pick a particularly rude phrasing.

            1. EPLawyer*

              Even asking once is not caring when the person did NOT put down details. If she wanted you to know the details she would give them. Since she was vague it is obvious she wants to keep it vague. Asking even once is prying and not respecting the bright line boundary put down.

              1. zinzarin*

                OP said the receptionist is in her 60s; we’ve really only had our modern perspective towards privacy of medical details for a relatively short time. I’d be inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt here. If it were someone in their 20s or 30s, then you’d be talking about someone who’s spent their whole career in a world where HIPAA was a thing. That’s not the case here.

                1. Rainy*

                  There’s a reason HIPAA is a thing and some of it is people like this receptionist.

                  That said, I like humour so I would probably say things like “Oh, I need to get my giraffe groomed” “My gutters are full of squirrels, so gotta get that looked at” “I’m participating in a study of people who have immense patience with nosy questions”

                2. Pipe Organ Guy*

                  I’m in my 60s, and have no trouble at all considering people’s medical details off-limits to me. How much others wish to share with me, or not share, is entirely their business, not mine. It probably doesn’t hurt that I had the concept of “none of your business” drummed into me from childhood!

              2. JSPA*

                Some people are just brief by nature. It’s simple to say “oh nothing big” or “just a personal appointment” or “oh just one of those things” or “nothing that needs worrying about” or “just an ‘appointment’ appointment.” Basically reframe the question as “is there anything I need to know about this, do you want somebody to talk to” and answer accordingly.

                There are times when it is nice to have someone looking out for you. I’ll deal with quite a bit of someone signaling their availability to be a support person / part of “team me” if anything’s seriously wrong (having been in situations where that would have been great).

                1. thankful for AAM*

                  @rainy – I’d probably say, cheerfully and loudly, I’m having my vaginal serviced. With the goal of *showing* her what privacy means.

                  @pipe organ guy, I’m almost 60s and my mom was about as nosy as they come and literally taught us to ask nosy questions. I still fully grasp privacy, HIPPA, etc.

                2. thankful for AAM*

                  I feel like AAM’s advice has changed on this kind of thing.
                  I’m in favor of the advice that I used to see: “that’s a strange question to ask,” with a concerned look.

          3. Lilo*

            My boss wasn’t okay, she died last month.

            Point is, just asking my boss would have hurt her and reminded her of being sick, which she specifically did not want. Good intentions do by justify intrusive behavior. This can apply to a host of medical issues or legal issues like “meetings with my divorce attorney” or “arranging for care for my st with dementia”.

              1. Lilo*

                It was really hard. She was one of those managers who had overcome sexism in the past and was super tough as a result and hated the vulnerability of being sick. Hence why this kind of thing exactly would have been hurtful to her. She wanted us to see her as the in control person until the end.

            1. Observer*

              I totally agree that good intentions don’t excuse bad behavior. That doesn’t change the fact that the intentions may be good.

              I think it’s important to keep this in mind. As a practical matter, assume good intent in terms of how you think of the persn (ie “person who doesn’t get it” vs “person ho is awful”) and feel free to stop the behavior regardless.

              1. Lilo*

                My point is that intent doesn’t really matter. If it takes a clear “mean” (not sugar coated) slapdown to make her stop, it should be done. The “worrier” comments suggest she has already been told off subtly and defended her behavior.

                1. slick ric flair*

                  Snapping at a receptionist with a snarky comment when she asks where you’re off too is not a reasonable, practical piece of advice. It is extremely unlikely to provide the outcome the OP wants.

                2. Archaeopteryx*

                  The snark should only be escalated to if she keeps going after repeated attempts at some of Alison’s phrasings. It can actually be pretty satisfying to foil attempts at nosiness by becoming a perfectly friendly yet utterly bland brick wall from which no information can be pried. Not only does it feel more satisfying than snapping at someone, it also makes it impossible for them to complain that you were rude! Done right, it can feel like winnings a fencing match.

        2. B*

          THIS. I had a miscarriage last week. For all my colleagues know, except my closest coworker and my boss who know the real reason, I was down with the virus everyone else had. Work is my salvation right now since it keeps me distracted. I still find it astonishing that people keep asking. “So what did you have? Was it that respiratory thing? Are you better now?” And they don’t even back off when you’re evidently standoffish about it.

          1. Rumbakalao*

            I think office illnesses are a common source of small talk. It’s probably likely that your coworkers are not reading that you didn’t/wouldn’t want to talk about a virus they all had if they’re under the assumption- or if you have actually told them- that you had it too. That kind of thing, to me, wouldn’t immediately be prying. But if they’re just trying to play detective then maybe redirecting the conversation would work if you haven’t done so already?

      2. Akcipitrokulo*

        If she genuinely cared, she’d have backed off. Justifying prying as “caring about you” is not caring.

        1. Sacred Ground*

          Yes indeed. The woman is in her 60s, she knows or ought to know the difference. And framing her own nosiness as concern is phony on its face since she and the OP aren’t close, they barely know each other. If a friend, someone with whom I have an ongoing relationship outside of work, says she wants to know my business because she cares, I’d believe it. If a casual acquaintance at work, someone I barely know and barely knows me, says the same thing, I’d believe them to be nosy and concealing their nosy curiosity behind the pretense of caring.

      3. valentine*

        OP, was the sign-out sheet the receptionist’s idea? It’s onerous and TMI. She should want to reduce foot traffic in her area and to avoid being a hall monitor. No one needs to know where you are or when you left, unless it’s appropriate to chase you down. See if you can move this to online calendaring with basic information like “meeting” or “out of office” and how to contact you. Appointment? OOO/text/email. The rest ain’t nobody’s business but your own.

        1. WellRed*

          Yeah, I don’t get why people need to know what time you left. It’s not unreasonable to give an estimated time of return, though.

        2. Foreign Octopus*

          This is a good point.

          I know it depends on industry but the thought of a sign out sheet feels oddly infantalising. If you can be reached easily by phone/email then it seems strange to have a sign out sheet.

          I know this isn’t a script you can use but it might be worth looking into the history of this thing and seeing if there is a way that it can be done away with.

          1. Alienor*

            It reminds me of when my daughter was younger and I had to sign her in and out at the school office if she had a dentist appointment or something. And that felt infantilizing even by the time she was in high school (we were both relieved when she turned 18 halfway through her senior year and could sign herself out) so it’s even weirder for adults, barring situations where someone needs to keep track in case of an emergency.

            1. Parenthetically*

              That’s a totally necessary step from a security and liability standpoint for a school, though. They can’t have minors going out the side door and hopping into someone’s car without the administrators knowing that they’re really with who they’re supposed to be with — not just a kid ditching school, but a non-custodial parent or any number of things that could be problematic for a student and potentially open the school to liability.

              But yes, depending on the workplace, it does seem weird for adults to have to sign out.

            2. ElspethGC*

              You had to be there right up until she was eighteen? That does feel a bit extreme. At my school, as long as the parent gave the school a heads-up (I think it had to be in writing) that the teenager had an appointment, they could sign themselves out from about age fifteen or so. My school was basically in the centre of town and there was a doctor, an optician and an orthodontist within a five minute walk, so it was pretty normal for teenagers to check themselves out and then meet a parent at the relevant appointment.

              1. Totally Minnie*

                Some of this has to do with the laws in the city/state where the school is. When people aren’t legal adults yet, schools don’t always have a choice about getting parental involvement.

              2. MrsCHX*

                My son turned 18 mid-year too and nope…the school still has responsibility/liability and parents still have to sign the student out.

              3. alienor*

                Yes, all the way until her eighteenth birthday. She didn’t have a car in high school, but if she had it would have been even weirder for me to have to come and sign her out so she could drive herself away! It totally makes sense for small children and even young teenagers to need a parent present, but anyone old enough to drive should be old enough to be responsible for their own comings and goings.

                1. RUKiddingMe*

                  Agreed though I can see the school wanting a parental signature up to age 18. But after that I’m not even sure they could enforce that with someone who is at that point a legal adult.¯\_(ツ)_/¯

        3. Triplestep*

          To be fair, it is often part of a receptionist’s job to know when people will return. But if the first of Alison’s script suggestions don’t work, I would would move on to the icy cold stare, and then just leave.

          1. OfficeDrone*

            The only reason I could see for a sign out sheet is to keep track of who is in the building in case there is some type of emergency.

            1. Alienor*

              The building I used to work in had a sign-in/sign-out sheet for that reason if you were there outside normal business hours or on weekends. The rest of the time you could use your key card at any entrance, but if you were coming in at 5 am or on a Saturday afternoon or something, you had to sign in through the security entrance so they’d know you were there in case there was a fire or something. That made sense, but it would have felt weird to do it at noon on a Tuesday.

            2. Kelsi*

              That’s what ours is for. You don’t have to be more explicit than “out of the building for work reasons” (i.e. people can still contact you about work stuff) or “off work,” but we are expected to accurately report whether we’re in the building or not so that if something catches fire, we aren’t panicking about not being able to find Sally when Sally’s actually at the dentist.

            3. Wendy*

              Yeah, at my last job we had a sign out sheet, but only it was only used if you were leaving for lunch/on a coffee run/something else super brief. It was to get an accurate headcount and make sure everyone was safe in case of fires/emergencies. If you had something like an appointment that you’d already notified your supervisor of you didn’t need to sign anything. We also had kids in the building, so we had to have a lot of state regulated emergency plans in place, and that was one of them. At other jobs I’ve worked even that would have felt weird, honestly.

            4. JanetM*

              My previous office had a sign-out board for that reason — to be able to track folks in an emergency or fire drill. You didn’t have to say where you were going; Out of Office was sufficient. Whenever we had a fire drill, I’d snap a picture of the board on my way out (I was the office admin assistant).

        4. Sacred Ground*

          It does seem odd, kind of archaic. They need to know where you are so they can track you down if needed? This is the kind of rule that made sense before everyone had a mobile phone. Now, what’s the point?

          1. Washi*

            It does seem archaic. Our receptionist can see our calendars and we just put OOO when we’re gone. Easy peasy.

              1. Washi*

                Hmm, I don’t, but I probably should! For us, we sometimes have clients who drop by, and it’s just so the receptionist can let them know if we’re gone and when/if we might be back. But people don’t drop by that often so there’s not a ton of structure about what you do and don’t put down.

                But in addition to being more efficient, it feels more like treating us adults to have us all be responsible for updating our calendars vs. a paper sign out sheet.

        5. Michaela Westen*

          I think a sign out sheet showing where you’d be made sense in the days before cell phones, when if they needed to reach you while you were at, say, the dentist, they had to call the dentist’s office.
          This strikes me as a leftover from those days. I’m not able to think of a situation where they couldn’t just call OP’s cell… unless they’re in an area so remote there’s no cell service? Then it might still be needed.

        6. Totally Minnie*

          At a previous job, we used a whiteboard with a grid built in. There were hours across the top and names down the left side, and everybody had a colored magnet. When you were at work, your magnet was in the “in” column. When it was your day off, your magnet was in the “out” column. If you were leaving for a while and coming back, like going to lunch or a meeting or appointment, you put your magnet in the column for the hour when you expected to be back. It worked beautifully, and I didn’t have to explain my appointments to anybody.

        7. Harper the Other One*

          Sign our sheets may be required by health and safety laws in some areas, as a way for ensure everyone is accounted for if the building has to be evacuated. But even details about why the person was out wouldn’t be necessary; a straight “signed out / signed in” would be all you need.

          1. WS*

            Yes, because we have certain chemicals on hand, it puts our building into a different safety classification and we have to have a sign-in, sign-out sheet if you’re coming and going during the day, including on breaks. But you don’t have to put any details on it.

        8. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

          Sign-outs are a safety issue. If it’s not clear who’s in the office, and there’s a fire or other emergency, first responders could risk their lives looking for someone who left for the dentist.

          However, that’s all that the front desk needs to know. In or Out, and when can we expect you back.

          “I have an appointment, see you at about 3:00” is plenty. The answer to follow-ups is “Gotta go, don’t want to be late” … or when you’ve returned — “Better go see what my email has gotten up to!”

      4. Michaela Westen*

        IME people like this may *think* they’re being caring, but they’re not. She’s being nosy and controlling and someone like this could get more and more intrusive and take over OP’s life, if she’s allowed to.

      5. Lady Blerd*

        I agree. That is escalating a situation when the receptionist hasn’t shown any ill intentions beyond the nosiness. Alison has given some good scripts that should shut it down if she keeps it up, the next step is to complain to either HR or her boss.

      6. Nicelutherangirl*

        I wouldn’t take the snarky route, either, but it would be to avoid bringing further unnecessary conflict and stress into the work environment. I’m taking what the OP wrote at face value, so I don’t believe the receptionist is genuinely caring, even if she is in her own mind. She’s being nosy and disrespectful. Alison’s suggested responses are workplace appropriate, and if the receptionist continues to press for more information, the OP can bring it to HR or her supervisor.

    2. BethRA*

      Satisfying to think about, but “snarky” generally isn’t something you want to aim for a professional setting.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Yep. Speak it into reality. “Since you care, I’m sure you’ll understand why a lot of people wouldn’t want to share details — it could be a sensitive issue. I mean, I’m just getting my teeth cleaned this time, but next time, maybe it’ll be something I don’t want to discuss at work, you know?”

      2. Jan*

        I remember at a company I worked in 2015, we had a receptionist in our building who did that. It did get annoying that he commented EVERY TIME you left the building and came back. I used to briefly step outside to check my phone messages and take some air, then come back in. After hearing “That’s a quick lunch!” for what felt like the millionth time, I explained to him “Just because I get half an hour for dinner, it doesn’t mean I have to spend the whole of it outside, especially not in November when it’s freezing. Please stop commenting on my comings and goings. ‘Hi Jan’ is fine.” I wouldn’t have said that if it wasn’t for the fact my manager there was a micromanaging fusspot. It was bad enough having to justify my every movement to her without having to explain myself in my free time as well!

  1. Eulerian*

    My vote is for saying “I have to go to the gynecologist”. They will ask no further questions.

    I mean, don’t actually do this, but it made me giggle.

        1. Liet-Kinda*

          It’s trans-erasing and uninclusive, but it’s not transphobic. And come on – benefit of the doubt, remember? “Well, unless you happen to be a trans man – don’t forget they exist!” would have presumed good faith, whereas this sort of gives the impression you were just waiting to unleash a callout on the insufficiently woke.

          1. Michaela Westen*

            I work in OB/Gyne. Some of our patients are trans men. Imagine a trans man saying this. Definitely no further questions! :D

          2. Devon*

            I mean, it’s making transness into a joke/one-liner. That is what makes it transphobic rather than just cis-centric.

              1. 1.0*

                …which is SO WEIRD and SO UNTHINKABLE

                it’s the equivalent of having a good and hearty laugh over the unthinkable idea of a woman being married to another woman

                1. Liet-Kinda*

                  I was thinking it would come off as sarcastic irony, but maybe I’m not looking hard enough for opportunities to furiously call people out.

    1. sheworkshardforthemoney*

      One co-worker used to say “anal fissures!” if he was asked about an absence or appt.

      1. Relly*

        A year ago, I had to go to the gyno for a horrifying appointment that you don’t want to know about, involving words like “biopsy” and “stitches.” (I’m fine, it was just an abnormality, turns out.)

        I would be tempted to pull up a chair and begin relaying the story to her in all its gruesome glory. Pretty sure she wouldn’t ask again.

        1. iglwif*

          I had quarterly, then semi-annual, then annual pelvic, abdominal, and transvaginal ultrasounds for 20 years after my ovarian cancer diagnosis. I bet if I described them to people they’d never ask me another question ever again!

        2. R.D.*

          I had a physical therapist that used to talk at length about the abcess he had on his anus and the multiple surgeries he need to fix it. He was pretty good at the actual physical therapy, but major overshare.

          Anyway, I think I’d repeat his stories as my own.

          In fairness I did casually ask him why he had to reschedule something. I believe I fell into the category of people who unintentionally ask intrusive questions while making small talk and I also believe he fell into the category of people who tend to share highly personal information if they have a willing audience.. I’m not one to be squeamish and he seemed to want to talk about it, so I heard a ton about his anal abscess over the next couple of appointments.

        3. Nicelutherangirl*

          Or it could backfire. Receptionist could use that as an invitation to share stories of her own medical issues.

      2. What's with Today, today?*

        I posted this further down, but yeah, I have Crohn’s disease. No matter where I’m going, if asked in this manner, I give a really disgusting Crons-y answer and that person usually never asks again.

        1. copier queen*

          I also have Crohn’s, and go to the hospital for an infusion every 8 weeks, for just a few hours. My boss is happy to accommodate this. The co-worker who is closest to me in proximity is SUPER nosy about everyone’s comings and goings. She used to always question me about appointments, sick leave, etc. On the day after an infusion, I finally told her exactly what I was doing, down to getting an IV in my hand, my fear of needles, trying to avoid seeing others in the room get stuck, worrying about picking up an illness at the hospital, etc.
          She doesn’t ask me questions anymore.

      3. Wintermute*

        Reminds me of a co-worker that called in once (it was a very informal workplace and he was joking with a manager he was friends with, but the manager had to, by policy, demand all the details of his illness) ” bad case of anal glaucoma”– “Yeah man, I can’t see my a** coming in today”.

      4. Yet even another Alison*

        Another possible shutter upper is to say your appointment concerns have a boil removed your butt check… will hear crickets…..

    2. JokeyJules*

      While humorous, definitely don’t do this. I tried this once at Exjob as a last resort and suddenly everyone started planning my baby shower… i’m not pregnant and never have been.

        1. Just Employed Here*

          Yeah, but many people are. Any hint at lady parts by a not-too-old female person, and they start thinking pregnancy/babies! Never mind that most gynacologist visits are about health matters or specifically about *not* getting pregnant.

          I think I’m getting old enough that I could use this, but I wouldn’t suggest the OP does.

          1. Foreign Octopus*

            Things like Pap smears, breast checks, changes in menstruation, overall vaginal and uterine health.

            1. iglwif*

              Where I live, you go to your family doctor for all of that stuff. I’ve only ever heard of going to an OB/GYN when you a) are pregnant, b) are trying to get pregnant, or c) are pregnant but want to not be.

              I’m guessing this is another one of those US/Canada differences I keep running into!

              1. Just Employed Here*

                Where I am in Europe, you don’t go to a gynacologist when you are pregnant. You go to a specific maternity centre staffed by nurses, and they send you to a gynacologist exactly twice during the whole pregnancy, barring any problems.

                When you give birth, there is a midwife or maybe two to help you. A doctor will be in the building, if suddenly needed, but if all goes well you’ll never even see her.

                1. iglwif*

                  We have midwifery care here, too! I don’t think all Canadian provinces do, but Ontario, where I live, definitely does. Lots of people never see an OB/GYN at all.

                2. Asenath*

                  We have midwives, but availability varies considerably. In my province, they were mostly available in extremely remote communities, but there are fewer such isolated places. I think I read a report that we’ll be doing as other provinces have for some decades, and getting midwives in larger centres. A few family doctors used to deliver babies too, but I don’t think that happens much, if at all, any more. Apparently the extra malpractice insurance premiums are very high and not worth it if you only deliver a few babies.

                3. Aveline*

                  Technically, a gynecologist deals with all issues relating to the vagina/uterus/etc. An obstetrician deals with pregnancy. Sometimes they are the same person. But not all Gyns are also Oby-Gyns, at least in the USA.

                4. sheworkshardforthemoney*

                  My family doctor delivered my kid and then my grandkids. I think he’s retired now which is sad because I loved the connection.

              2. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

                I just went through a hellish year that ended with a hysterectomy two months ago…I can’t imagine my primary care handling any of it!! Thank goodness for specialists.

                1. iglwif*

                  I hope you are OK now!!

                  I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when I was 21. My family doctor at the time handled all the diagnostic testing and when she realized a specialist was needed, got me an appointment with a gynecologic oncologist.

                  It’s not that family doctors handle *everything*? It’s more that they handle all the routine stuff and act as like … a care hub, I guess. They can refer you on to whatever other care you need (medical specialists, physiotherapy, psychological services …) and all the specialists send them back information on their interactions with you, so they have a fuller picture of your overall health.

                2. Dust Bunny*

                  Amen to this. I started treatment for a non-life-threatening but annoying, and possible problematic long-term, condition about a year ago, and it was not something with which most GP’s could have helped. It turned out to be something with which most GYN’s couldn’t help, actually; I finally found a (younger, which might have been a factor) specific one who could.

                  This is not a dig at GP’s. There’s just too much for them to be expected to handle all the weird stuff. (I like “care hub.”)

                3. Tau*

                  I’ve had major problems with fibroids twice so far, and one of those times I was in the UK with my GP being the primary care provider, the second time in Germany where it was my gynecologist. Option 2 went a lot better; my GP in the UK was deeply sympathetic but very limited in the things she could do. It was something of a horror show, really.

              3. Amy*

                I’ve always had a yearly appt with my OB/GYN office ( I see a Nurse midwife not a DR) and one with my PCP. My PCP could do the GYN stuff but just check to make sure I’m getting check up/pap smears. It’s nice because when I was pregnant I was already familiar with everyone at the office.

              4. Asenath*

                Yes, I’m in Canada and I’ve run into this difference before – Unlike the situations I hear about in the US, in Canada, the family doctor handles routine stuff like pap tests and breast exams, and refers you on as necessary. Other reasons for referral to an obs/gyne include tumours that may or may not be benign. Some gyne docs specialize in gyne cancers, and there are also common benign tumours like fibroids. Or uro-gyne problems, if you had them you’d probably be referred on for surgery. But the family doc coordinates all this, and does the more basic care.

                1. iglwif*

                  I have not run into it before, but it’s useful knowledge!

                  … in fact, maybe this is why my (US-born-and-raised) mom told me when I was 19 that I’d need to see an OB/GYN to get a BCP prescription? (I didn’t, of course, and ultimately went to a family doctor at the on-campus medical clinic, but that’s what she said.)

              5. kitryan*

                There are a number of ‘family’ practitioners in the US in a variety of locations who do Pap smears, breast exams, and basic gyno care stuff. I’ve gone to a couple of them in cities on both coasts. So, if you have no special needs/issues, it’s definitely possible to not see a gyno specialist. However, I’d say, based on my personal experience and that of people I’ve discussed it with, most people (in the US) who’d utilize these services do opt for a specialist for their annual check up and thus any related concerns.

                1. Catherine Tilney*

                  Hmm, I’m in the US and I wouldn’t think of going to the OB/GYN for routine care or birth control. My PCP handles all that. Most internal medicine or family medicine providers can take care of that, although I don’t know if internal med providers handle pregnancies.

                2. Aveline*


                  I’ve lived all over the US. It’s atypical to go to the PCP for your birth control, in my experience.

                  It’s possible that’s a regional thing or just something related to your plan.

                  Of course, it’s also possible that’s the new trend now that BC is less culturally stigmatized.

                3. Yay commenting on AAM!*

                  I’m in the US and my primary care physician can handle all routine gynecological care, including breast exams, pelvic exams, Pap smears, and birth control. However in my experience, they struggle with properly addressing complaints, ex: they can prescribe birth control but have no idea what to do if you struggle with side effects, for example.

                  After several years of getting bad and conflicting advice on what turned out to be an easily resolved issue, I started only seeing a gynecologist for such things and it’s worked out much better for me.

                4. Half-Caf Latte*

                  Family medicine and internal medicine are two different specialties, with entirely different residency structures, although most people would refer to either one as “my PCP.”

                  I used to see a family med trained MD, who has training in gyn care. She often does office paps, but despite being trained isn’t permitted to do IUDs in her practice since most of the other providers are internal medicine trained and don’t know how.

              6. mrs. peanutbutter*

                Just to chime in: In America, many women (especially younger women) don’t really have primary care providers. Instead, they rely on a gynecologist for annual stuff and a walk-in clinic for things like sinus infections. It’s also possible that an American woman would say, sort of colloquially, “I’m going to the gynecologist” when they mean “I’m going to my primary care physician for a pelvic exam.”

                1. Tara R.*

                  Very rarely, if ever. The vast majority of what American gynaecologists seem to do is done by family doctors here.

                2. londonedit*

                  In the UK you don’t go to a gynaecologist unless there’s actually something wrong, or potentially something wrong. Nurses at your GP surgery do smear tests and birth control appointments, and you always see your GP as a first port of call for any illness. They will then refer you on to a specialist (who in this case would be a gynaecologist) if they can’t solve the problem themselves or if more investigation is needed.

                  In pregnancy, unless there is a problem with either the mother or the baby’s health, you don’t see an obstetrician. Everything is done by midwives (who, just to be clear, are fully qualified and trained and registered – I get the feeling that in the US ‘midwives’ are seen as unqualified, but in the UK you have to have a midwifery degree) unless there is a medical problem during pregnancy or birth. Most healthy women with normal low-risk pregnancies will go to a midwife-led centre when they go into labour – these are usually linked to or next to a medical-led centre so that you can be seen by doctors if complications develop, but unless that happens babies are delivered by midwives.

            1. iglwif*

              … are all things I would go to my family doctor for, except that when I actually was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she sent me to a gynecologic oncologist.

              I’ve only ever seen an OB/GYN for prenatal care, and that’s totally standard where I live (in Ontario, Canada).

              1. Parenthetically*

                Yeah, I think this is how it should be generally (although I see my midwives rather than our family doc for paps/annual well-woman stuff because I love them), but family practitioners are rarer and rarer these days, alas.

          2. Mama Bear*

            Smear tests, fertility testing/preservation/treatment, mammograms, menopause treatment…. there’s a lot more to gynecology than being pregnant!

            1. iglwif*

              I think this is a regional thing. Aside from fertility treatment and preservation (reproductive endocrinologist and/or gynecologic oncologist, depending), all that stuff is handled by your regular family doctor where I live. I’ve never heard of someone going to an OB/GYN for a routine Pap test or HRT or a mammogram until today.

          3. StrikingFalcon*

            Obstretrics is about pregnancy but gynecology is about the health of the female organs. So… annual check ups, hormonal acne, birth control, ovarian cysts, vaginal infections, cancer screenings, etc, etc, etc. It’s really not all about babies! People with vaginas and ovaries are recommended to go once a year at least, for non-baby reasons.

            1. iglwif*

              Not here! In Canada, we go to our family doctor once a year for all that stuff. An OB/GYN is a more expensive specialist that your family doctor will refer you to if necessary — for instance, if you’re pregnant.

              If your Pap test or mammogram or some other test indicates cancer is a possibility, your family doctor will refer you to a gynecologic (or other) oncologist.

              1. Airy*

                Same here in New Zealand. An American friend was shocked to hear that I’d never seen a gynaecologist because (I think) she thought that meant I’d never had a cervical smear or anything, when all it meant was that those check-ups with my GP showed no problems so there was no need. I get the impression the US medical system is a lot more straight-to-the-specialist, eg they take their children to a paediatrician as the first step, whereas to us if you heard someone’s child saw a paediatrician you’d know there was something quite seriously wrong. Minor childhood illnesses are treated by GPS.

          4. srsly?*

            … Birth control? Annual wellness check-ups? Pap-smears and other diagnostic testing? Many other reasons relating to the health of the female reproductive system regardless of whether it’s being used to create human life?

            1. iglwif*

              Birth control?
              Available from your family doctor (that’s how my daughter gets hers, and I used to when I needed it)

              Annual wellness check-ups?
              Family doctor

              Pap-smears and other diagnostic testing?
              Family doctor (and the lab they send you to)

              Many other reasons relating to the health of the female reproductive system regardless of whether it’s being used to create human life?
              Family doctor, who will refer you on to a specialist if necessary (OB/GYN included)

              1. What's with Today, today?*

                I don’t understand why you are arguing? There is just really no need unless you just want to argue. Some people prefer using their OBGYN for paps and women’s wellness needs. Full stop.

                1. iglwif*

                  I’m … not arguing? I was just confused, because until I started reading this sub-thread I had never heard of anyone going to a specialist for what to me (and everyone else where I live) are routine wellness things easily handled by a family doctor.

                  I now know that the whole thing works differently in the US, including some people being able to get appointments with medical specialists without a referral from their family physician. Live and learn!

              2. Red Lines with Wine*

                I agree with Today. Every thread where someone mentions that they go to their OB/GYN for stuff you think should be handled by a family doctor, you keep arguing. You’ve stated your points multiple times. We get it – it’s different in Canada. Let’s move on.

                1. iglwif*

                  So, I should just not answer any of the people who helpfully gave me information I didn’t have? If I knew a way to answer everyone at once instead of individually, I would, but I don’t :)

                2. lulu*

                  you don’t need to answer every comment with the same answer. People will scroll up or down. You are taking over the thread with the same comment literally 10 times.

                3. Parenthetically*

                  No one’s arguing and y’all are reading a tone into her comments that really isn’t there.

                  iglwif, I totally got your tone and appreciate you taking the time to respond! :)

          5. Ella Vader*

            In the USA, it’s common to see a gynecologist for routine care of anything related to the female reproductive system, including the basic physical exam that often goes along with annual oral contraceptive prescription renewal.

            1. iglwif*

              So you have to first go to your family doctor to get a referral, then go to the OB/GYN, just to get a pelvic exam and a scrip for BCP? That seems … onerous to me.

              1. NotMyRealName*

                No, you usually just go to the OB/GYN. During my child having days, my OB/GYN was pretty much my primary care doc, I used the walk in clinic for minor illnesses.

                1. Autumnheart*

                  Same. The vast majority of my medical needs are gyn-related, so I go to the OB/GYN. This is a little awkward since I don’t have a primary care doctor, so I don’t have an answer for that question when it’s asked, but well, why would I go to two doctors when I can go to one?

                2. boo bot*

                  Yeah, it’s pretty common in the US (at least in some places) for women to see an OB/GYN as their de facto primary care doctor for a number of reasons. One is that there are clinics (at least in some parts of the country) where you don’t need a primary care referral, meaning, it’s a less onerous process than you’re imagining.

                  Other reasons: Birth control is a common ongoing prescription need; pregnancy means women who otherwise don’t see doctors will seek one out; they provide PAP smears and cancer and STD screenings, along with other basics that people tend to be motivated to seek out; there are free and sliding scale clinics, so it’s one of the more accessible forms of health care (except in the places where it is absolutely the opposite – it’s a big country).

              2. Nancy*

                Most insurance companies in the US that I have dealt with (and I lost count) allow people who need/use a gyno to either have that be the primary or they allow for gyno visits w/out referral, or they allow for two primaries a general and an ob/gyn (ok so then by strict definition primary is the wrong word)

              3. The Original K.*

                No, you don’t need a referral if you have a PPO insurance plan. I found my (awesome) gynecologist via my own research. I’m looking for a new primary care physician (I couldn’t stand my old one so I always put off getting checkups, which defeats the purpose), but that has nothing to do with my gynecologist.

              4. Kuododi*

                Not necessarily….in my historical experience whether or not I had to start with a FP/GP for a referral to a Gynecologist or other specialist was a function of my insurance policies at the time rather than a “quirk” of American medical practices. (For lack of a better way to describe the situation at the moment.). Hope that helps…

              5. Else*

                No, you just go to the OB/GYN for an annual female wellness checkup that relates to your gynecological health. Unless you have a particularly restrictive health insurance plan (and not even with all of those), you don’t need pre-authorization for this. You go to your primary for everything else. Or you can – it’s also very common for a primary to do all of this unless you prefer a specialist, have something requiring extra monitoring, or are pregnant. Either is fine. I went to a primary for everything until I acquired the aforementioned something extra, and now I go to both.

              6. JKP*

                My whole life my OB/Gyn has been my primary/only doctor. Since I get all the annual female exams from them and luckily haven’t needed to go to a doctor for anything else. If I need a doctor for something else, my OB/Gyn would be the one referring me, since I don’t have a family doctor.

            1. Femme D'Afrique*

              I have no idea how or why this entire thread even exists. I mean, come on people! What does this have to do with the OP’s question? Or anything at all??

      1. Nancy*

        Because the only reason to go to a gynecologist is for being pregnant?????? Do you only work with men? I can’t imagine women thinking that.

        1. iglwif*

          I’m a woman and I just thought that upthread.

          Where I live, the whole list of things people have mentioned in response are all handled by family doctors.

            1. iglwif*

              Yup! Or like … something else gynecology-related that a family physician isn’t equipped to handle.

              For instance, when my (former) family doctor discovered that my UTI was actually a great big tumour, she referred me to a gynecologic oncologist, and I went to him for treatment and follow-up and the family doctor for everything else. When Spouse and I were trying to get pregnant, my (current) family doctor referred me to a fertility clinic. Etc.

              You don’t *have* to see an OB/GYN for prenatal care either–you could go to a midwifery practice (in some provinces) and some family doctors will co-provide prenatal care with an OB/GYN or a midwife, but family doctors generally don’t handle actual births these days. Most people do, in practice, see an OB when pregnant.

          1. marmalade*

            Same here. I’ve had plenty of pap smears, had two UIDs, etc – never once saw a gynocologist. These tasks are handled by GPs in my country.

      2. Yay commenting on AAM!*

        This is an important and valid point. At a lot of the places where I’ve worked, if someone wants privacy and openly asks for it, or acts evasively, people can tell that person is being evasive and starts guessing what is so serious that the person would want privacy. Then that person suffers the blowback of the most ridiculous theory anyone can come up with, and has to expend capital defending themselves and proving that they’re not job-searching when they really had a series of dental appointments, or pregnant and going to quit in 9 months when they really were attending care meetings for an ill parent, etc., etc.

        If you want to control the narrative, you have to provide it. Even if it’s a bold-faced lie.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I’m so glad I don’t work with those people! It’s disrespectful and nosy. I would move out of the area to find people who respect me and my privacy. Hmph.

    3. LadiesRoomMonitorLizard*

      My old boss used to grill me even when I said this until she got my diagnosis out of me. She ran the place like if I didn’t tell her every detail I could miss out on raises, etc. So, this doesn’t always work.

      1. rldk*

        Oof. I would suspect there were many other problems besides just nosiness, though. A reasonable workplace shouldn’t have that issue, and in an unreasonable workplace, OP would probably mention the larger pattern.

        1. Amber Rose*

          It was already an in-joke between them that he might do that, since he had a couple of coworkers who were known for it.

    4. Psyche*

      I would probably go with “Please don’t ask me what my appointments are for. I really don’t want to have to inform you every time I go to the gynecologist.”

    5. MattKnifeNinja*

      Going for my 12 point uterine tune up.

      I did say that to a very snoopy male intern. Never asked me any thing like that again. Lol..

    6. Asenath*

      I was once in a waiting room when the elderly gentleman sitting next to me asked in a friendly manner “What are you here for? The flu?” I was actually there for something rather more personal, but I coughed in what I thought was a convincing manner and said “yes”.

      Still, no co-worker needs to know the details. Any of the suggested sentences – preferably said, as Alison suggested, while walking out the door, should help.

      1. Cat wrangler*

        I did tell my manager when I was referred for a special blood test to do with my hormones but as she was the manager of a sexual and reproduction health clinic – which did everything from giving out condoms, other means of birth control, smears, uterine scans and STI testing, it didn’t feel intrusive but rather supportive. But I wouldn’t have shared that info in a different sort of office or with the receptionist. I also volunteered the information rather than have my request to come in late be scrutinised by someone unconnected.

  2. ExcelJedi*

    I’ve been in this situation, and once blurted out “My annual with my OB-Gyn.” I turned bright red and ran out the door.

    I’ve since learned to say something like “It’s personal; I don’t want to talk about it at work.”

    1. Grapey*

      I’d personally not be embarassed at all, and instead hope the asker would be embarassed. “Going in for my biannual bit scrape! Why do you ask?”

  3. MuseumChick*

    I like all the scripts Alison suggests. Another could be (in a chipper tone) “I prefer not to discuss private information.”

    Her: “Where are you going?”
    You: “I prefer to not discuss private information.”
    Her: “But I care about you!”
    You: “I understand. I prefer to not discuss private information.”
    Her: “Why???”
    You: “I just prefer to not discuss private information.”

    It will take a few times but eventually she will learn that you always give the same response.

    1. The Doctor*

      By continuing beyond the first “it’s personal,” she is admitting that she’s being nosy and DOESN’T actually care.

      1. MuseumChick*

        The great thing is, it doesn’t matter what her motivation is. As long as the OP gives the exact same answer every time the conversation becomes very boring for this co-worker. Eventually she will realize that she won’t get a different response from the OP.

        1. Ginger ale for all*

          I wonder how the nosy one would react if more people in the office began giving the same answer as well.

    2. MLB*

      In response to “But I care about you”, I would say “If you truly cared about me, you would respect my privacy.” And then walk away.

    3. Winifred*

      To paraphrase a comment yesterday about the pushy “superior” — something like “Thanks, see you later!” and just keep on walking could shut this down.

      “Where were you? I was worried!”
      “Thanks, gotta get back to my desk!”

      1. Pipe Organ Guy*

        I like that–the vague, not-quite non sequitur, a pleasant-toned rejoinder that gives no information whatsoever.

  4. An Amazing Detective-Slash-Genius*

    If she’s a worrier (self-appointed or otherwise), I might add “routine” or “no big deal” in your response. I come from a family of worriers and nothing makes them more worried than feeling like they weren’t given enough information to satisfy them. “Routine” at least helps them come to the conclusion on their own that it’s probably just a teeth cleaning or something.

      1. animaniactoo*

        The thing is – someday that appointment may not be routine. And OP and others shouldn’t need to lie and say it’s routine when it isn’t to avoid having to say “I’m going to get my biopsy results and possibly discuss how to treat my probable cancer”.

        So while it seems like not a big deal to put it in there – having to manage someone else’s feelings for them by doing this is creating a down-the-road problem or even a rather immediate one for the person who has to manage their own feelings about whatever appointment it is they’re going to.

        If the worrier person has a strong enough relationship to the appointment person, that’s a semi-reasonable thing to have happen as part of knowing and *wanting* to take care of the other person. For fairly casual acquaintances like work colleagues who aren’t particularly tight – it’s not reasonable at all and it’s entirely on the worrier person to find a way to manage their own emotional state without putting the burden for making it right on anyone else.

        1. Lissa*

          Yeah, this is why it sort of bugs me that she uses “I’m a worrier!” and “I care.” I mean – ok, she worries. That’s too bad, but how is her knowing that something major is going on (if it was) going to help her? It makes your potential situation about her, and your responsibility to make her feel better. I’m not saying she is lying about being a worrier, or that she isn’t actually caring – I’m sure she is. But what she’s asking is for you to make her feel better by reassuring her about you, which may not always be possible. It’s kind of…self centered in a way? I’d be annoyed if I was expected to make someone else feel better in this way, especially somebody I wasn’t close to. It’s all for her own non-work related benefit.

          1. kitryan*

            What about turning it around and asking if she’s thought about seeing anyone for help with her worries – it seems so stressful for her, maybe she could talk to a professional about it? It would be tough to pull off so that it wasn’t rude seeming or opening the door for confidences from her but if done right might be a way to flip things and shut things down.

          2. ChronicallyChill*

            OP, Lissa is absolutely on to something here: it can be self-centered when even legitimately caring people want someone to give them all the personal health details AND hold their hands through the uncomfortable feelings those details can cause. Those details are not always routine or banal, and as someone who goes to a variety of appointments of varying severity, it’s frustrating being put into a position that id be helping a caring person process hearing those gruesome or scary details that I’ve personally accepted. I’m not elusive due to any shame or privacy on my part, I just don’t always have the bandwidth to comfort someone else about *my* condition.

            For this reason, I like a “nothing for you to worry about, see you tomorrow!” said in a cheerful or neutral tone. It’s a pedantic distinction, but let’s me feel more comfortable avoiding answering without lying; The appointment might be something to worry about, but it’s for you and your loved ones to worry about, not the receptionist.

          3. Michaela Westen*

            Lissa, yes exactly! I feel the same way. You’ve described it very well.
            When I was growing up my parents and most others were all about what they wanted from me. No one cared what I needed. I knew people who did this “I care about you so reassure me/ give me personal info I’m not entitled to” line. It is all about them. They didn’t care about me.
            I agree that it’s self centered. In this case, it’s the receptionist’s responsibility to manage her anxiety, *not* the OP’s!

      2. Canarian*

        It’s not anyone else’s job to put a worrier at ease. That’s something the receptionist is going to have to learn to deal with herself, and LW shouldn’t be concerned about that when she decides how to phrase her response.

        The LW’s primary concern is how to get the receptionist to minimize her questions or stop asking altogether – feeding into the narrative that she’s a “worrier” and modulating their behavior in the way that will best put the receptionist at ease is going to get her more enmeshed in the relationship, not create the boundary the LW wants.

        1. blackcat*

          My mom’s a worrier. I learned long ago to not share any health information with her. At all.
          Her worrying made my business all about her and her feelings. And, frankly, her feelings at not mine to manage. They’re hers.
          And she’s my mom! I would not take kindly to some coworker expecting me to manage their emotions about my health. That’s really not cool.

          1. Else*

            YES. I’ve never met a worrier that wasn’t a huge stress to everyone around them that they purported to care about. People exporting their worries to you about YOUR problems make them so much worse.

        2. Foreign Octopus*

          I agree with this. I think that whilst it’s true that some people are worriers as AADSG says, it’s not on OP to mitigate are feelings.

          To create boundaries, it’s important not to be sucked into what the other person is feeling. Boundaries are for your health and benefits, not the other perso .

          1. TootsNYC*


            Also on boundaries: you cannot force other people to agree with the boundaries you are setting.

            You have to enforce them. So, live your boundaries, don’t talk about them, and don’t wait for other people to accede to them.

            Like…telemarketers? Just say, “take us off your list” and hang up. Right away. Don’t wait for them to agree that the conversation is over.

      3. Magenta*

        You need to learn to manage that yourself, it is not up to anyone else to manage your inappropriate reactions.
        Health is a personal matter and you have no right to any information about a colleague’s medical status.
        In this case the receptionist is being nosy and rude and she needs to learn to do better, expecting the OP and their colleagues to have to manage the receptionist’s feelings on top of their own is extra emotional labour that they just don’t need.
        It is also building up the expectation that she will receive that reassurance and will mean the OP has to lie to prevent a full blown panic and associated drama if one day it isn’t routine.

    1. scooby snack*

      This is a great strategy for family, but on the whole it’s definitely not anyone’s job to manage others’ feelings like this, especially at work. Her worrying is hers to handle.

      1. valentine*

        Yes, there’s no need to put them at ease and doing so reinforces and legitimizes the intrusion. Let them worry.

      2. Lilo*

        I agree. She’s a worrier, fine. Not OP’s problem. Worrier doesn’t in any way justify boundary stomping.

      3. aelle*

        Good point. My strategy would be to play on her “but I worry” answer and say something like, “aw, Ernestine, I know you worry! All I can say is, this is nothing for you to worry about! I’ll be back at 4pm if anyone is looking for me (or whatever)”. And either way, it’s true. Either because your appointment is mundane, or because even if it is worrisome, Ernestine is not the one who has to do the worrying.

      1. Steady Eddy*

        We don’t. And it doesn’t matter. Her worrying is for her to handle. It’s not the OP’s job to manage their colleague’s emotions.

    2. wickedtongue*

      Yes! I love “it’s just a routine thing” … and if it’s really last minute, “urgent but minor” even if maybe it’s not.

      1. Former Admin Turned Project Manager*

        I tend to go with “Nothing you need to concern yourself with!” if people pry into my medical info. When it’s minor, the statement is true because it’s not worrisome; when it’s serious, the statement is true because it’s not that person’s situation to bear.

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      I don’t like the idea of work worriers. If I don’t know you, sit next to you, work with you on projects, then your “worry” is basically your hobby. You want to know what is up with everyone, be in the know, and either able to share or able to say, “well, I can’t say, but she needs time off…”
      This makes me think…what if it is routine, but LW’s doctor finds something wrong? If LW ends up with a medical situation that requires time off or becomes something she needs to share (like chemo), she’s going to have to deal with the receptionist’s, “why didn’t you tell me? You KNOW I care about you?” type of bullshit.

    4. Blue*

      I typically end up saying, “Oh, it’s just an appointment,” with a bit of hand wave and a no-big-deal kind of tone. I like it because it doesn’t actually say anything (meaning I don’t feel like I’m lying and telling them it’s just a check up if that’s not actually the case) but definitely implies “routine” and sounds boring enough that I don’t generally get follow up questions.

    5. MLB*

      But it’s none of her business, and it’s not the responsibility of the OP to make sure someone she works with, and is not close to, does not cause the lady to worry.

      The lady claims to care about her, but she’s just plain nosy. If she cared, she would respect everyone’s privacy, because I guarantee OP isn’t the only one she’s asking.

    6. TootsNYC*

      someone who worked for me was going to a lot of doctor appointments–she mentioned that’s what they were.

      I didn’t want to pry, but there were a lot of them. I also didn’t want to ignore anything I should have been sympathetic about.

      So I finally said, “I don’t mean to pry, it’s not my business, and I don’t need details. I just want to know whether I should worry or not.”
      Her answer was, “No, I have one of those doctors who chases down every possible cause.”

      Later I thought even what I did ask was out of line. At the time I thought I’d threaded the needle pretty well.

      1. kitryan*

        I feel like if you know what you knew, you could say, ‘you don’t have to tell me anything but if you want more information on FMLA or (insert other resources available at the company), please let me or HR know. I want to make sure you know what’s available to you if you need it.’ or something like that. Covers the intent of making the employee feel cared about without forcing any disclosures (except what may be necessary if they need assistance) and alerts them that there are options available to them, as many people don’t know their resources and protections and thus don’t take advantage of them.

    7. The Other Dawn*

      If not getting enough information causes the receptionist to worry, that’s on her and she needs to figure out how to manage her feelings. She can’t put the onus on the OP to manage them for her. All OP needs to say, if anything, is, “Thanks for your concern!” And then just leave with no further explanation.

      And I really don’t buy that she “cares.” Unless she and the OP are actually close, she’s just nosy. I’ve worked with people like this, both younger and older, and it’s nosiness.

      1. TootsNYC*

        My MIL and I once had a fight over whether I would call her when I got home from her place on a particularly storm night. I didn’t want to–I don’t like having the “I could have an accident” thought in the back of my mind when I’m driving.

        She said, “But I worry,” and I said, “It’s not my job to manage your worries.”

        And I agree, this is nosiness masquerading as caring. I think if someone said to me, “I worry,” I’d probably say, “you’re not my mom.” Either amused, or annoyed, depending.

  5. Cordoba*

    I’ve found “Eh, you don’t need to worry about it” to be a more polite and equally effective version of “Mind your own business”.

    1. The Ginger Ginger*

      Yes, or “Nothing/Nowhere you need to be worried about!” in a pleasant but firm tone. Because, yeah, this near stranger does NOT need to be worried about your business.

      1. The Original K.*

        “Nothing you need to worry about” was going to be my suggestion, particularly since Nosy Receptionist’s party line is that she worries. I’ve found that to be very effective.

      2. TootsNYC*

        Lovely, because it has too common meanings. The friendly tone is reassuring; the dismissive tone is boundary setting. So you can manage it that way.

        And I’d say, use it every single time.

      3. Annie on a Mouse*

        This was going to be my suggestion as well. She says she worries, gently remind her it’s not her place to worry. Simple, polite, and very effective when said as you walk out the door.

    2. DecorativeCacti*

      I took three weeks of medical leave recently and that was my response when anyone asked about it. I didn’t want to tell anyone what was going on, so I just said “Nothing to worry about!”, “It’s not terminal; I’ll be back!”, or variations thereof. There were a couple people that tried to pry and I shut them down with, “It’s something I don’t want getting around and you know how gossip spreads, so I’m just not telling anyone.”

    3. iglwif*

      Yep. “Nothing to worry about. See you at 3!”

      (Mind you, this only works with someone who, like a receptionist, is functionally tethered to their desk. It does not work so well on co-workers who actively come by your workspace to interrogate you…)

    4. CM*

      Or a very slight variation: “Oh, you don’t need to worry about me!” Or “That’s nice of you, but you don’t need to worry about me. Bye.” [while walking out the door]

      I think this is one of the many occasions where you find some vague phrases and keep repeating them until you can walk away.

    1. Marthooh*

      I dunno, she’d probably tell you why (she thinks) she needs to know.

      “It’s nothing you need to worry about!” followed by immediate departure or a change of subject is likeliest to keep her fom arguing about it.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I thought she had already asked, and that’s why the receptionist said “because I worry about you.”

      1. irene adler*

        So continue with “Why? Why do you worry about me?”

        And keep up the “whys” until she’s flustered enough to tell you to just be on your way.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          Sounds like fun!
          I would probably say things like, “why should you worry about me? We’re not that close. Do you understand it’s inappropriate for you to worry about me? Do you understand that makes me obligated to reassure you? Do you understand that makes me uncomfortable? Don’t you have family or close friends to worry about?” [she’s probably driven them away with her controlling behavior]
          “Do you see how inappropriate and uncomfortable this is?”
          Actually, I wouldn’t do this unless I was ending the relationship. And I wouldn’t start unless I wanted to end the relationship, because I might get carried away. :D

          1. nonegiven*

            >Do you understand that makes me obligated to reassure you?

            Do you understand that I’m not obligated to reassure you?


  6. Amber Rose*

    Stare her dead in the eyes and say, “That’s classified.”

    Just kidding. “Oh you know, places to go, people to see,” is my go-to response when I’m being vague. It’s one of those cookie cutter type phrases that people feel obligated to chuckle at and agree with and by the time they realize you didn’t really answer, you’re gone.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I actually do use that one with the overly inquisitive. I say it jokingly. “Oooo, that’s top secret. I can’t tell you.” Then walk out the door. Also works with people asking what’s in the package you received.

    2. Autumnheart*

      When I was a kid, I was in a car accident and had to go get checked out because I’d conked my head. (I was fine.) When we got home, my little sister ran up and shouted, “What did they say? What was wrong?” and my dad deadpanned, “She has to get her head amputated.” That one could be a fun response.

    3. TootsNYC*

      my family adds a clause:
      “Places to go, people to see, worms to dig.”

      I have NO idea where it comes from. But it’s just silly enough that it tends to shut things down.

      I actually like the “humorous but vague” thing.

      I had a friend once who, when I said, “What did you do today?” would say, “oh, this and that.” It was mildly insulting, since we were best friends; it was frustrating because I was trying not to monopolize the conversation. Then I met her horrible mother and I understood. She had “being Teflon” down to an artform as a form of self-defense!

      1. Michaela Westen*

        I think it’s from the Louis Jordan song “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens”. Look it up, it’s hilarious!

    1. LilyP*

      I like this! She is 1000% the sort of person who will take “LW used to tell me what her minor appointments were for but now she won’t say what *this* appointment is for” and immediately jump to the conclusion it’s something serious/embarrassing, so I think it’d be smart to downplay the seriousness proactively

    2. Cat Fan*

      Often if I’d say I have to leave for an appointment, my boss would say, “Ok, is everything okay?” Then I would start to answer and he’d cut me off and say, “It’s okay, you don’t have to tell me what it is, I just want to make sure everything is okay.” So I’d be standing there thinking about what is the right way to answer? What if everything was not okay? What would his response be? His asking just makes for an awkward conversation all the way around. Now I just say it’s just a routine appointment.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I actually think you’re taking his question too literally.

        He’s not really asking for details; he’s saying, “Is this something that you’d like to tell me about? I’m open to hearing more details if it’s something serious and you decide you want to share.”

        You don’t HAVE to use some strict definition of “OK,” you can use your own “in terms of my privacy at work” definition.

        1. Cat Fan*

          Right, well I start to say something as simple as just a doctor appointment, but he does not even let me finish the sentence. Believe me, it is a little bizarre when you are there in the moment.

      2. aelle*

        As a manager I don’t routinely ask the “is everything ok?” question, but in the few situations when I do, the answer I’m looking for is either “yup, nothing that impacts you” or “actually, we may need to talk about workplace accommodation / a therapeutic part-time schedule / maternity leave / bereavement leave”. And if it’s the second case, I don’t need an answer on the spot, the answer can be “let’s schedule a moment to talk about this in private”. Basically, very pragmatically I want to know if my project or my team will be impacted and if it’s something I can plan for. Any additional details my reports want to share is fully up to them, and I do try to make clear I’m not trying to coax private information from them.

    3. cajun2core*

      This is my reply and I also use the “Just routine stuff”. Yes, it is lying but that doesn’t bother me in cases like this.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        This is why I think “Just a checkup” is perfect. Teeth cleaning? Just a checkup. Chemotherapy follow-up? Also a checkup!

  7. Artemesia*

    The problem with these responses is that they imply something deeply personal and therefore excite her curiosity even more. I can imagine her gossiping to others ‘I’m worried about OP, I wonder if she has some medical problem that is serious because she won’t tell me what her appointment is about’. etc etc. It is important to have a blanket policy and I’d be inclined to just say ‘I’ll be back around 4, see you later.’ i.e. non answer every time. If she gets really aggressive then it is a general ‘It isn’t necessary for the office to track my every step; I can be reached by cell if a crisis comes up.’

    1. irene adler*

      Yeah, I wondered just how much office gossip is being perpetuated by the receptionist via asking about employees business.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        Oh, I’m sure there’s none. Because she “can’t tell you why Betty was out, but just give her some space today.” And “of course, Wilma knows I would never share anything she told me, but if you are suffering from a bad headache, maybe you should talk to her.”
        I really don’t like this woman. I don’t know why I’m so annoyed.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      “excite her curiosity even more.”
      She may justify intruding on her family and close friends with the “I’m a worrier!” and they may give more info than they’d like, because hey, friends/family, she cares, it’s just her way, she should know…
      There’s no way that she has that level of personal investment in every person in her office. It’s just her quirk. She wants to know. Just like Fred wants to stand during meetings, Wilma wants to reply all to everything. Some things you accommodate; some things you don’t.

    3. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      But there are plenty of (frequent) medical appointments that don’t mean one is dying. I have had them (periodically) three times a week for IVF but I personally am healthy… just my ovaries aren’t.

  8. Lilo*

    This is just absurd. Of course you don’t want to tell everyone about your appointments. You don’t owe someone an explanation for the medical appointments for say, early pregnancy or getting that scary mole checked and have private medical information shared around. I once had to have a bunch of follow up dental stuff and it was very unpleasant but not life threatening but no, I did not want to talk about it.

    But no, the receptionist doesn’t get to know I am pregnant before I am ready to tell my family and friends, for instance.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Or you don’t want to say you have a job interview, or an appointment w/ your sweetie for some afternoon dalliance, or to pick up a delivery at the hardware store!

  9. just an idea*

    I think the problem is that “appointment” could be personal OR business. If you have a meeting with a client, that’s an appointment, isn’t it? Instead of just writing “appointment” for your personal things, just write “personal” instead.

    1. e271828*

      I like this strategy. It underlines the fact that LW is taking personal time and not engaged in work activity and therefore, it’s nobody’s business at the office. Helpful for LW to write this, to make that distinction clear in mind before the nosy receptionist starts up.

      1. valentine*

        It seems like they use appointment to mean personal, otherwise, why the worry? More detail just fuels the boundary-stomping.

      2. Smarty Boots*

        Nah, the receptionist doesn’t need to know that you’re taking leave. Appointment is appropriately vague. I’d go with Alison’s scripts or one of the funny ones. Use the same one every single time.

    2. kittymommy*

      I was wondering about this myself. We use outlook here and for private appointments most people either put “private” or just make it private so no one can see contents. I wonder if there is an initial question about what type of appointment it is and then the curiosity/motherly-vibe kicks in and she starts with the questions. Also, it might avoid getting asked the question as your half-way out the door and thinking what to say on the fly….

      1. TootsNYC*

        but halfway out the door is actually better, especially if you’re prepared (which our OP can be!).

        When she says, “where are you going,” you just say, breezily, “Out!” and wave as you keep going. Or “Gotta go!” which works no matter what literal words come out of her mouth.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      This. It’s standard in my department for somebody to say, I have some personal stuff to do (on day off/lunch hour/leaving early from work/whatever) and so far that has meant moving apartments, doctors’ appointments, divorce lawyers, picking child up from psychiatric hospital, picking up an ILL from the library, retrieving cats from the kennel, taking dinner to a sick friend, picking up supplies at the craft store, getting married at the courthouse, going to the post office, a whole lot of random things of wildly varying seriousness. So we just don’t specify and nobody asks.

    4. The Doctor*

      If there’s a problem with “appointment,” then the problem is with Nosy Receptionist and not with OP.

      1. Jaguar*

        Sign-out sheets are generally used because the company wants to know where a person is and if they can be reached (it’s not clear if this is the case for OP). They’re meant to address a number of situations, including:
        1) A client phones in asking where someone is. “Appointment” may-or-may-not mean an appointment with the client. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
        2) Safety regulations, if they need to evacuate the building and account for who is and isn’t there. This doesn’t apply for OP.
        3) To know if someone is reachable. We need to contact OP. It says here “Appointment.” I guess we can call her? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
        4) Some other reason you and I are both unfamiliar with.

        It doesn’t sound like the receptionist is trying to enforce the rules of the signout sheet, but the idea that “appointment” is fine in all circumstances is wrong.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          These kinds of sheets were developed well before universal mobile-phone usage. OP is right when she says “I can be reached by cell or email if something urgent comes up.”

          Really, the only thing the receptionist needs to know is “In” or “Out”.

      2. just an idea*

        I disagree. It’s perfectly within the receptionist’s right to know if you are going to visit Client A, should a coworker or boss ask where you might be. And if Client A calls to speak with you, she can tell them you are on your way, etc. In my long lifetime it has always been protocol to inform the receptionist of these things. BUT if you are gone for a personal reason, no details of that need be shared.

  10. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Oh dear. Been there, done that. AAM’s responses are very effective, especially if you keep repeating them.

    The only thing I’d add is…

    Her: because I worry about you!
    You: you don’t have to. I’m fine.

    Her: because I care about you!
    You: thanks but I’m good. [OR] And I appreciate that. See you later!

    You can also pretend your cell phone is ringing, and say, “I’ve got to take this!” as you run out the door.

    If I were you, I’d say, “Getting my teeth cleaned,” every time she asks. It’s not exactly rude.

  11. Zona the Great*

    I have lived this exact same scenario with a sort-of-coworker. She was actually employed by our contractor but she didn’t seem to understand the hierarchy.

    She would say, “Are you okay? You have seemed off lately and I’m worried about you.” I got so fed up that I would change my routines to try to avoid her. Finally, I said the thing that got her to back off but I am positive it hurt her feelings. I said, “You know, we don’t have the kind of relationship where it would be appropriate to worry about me or even care about me more than you would a distant acquaintance.” She was crushed in the moment but it seemed to straighten her out.

    I would stick to these kinds of lines or turning toward her with a very confused look like someone just asked you about your cervix or something outrageous and say nothing and walk away.

    1. Imnportant Moi*

      Color me cynical when people whom I don’t have an intimate relationship (e.g. family, close friends, romantic partners) throw out how they “care” about me.

      What if her feelings weren’t “hurt”, may be she was just surprised to be called out?

    2. MLB*

      I would totally say something similar. I would never be concerned about someone I worked with and wasn’t close to. Not that I would want anything bad to happen to anyone, but I would never ask someone I barely knew if they were ok, unless they were visibly upset and needed help in the moment. If we’re not close, how do you know that I seem off lately? That’s a sign of a busy body who wants in everyone’s business, and tries to play it off as being a worrier or concerned for others.

    3. Master Bean Counter*

      Sometimes you just have to spell it out.
      I still remember telling a coworker that I already had a mother that managed to raise a capable person who didn’t need to be nagged.
      She asked what my mother would think about me saying that to her.
      Big mistake. I said, “Actually she’d be rather proud that she raised a grown woman who knows exactly to lay down her boundaries and not get pushed around by busy bodies.”
      Coworker barely talked to me for a week. She also treated me with a lot more respect after that as well.

  12. CupcakeCounter*

    This sounds like a great time to have mastered the single eyebrow raise a la “The Rock”
    That one single muscle movement can convey so much

    1. T. Boone Pickens*

      I had a similar spot as OP and would diffuse the situation with humor. I would look the receptionist dead in the eyes and give a wink and a smirk. That was it, no dialogue, no nothing. I would also alternate whatever I could think of that would come across as ridiculous for work related things. Taxidermy class, balloon making class, Krav Maga, unicycling, learning Swahili. Now, it helps that I have a really quick wit and can think really quickly on my feet. Still, you might consider using humor as a diffuser.

    2. The Original K.*

      No joke: it’s a goal of mine to be able to do this. There are so many ways to use a single raised eyebrow!

      1. C Baker*

        If you can raise both eyebrows, you can raise one at a time. I taught myself by holding down each eyebrow individually while raising both. Eventually I figured it out! Took me about half an hour.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        That’s amazing.

        (So is the single eyebrow raise. Years ago I literally practiced it in a mirror until I got it right.)

  13. LQ*

    I’ve had fairly good luck with something that’s partial shrug partial eye roll of it’s so boring “Eh, yaknow, appointment” with a sigh that says “This is a boring part of being an adult that we all know and agree is a boring, so boring in fact that we can’t possibly be bothered to put a whole sentence together about it, you know, the boring stuff.”

    1. LQ*

      I’ve also said, “I don’t know, I just go where my calendar tells me to go.” (Which is occasionally legitimately true, but more often work than personal, but it could work for personal stuff too.)

    2. nnn*

      Sometimes I literally say “Ugh, boring grownup stuff” when I don’t want to get into details. Could be anything from gynecology to a mortgage appointment to a work-related meeting.

    3. Blue*

      I mentioned this elsewhere, but I do this, as well. Gives away absolutely no information but sounds boring or routine (and therefore uninteresting).

    4. Emelle*

      A former coworker used to say “getting an oil change” for his medical appointments. A new coworker (ok, me) didn’t realize this and said “oh! I need to do that this week! Where do you go around here?” My super power is making things awkward.

  14. Rey*

    “If I told you, I’d have to kill you”, totally dead-panned, and then do some cool ninja spy moves while exiting the building. Bonus points if you can wear Matrix-style dark glasses and trench coat.

  15. animaniactoo*

    “That’s sweet of you (no, it’s not, but you can lie here some), but I’ve got it covered. Thanks!” and keep going.

    If she keeps pressing, raise an eyebrow: “I told you I have it covered. Is my word not good enough for you? That seems very strange. I can’t imagine why you would doubt me like that – it makes me feel very uncomfortable. You really don’t mean to imply that I can’t take care of myself, do you? Because that would be really weird and awkward and SO out of line. I’m sure you can’t have meant that… Oh, here’s my elevator, I’ll see you later.”

  16. Rockie*

    I’m a little uncomfortable with the implied ageism…you can be intrusive and “maternal” at any age and as any sex.
    And as far as personal questions, I just don’t answer.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      She’s providing details to paint a picture. LWs get criticized if they don’t provide enough details, and then if they provide details someone considers extraneous. Her letter is fine.

    2. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      Is “a human coworker of undisclosed age and undisclosed gender and [redacted] interpersonal context is doing this problematic thing” how you think the letters should be printed?

      1. Rockie*

        I get wanting the detail, but what I do when I write stuff, before I hit send, I flip it. I make the description fit the stereotype of me. If it feels bad, I make some edits. I believe that’s the kind thing to do.

        1. Lissa*

          Ok, but that isn’t a reasonable expectation for everyone writing letters here. People have their own style, and you can not like it, but it doesn’t need to be changed to something neutral. And honestly, there’s a good possibility that this description *wouldn’t* “feel bad” to the LW or everyone who fit that description.

        2. Foreign Octopus*

          I’m sorry, Rockie, but I have to disagree with this.

          By flipping the script and then editing it if it makes you feel bad, I believe that you may lose key details of a problems. Sometimes information about age, sex, and gender do actually come I. To play when discussing a problem. It provides important factors that give insight into how people behave.

        3. Où est la bibliothèque?*

          That makes sense if you’re writing fiction, but the letter is a description of real life situation involving two real people.

        4. Amber Rose*

          Yeah, but nitpicking that kind of thing just discourages anyone without an English degree and three years of writing experience from submitting their questions, which is not helpful.

        5. Wintermute*

          But doing that misses a lot of contextual, social, and cultural information. In a situation where someone is prying into someone else’s business, their relative genders MATTERS, so does any informal cultural social dynamics. In many places in the country age carries some implied seniority that isn’t apparent from a job title or relative ranks in the company, which would make a harsher response inappropriate, for instance. In a place where politeness towards your elders is expected the LW couldn’t just go “oh I have an important meeting with a beeswax monitoring consultant down at the Nunya Business Center”

          In this case knowing the social dynamic also helps prevent “comment section fanfic” (I love that term) where someone reads this and assumes the receptionist is male and has romantic intentions towards her and that’s why he’s digging, or something like that, and then there’s a 50-comment-long section in the middle of the page about whether that’s a reasonable assumption, if it’s sexist, if it’s accurate, before the OP steps in and goes “wow you guys really went to cloud cookoo land on this one, no she’s a woman and I don’t think this is a stalking thing at all!”

          It helps the LW focus attention down on the specific situation and avoids us having to draw inferences and conclusions.

    3. Myrin*

      There’s nothing ageist about saying of a coworker that she behaves in a way “that she [i. e. she herself, not OP!] thinks is fondly maternal” – that actually sounds like a more-or-less direct quote, if anything.

    4. Amber Rose*

      As discussed in many other threads, norms and such change between generations. Specifying age difference actually helps to tone down some of the wild speculating and accusations thrown by commenters.

      It’s not ageism, it’s just a descriptor, like brunette or tall or one-legged.

  17. Don*

    “Court-mandated counciling, part of the terms of my release after I killed someone for asking a personal question.”

    1. MuseumChick*

      I love the idea of responding the the question “Oh, just part of the court order.” and walking out without saying anything else.

  18. LKW*

    If the more professional routes don’t work I recommend considering some of the following options:

    * Just getting my ears rotated
    * Annual tune-up appointment for my garbage disposal
    * Appointment with a pet-cloning service
    * The first rule of Fight Club is that we can’t talk about Fight Club
    * My friend and I went to a magic show last night, the magician picked her to participate in the vanishing cabinet. Now I have to go file a missing person report.


    1. LQ*

      I would totally go for the fight club line. It gets across a don’t go there message while being “funny” (assuming you’re the kind of person who can pull it off, though I don’t think it takes much to pull that line off).

      1. GreenDoor*

        Yes to the Fight Club line. Said in a patiently-explaining, yet slighly exasperated tone it could be totally effective. “(sigh) Sharon….the first rule of fight club is that we don’t talk about fight club (eyerolll and a shake of the head as you exit)”

    2. Precious Wentletrap*

      I was going to suggest this–just start making things up. “Have to get the rest of my tail removed.” “Gonna go see Dr. Nunya” “Getting treated for bofa/dienda/ligma” (or updog if you don’t wanna be vulgar). ” “Picking up Nobel Prize.”

        1. Smarty Boots*

          Hahaha! I haven’t heard that joke since I was a kid — my dad loved to say that. Over and over and over… (love ya, dad!)

      1. Wintermute*

        I prefer “An urgent meeting with a beeswax monitoring consultant, down at the Nunya Business Center”

    3. boo bot*

      I love “Just getting my ears rotated” because I feel like the words make it sound close enough to something plausible that she will be thrown for a second, giving you time to escape!

      Verbal squid ink.

  19. Lynca*

    The biggest point is to keep heading out the door and being breezy. I generally respond with a “I’m just heading to a check up/dentist appointment” if I’m asked where I’m going by anyone. But you do have to be comfortable volunteering that. I understand some people are not.

  20. Audrey Puffins*

    If she says she’s worried about you, then maybe a cheerful “oh, nothing to worry about, I’ll be back in an hour!” would do. Gives nothing away, but might give her the impression that you don’t want her to worry (rather than the truth, that she shouldn’t be worrying because it’s none of her business), which could be a useful softener while still maintaining your privacy.

  21. Det. Charles Boyle*

    Here’s what I’d like to say in those situations: “Geez! It’s none of your business!” and then leave.

  22. Myrin*

    OP, I’d specifically like to encourage you to pick a few of the suggested scripts you like best and/or feel are most likely to be successful and then really, really learn them by heart. Memorise the crap out of them, maybe practice them in front of a mirror or friend.

    I’m saying this because while I’m very straightforward, I’m not really quick-witted and know that I can fumble quite a bit when I’m confronted with unexpected behaviour; I’ve found that when I’ve really committed to memorising and practicing a comeback, I also feel much more comfortable and confident when using it.

    1. F as in Frank*

      This is excellent advice. The only thing I’d add is that if you are on your way out, plan to not break stride, just keep walking while using your script in a neutral/friendly manner.

  23. Miss Ann Thropy*

    “It’s personal,” with no other information, delivered often enough should do it. And these “worriers” are just nosy people who have learned to cover it well.

    1. MLB*

      This. The other responses invite more questions. If you just keep saying it over and over, eventually she’ll stop.

    2. GreenDoor*

      I just like to repeat the obvious until they give up.
      Where are you going?
      An appointment.
      But what for?
      For an appointment that I scheduled for today.
      Well, is it a doctor’s visit?
      No, it’s an appointment. See ya!

  24. Name Required*

    My mother does this. I ignore the question and acknowledge the sentiment when she asks or says something rude because “she cares.”

    “That’s sweet of you for thinking of me. See you later/how has your day been/etc.”

    1. BRR*

      Oooh I like this and hadn’t thought of just ignoring the question (I would have likely gone with a bigger picture sentence telling her to stop). It feels like the line from Arrested Development “I don’t understand the question and I won’t respond to it.”

      1. Name Required*

        I have found ignoring rudeness to be very effective. It’s difficult to argue with someone who is thanking you and ignoring your worst traits.

      2. Jennifer Thneed*

        Miss Manners counsels us to answer the question that *should* have been asked. I’ve done this — it’s highly effective because your voice has a “this is an answer” tone that the rude questioner picks up on without realizing.

  25. Polymer Phil*

    I probably would have tripped myself up in a lie with all my fake doctor’s appointments during my last job hunt if I worked with someone like this.

    Speaking of which, is the current standard practice of making candidates fake two doctor’s appointments for two rounds of interviews really necessary?

      1. SusanIvanova*

        It depends. Does your boss only allow PTO if you already bought the concert tickets, but not if it’s your graduation?

      2. Polymer Phil*

        The culture of the place permitted salaried people to disappear for a few hours for doctor’s appointments, staying home for a plumber/electrician/etc, or other personal business without taking formal PTO. Hourly employees weren’t so fortunate.

    1. nonegiven*

      There is a lawyer for updating your will

      Banker for seeing about a loan for home improvement

      Dentist for a cleaning

      Accountant for tax planning

  26. NicoleT*

    Keep it one or two words, followed by a pause and then “bye!” and turning away quickly to leave. Bonus if you can sign out while she’s asking, and finish as you say the phrase and leave.

    “Errands… bye!”
    “Out… bye!”
    “Nowhere special… bye!”
    “Lunch… bye!”
    “Private appointment… bye!”

    1. Cat Fan*

      This is really the best type of response. Succinct and it would be very awkward for her to try to continue the conversation from there.

    2. Clisby Williams*

      +1. No need to lie, or be snarky, or any of that. The world’s full of annoying people, and we don’t have to engage with them every friggin’ time.

    3. TootsNYC*

      My MIL will call some evenings, and the first thing she asks is, “What did you have for supper?”

      It infuriates me. I just do not want to talk about whatever it was we had for dinner. It feels too intrusive–it’s my everyday life, not hers–and it feels trivial.

      So I’m kind of rude, actually. I say, “Food. What did you need?”

      I’ll then go on to have a friendly conversation after she’s stated the reason for her call, but I don’t answer questions. She’ll ask, “are the kids home?” and there’s no reason for her to need that info, so I just ignore it.

      1. Important Moi*

        We’re talking about boundaries today, so I’ll ask questions.

        Are there other issues with your MIL? This seems like an extreme aversion to answering anything.

        On my screen it appears that MIL is attempting to (awkwardly?) start a conversation. Not possible?

        1. TootsNYC*

          I think the big issue is that I feel she is too focused on us, she doesn’t have enough going on in her own life. I don’t want her to be part of the day-to-day of what goes on in our home (are people sleeping; what did we eat?). The contact is too frequent for me (daily; I normally have my husband take the calls) and it’s too specific, which feels intrusive.
          If she said, “How’s your evening?” or “How is everybody?” or “What are you up to?” it would leave me with the option of choosing what to talk about.
          (I only spoke to my own mother, whom I loved, about twice a month, sometimes less. If I was lonely and called more often, she started to sound like she had other things to do.)

          It’s not horrible; it’s just annoying. And I have said at least once, “I don’t like to talk about dinner. It’s just dinner.” It didn’t help; this is just what she does. (Her son used to do it to me when we were dating; I thought it was the most bizarre thing. I have a couple of funny stories about those conversations as well.)

          It also feels like it just underlines the idea that sometimes we don’t have anything to talk about except what my family ate for dinner tonight.

          I’m happy to have a conversation with her; I just don’t like the way she starts them, or the topics she picks. So I ignore those, and then try to have conversations on other topics.

          1. Tinker*

            Also — from the perspective of having a similar sort of “she’s just asking about dinner” problem — particularly with relationships that weren’t directly chosen, can have elements of tension, and are long-running, you can get into this situation where a person’s constantly trying to press a covert agenda such that they run into the ground or render perilous things that seem really routine and innocuous otherwise.

            Like — they’re asking about dinner, but they decided ten years ago that you were foolish and extravagant and likely to bankrupt their child, so ever since then they have been constantly fishing for information about your spending habits and criticizing whatever information they found. And this evening you’re just not up for the possibility of having to defend your use of fancy cheese on tonight’s hamburger.

            And yeah, sometimes you just… don’t have an interest in constructing a story around a particular topic, and if someone doesn’t know how to let it go it can be exhausting even if there’s no deeply compelling reason that the tale of which part of the paint on your wall started to dry first needs to be classified information.

      2. NicoleT*

        Ah, see, I generally do not even answer the phone when MIL calls. I let my son do it (he’s 8 and she loves to talk to him on the phone) or my husband (he does not enjoy it, but hey, it’s his mom not mine). I will engage with her when I have a goal (plan a dinner, confirm husband is still alive, etc.), but not much past that.

        She doesn’t have boundaries and will share every little trivial detail with others (even strangers) about MY life. It took me a long time to figure out the way to best deal with this. I do not enjoy how she shares details of my life with others, so I do not share details with her unless they pertain to the kid or husband (and even then sparingly). I try very hard to be civil, not rude, and I insist that husband treat her with more respect than he usually does. (I call him out on it in front of her, because I do NOT want to be treated poorly by my own son when he is grown.)

  27. Canarian*

    Agh. I once had to leave for an appointment for electrolysis (PCOS and lady-beards! They are a thing!) and a coworker asked where I was headed in a chatty way. When I tried to play it off casually, he noticed I was downplaying it and then said sympathetically “oh, a mental health appointment?” We were fairly close, so I think he was trying to connect and be like “Oh, I’ve been there too” – and honestly I am open in my personal life about how much I love therapy. But I really *wasn’t* going to a therapy appointment, and I really didn’t want to say “someone’s zapping all these thick, dark hairs out of my face!” It was extremely awkward.

    1. Close Bracket*

      Now if I ever have to leave for a mental health appt, I’m going to reply, “Electrolysis for my lady beard. PCOS, you know!”

  28. M from NY*

    Worrying about being polite is causing you to prioritize her reaction over what you want which is privacy.

    So unless your boss has requested more specifics on the sign out sheet (as someone above noted meeting with client or outright stating personal comp time) you’re under no obligation to respond.

    So when she adds guilt to her request all you have to state is “interesting” and move along. It will feel rude but enforcing boundaries with chronic pushers always will initially. Move through the discomfort which was her own creation and you’ll get to what you want.

  29. Anon for this*

    I just had a confrontation with a caring coworker who worried about me. I’m a woman a few decades older than the OP, and Coworker is a man in the same age group as OP’s receptionist. It was a really bizarre conversation, I was alone in the office that day and CW actually shut the door to my office to ask me in private if I was having a “bad day or bad week”. All because he’d come to me with a question, as in, walked into my space and started talking at me, and I was in the middle of something else, and so unable to immediately produce an answer, or even understand what he was talking about.

    At one point, CW said “I’m concerned” and I answered “please don’t be”. He left and came back an hour later to reiterate that he was concerned about me. That was when I informed him that he was creeping me out.

    He’s probably still concerned though. And frankly, now I am too, anytime I need to interact with that guy!

    I really love “it’s a long story”. I use that a lot myself.

    1. valentine*

      I informed him that he was creeping me out.
      Good for you. That’s a great response to “I’m concerned that you didn’t literally drop everything and favor me with your complete and undivided attention.”

      I’m concerned he closed your door.

    2. Narise*

      My response to these types of situations is usually ‘You have misinterpreted the situation and are now investing a lot of time and emotion into something that isn’t real. Please don’t think about this again.’

    3. Dot*

      He’s not concerned. He’s being passive-aggressive and this song and dance is his way of telling you he doesn’t like how you’re responding to him.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        IDK if he’s passive-aggressive or just odd.

        I have a similar coworker, and the age groups and genders for all parties line up perfectly with Anon’s. This guy calls your desk and asks, “Did I catch you at a bad time?” even if you cheerfully answer on the first ring. You’ll have a work-related f2f conversation, and he will ask, “You doing okay?” again, when there is nothing about me that is stressed or peeved. I think my coworker is just a little socially awkward and doesn’t really read cues well – could be the same for Anon’s CW. (I also had to tell my coworker to not call me Miss Alison.)

  30. Batshua*

    I’m a terrible person and would be super tempted to be like “Gynecologist! I have a wicked yeast infection.” or “Hemorrhoids are terrible, right?” … However, this may not be right for you. :>

    1. Kaittydid*

      I love it. I had a whole prepared speech about a real, but not current IUD insertion appointment ready to go for my one nosy coworker. He got the hint before j ever had to use it though.

  31. CRM*

    Am I the only person who thinks it’s weird that OP’s company requires this sort of public documentation to begin with? The receptionist is definitely behaving out of line, but I would think that this process incites nosy people. What kind of job would this system be necessary for? At any job I’ve ever had, if you have to leave for an appointment then only your boss and perhaps one or two other key people need to know about it. They can handle inquiries and can help people track you down without detailing why you are out of the office.

      1. blackcat*


        We actually had a handy shared email box for this. “Sign in/out” Anyone could see who was gone. Sometimes people shared where they were going, but most of the time it was just “I’m headed out, be back at 1ish-X” followed by a reply “Back” Sometimes it was “Going to Staples. Text me by 10 if you want me to grab something for you.”

        It was nominally in case of emergency so the school knew who was around, but it was also useful to know when I wanted to go talk to X during our shared prep-period.

    1. LKW*

      Not necessarily. Depending on the business, drop ins might be common, like real estate. The receptionist needs to be able to quickly say whether a person is in or out.

      1. Cat Fan*

        That can be made evident by just listing the time you are leaving and the time you are expected back. Listing the reason for your being gone seems really unnecessary. Maybe add a checkbox for available by phone.

    2. Canarian*

      It’s not that weird, it’s just like having an In/Out board near the front desk. I’ve worked in several places that had some version of this.

      1. CRM*

        See, a regular in/out board makes sense, it’s the requirement to add a reason that seems unusual to me. But perhaps necessary, I don’t know!

        1. Canarian*

          Yeah, I can see how that’s more intrusive, although I never thought much of it and just put “personal” or “errand” when I needed to. At places where I’ve had to put a reason it’s because people often spend a lot of time at clients’ offices or other branches of our company, so there’s a difference between “out-unavailable” and “out-working.”

    3. Half-Caf Latte*

      So I know this is a pretty specific situation, but I worked at a summer camp that was over 1200 acres. Staff were allowed to stay on property for time off. Knowing who was/wasn’t on property was critical during a variety of emergencies and drills we had over the years.

    4. Lauren*

      We do this at our company. We have flex time and can go in and out and we have a lot of employees who work out in the field so we use to keep track of people. It’s also in case of fire. But people aren’t nosy. Writing appointment back at noon is fine. Or whatever.

      1. CRM*

        Thanks, that’s a good point! I hadn’t considered companies where people can be out in the field, and in that case it’s probably good to know whether they are working in the field or off-work at an appointment.

    5. iglwif*

      I get why in/out data might be necessary — if they get enough foot traffic that a receptionist is needed, then it makes sense for her to be able to tell that foot traffic whether the person they want is around or not. The requirement to write down your reason for leaving seems odd to me though.

    6. Akcipitrokulo*

      Fire marshall needs to know is main one I can think of. But does not need to know where you are, just that you’re not in the building.

    7. Arctic*

      It’s pretty normal. I don’t have to get permission to leave for an appointment or anything. But I always have to sign out and our admin has to know.

    8. AKchic*

      Sometimes, management needs to be able to know whether or not if they can call you while you’re out. A quick glance at a sign-in/out sheet can tell them if they can. “Dr. Appt” means Don’t Call. “Lunch” means give a call. “Meeting” means Call, But May Need To Leave Message and Follow-Up With Text.

      Depending on the industry and fire codes, knowing who is in the building at all times is paramount because if there is an emergency and the building has to be evacuated, you need to be able to do a quick head-count and compare it to the sign-in sheet and then relay it to the emergency responders on scene, otherwise they are doing a room-to-room to make sure everyone has gotten out, which puts crews at risk (I worked in substance rehab for a decade and our buildings were grandfathered in to the existing codes, so we had to know if people were in our admin building or not, and for our admin/c-suite staff, had to know if we could call them while out of the office).
      However, the way this receptionist is doing it is totally wrong. It’s more concern troll and less business need.

    9. Clisby Williams*

      It was expected at the IT job I had before I retired – but there wasn’t a signout sheet. We were all supposed to put any time out of the office (except for lunch) on the departmental calendar, so people could figure out whether we were in or out of the office, whether we were available for a meeting, etc. No details – Something like “Appt.” was all that was required.

    10. Amber Rose*

      We require it. The reason is simple: if the building blows up or a fire starts or some other emergency happens, we need to know that people are just away and not in need of rescuing. So there are three or four people who’s job it is to grab the binder while evacuating so we can do an accurate headcount. The reason is just so we know whether we should expect you back or not. If someone signed out at 10 for an appointment and it’s 3 and they didn’t sign back in, we could reasonably assume they just forgot and may be trapped inside.

      Our safety program is extremely thorough, but then, the government requires it to be. That said, the binder is just sitting on a cabinet near my desk. Nobody has to ask for it, and nobody checks it or questions anyone for using it.

    11. Delta Delta*

      Not weird to have an in/out sheet or board or similar so the receptionist knows where people are. I was a receptionist for a while, and it was really irritating when someone would call or stop in for someone, and I couldn’t find them. (this, of course, was a larger systemic problem of employees not believing they actually needed to put things on their calendars so that people in the office could …. find them). It can make the receptionist, and by extension, the company look silly if the person is nowhere to be found.

      That said, including the details of where someone is and why seems to be too much. It’s helpful to know that Jane has an appointment out of the office and will be back around 3. That’s all you really need to know.

    12. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I don’t want to give details but business/personal seems logical — someone might want to call. If they know I’m not on a business errand, they’re less likely to do so.
      I’d also happily give exit time (in case they are upset you haven’t called them back when you weren’t there at the time they called), and expected return (if it’s a long absense, they can go to your backup.)

  32. Four lights*

    One time the receptionist at my dentist asked me what I was up to and doing now that I was back in town. She asked me three times, and I responded “this and that” and “Oh I’m just around,” She called me evasive! But of course I was, I had just been fired, had to move back in with my parents and was going through a quarter-life crisis as I tried to figure out a new career path in a recession. Yes, my family had been going there forever, but it doesn’t mean I needed to tell her my life story. Some people can’t take a hint.

    1. TootsNYC*

      “she called me evasive”–that’s your cue to say, “Some people might think you’re being nosy.”

    2. Someone Else*

      If she suggests you’re being evasive, you could suggest right back that she’s being intrusive. Mimic her phrasing but just switch the adjective. It might not help. It might fluster her more, but it also might shut that right down.

  33. twig*

    My first job out of college:

    I had an optometrist appointment. I thought I was being all professional by telling my boss that I needed to take a couple of hours off for “an appointment.” (or it might have been “a doctor’s appointment”)

    His response: “Oh my God! Are you Pregnant?!?”

    (he was a crappy crappy boss who had no business running a business for many more reasons than this)

    1. Marthooh*

      “No, are you?”

      I mean, I probably wouldn’t have thought of that in the moment, but I like to pretend…

    2. Anon for this*

      I had a two day long migraine once where I left work midday then called out sick the following day. Since my migraines give me early warning signs before full on illness settles in, I can usually leave work and get home to my comfy place before feeling its full effects. This also means, I look normal and healthy before I suddenly come down ill. Since there aren’t many women in my office, my well-meaning but clueless boss made a comment about thinking I was pregnant when I told him I had a migraine.

      FWIW, he wasn’t actually asking why I was ill, I was offering up the info and that was his response. People have midday appointments and women fall ill without those things meaning cancer or pregnancy or job interviews. Why do people feel the need to these know things before they are public knowledge?

  34. Dr. Pepper*

    My two favorite ways of dealing with things like this is either what Alison suggested first, simply do not answer, or to ask a question in return. Variations of “why do you need to know?” can be effective, but in this instance you should be prepared with a follow up. She will probably reply with “because I worry!” or some such piffle, to which you can say brightly and cheerfully “oh nothing at all to be worried about, I’ll be back at 3!” Then either leave or find something very important that you simply must do that is nowhere near her desk.

    I realize that it’s difficult to be put on the spot like that, but you may feel better if you start training yourself not to answer simply because someone has asked a question. It can feel rude not to give them an answer, but remember you do not owe them one. You must still respond in some way, but you don’t actually have to give them what they asked. So don’t be afraid to say something that doesn’t give her an answer, like Alison suggested. As children and then as students, we are trained to reply to questions with the correct answer, but in your adult life you don’t always have to do so. I think this is why people, especially women, can get so flustered by intrusive questions. We’re very often not trained in polite deflection, nor are we even taught that you *can* deflect in the first place.

    1. AKchic*

      “But why would *you* worry?” has always been a favorite rejoinder. Because they don’t know what I’m doing when I’m out of the office, and aren’t responsible for me in the first place, so what could it be that they are imagining in their heads/fantasies that are making them worry so much to get them curious/concerned enough to break not only politeness but office etiquette to outright *ask* me and admit that their imaginations have gotten the best of them?
      And on top of all of that, why would I come to them if I were in any trouble to begin with? What exactly do they think of me that screams out poor, pitiful, lonely and friendless to come to them to confide in?

      A lot can be said in a 5 word question.

      1. Dr. Pepper*

        That is a good response, but if this woman is a genuine worrier (with boundary issues, no less), and not just a nosy person who claims to be a worrier, you may unleash a flood of incoherent mother hen clucking. She’s already crossed significant lines, she’s not as likely to balk at appearing overly concerned for the OP. Not that it makes any of this okay, it’s still none of her business. Just keep in mind that she may very tell you why she worries. You may end up feeling more intruded upon rather than her getting the message to back off.

        I say this because I am a genuine worrier, raised by worriers, who has dealt with both other genuine worriers and “worriers”. Whereas I have clear boundaries of my own and I respect other people’s privacy, others sometimes don’t. Some people feel that their perfectly genuine concern should trump your desire to keep something private. Asking “but why would *you* worry?” to someone who really does worry and doesn’t mind that you know it is not as likely to further your cause of being left alone. Which is why I tend to reply to “but I worry!” with some form of “there’s no need to worry”.

    2. Dot*

      These are my two favorite ways of dealing with nosy questions too. A puzzled look and “Do I have to put that information down?” could work without being confrontational. “Why do you need to know?” is more confrontational, which might be appropriate depending on how genuine the receptionist is. (I’m doubting she’s really all THAT worried. But in the off chance she is being genuine, deflection is a good option.) And letting a question simply hang awkwardly in the air and letting her puzzle out whether you actually heard her or not can speak volumes. If she kept insisting even after that, I’d go with a more annoyed response.

  35. SheLooksFamiliar*

    ‘Nothing you need to worry about,’ is my standard answer the first time someone pries, even kindly. After that, I use Miss Manners’ responses:

    ‘Why do you ask?’
    ‘Why are you asking?’
    ‘Why do you need to know?’

    And so on. This usually stops the questions, and I repeat my answer verbatim if it doesn’t.

  36. Essess*

    I would simply use my words … “It’s a personal appointment.” If she persists, simply tell her politely, “It makes me uncomfortable to be forced to discuss my private appointments every time I check out. If there’s anything you need to know, I’ll let you know on my own.”

    1. pcake*

      Nice. I like this: “It’s a personal appointment.” If she persists, simply tell her politely, “It makes me uncomfortable to be forced to discuss my private appointments every time I check out.”

      I think I’d leave the rest off. For me, simple is best.

  37. Akcipitrokulo*

    I’d be tempted to answer
    “what kind of appointment?”
    “The kind where I meet someone.”

    1. willow*

      This reminds me of The Horse Whisperer scene, where Scarlett J asks the boy, “Why do you always wear that hat?” and he answers, “Because it fits my head.”

  38. Akcipitrokulo*

    It can be really diffixult when on the spot… so it’s probably a good idea to pick the snappy answers that you feel most comfortable using, and practice or rehearse them. That way, they will pop up naturally when required, and hopefull avoid the being flustered situation.

    Also have a generic one like “Oh, no need to worry!” for questions that you didn’t anticipate. Or just “Thank you!” and smile pleasantly. It does not have to make sense!

    “Where are you going?”
    “I have an appointment.
    “Who with?”
    “Thank you!”

  39. What's with Today, today?*

    I have Crohn’s disease, so no matter where I’m going, this question gets met with a really long, gross and horrifying answer. Typically, that person will never ask me again.

  40. KR*

    Could you redirect her to when you’ll be back?

    R: Oh where are you going?? I worry about you!
    OP: Nowhere interesting. I will be back at 3. Bye!

  41. Cat Fan*

    I kind of like the idea of just smiling and saying, “See you later, Carol,” as you’re turning around and walking out. Chances are she’s not going to chase after you I keep asking you where you’re going. one or two times of this and she’ll get the hint to stop asking all together. Just be friendly and smiling as you do it.

    1. Cat Fan*

      You also could just have a conversation about it. If you respond “why do you ask” and she says it’s because she worries about you, ask again, why is that? I would be interested in hearing what her answer would be. Take it from there. Does she respond “oh I worry about everybody here”? Say in a friendly tone, “Carol that sounds exhausting. You shouldn’t worry so much!”. And walk away.

  42. AKchic*

    I’ve had this kind of receptionist before. She never met a boundary she didn’t see as an arbitrary line to walk over on her way to the broom closet in order to get cleaning supplies to wipe the boundary off the floor with. When she wasn’t prying into your personal life, she was trying to set you up with one of her two adult sons (both in established relationships, but she didn’t approve of the women and since they weren’t legally married, it didn’t count, so hey, want to date my son?). She was with the company 3 (maybe 4) years because nobody wanted to fire her. She was “sweet” and someone liked her because she was older (which made that person feel not so old since they were contemporaries) but she didn’t do any work other than answer phones and watch that sign in sheet and open the mail. All other work was transferred away to other people.

    Where am I going with this? That you’re not alone. That even if you set your boundary, it may very well be ignored and you may get the brush-off by management or even HR (“oh, that’s just Mrs. X being Mrs. X”, “she’ll be retiring soon, so we all put up with her mothering”, “she doesn’t mean any harm by it”).

    You are allowed to set your boundaries and not feel rude or short about enforcing them. You are not responsible for her feelings, nor should you try to manage them. For personal appointments, write exactly that. “Personal appointment”. If she tries to say that she needs to know due to “concern for you” then you can say that it’s not her concern and it’s inappropriate for a coworker to try to involve themselves into another employee’s personal life in such an unwanted way as much as she does and if it doesn’t stop, you will go to HR and this is the last time you will be discussing it with her. If she tries to say that she needs to know due to “management may need to get in touch with you” (this was an issue when I was a receptionist, they never knew when it was okay to contact C-suite staff when they were out of the office) then you can point to the sheet and say that if it’s marked as personal, then no, don’t call, otherwise, management can make their best judgement guesses, text or leave a message should you be unreachable.

    You aren’t making this awkward, she is. You aren’t her child and she needs to stop trying to treat the staff like her children.

  43. RabbitRabbit*

    I’d suggest you answer her “because I care/worry about you” responses with something like “OK, Mom!” but I worry she might like that nickname and run with it.

    I had a colleague in another department harp on me about not wearing a jacket when I went to our (regular) meetings in another building in winter time, basically every time. Even though I’d say I didn’t want/need one along for the short distance between buildings, it didn’t change her behavior and I hated being infantilized. Eventually I started answering her “aren’t you cold?/where’s your jacket?” nagging with “OK, Moooom…” (add in the ‘gosh, whatever’ tone) and she stopped it.

    1. Clisby Williams*

      Years ago, a younger brother’s elementary school teacher corralled my mother to say, “I’m so worried about Fergus’s winter coat!” My mother, perplexed, said, “He doesn’t have one.” Teacher: “That’s what I mean!” Mother: “He wouldn’t wear it.”

    2. BadWolf*

      My mom runs colder than me and is often worried that I won’t be warm enough. I reply, “If I’m cold, I won’t complain.”

    3. Jennifer Thneed*

      I tend to run cold (and I’m fine with that; I like sweaters). I have a good friend who tends to run hot. We are an amusing pair: I’ll be bundled up, hat & scarf, hands in pockets; and he’ll be in a long-sleeve shirt with the sleeves pushed up to his elbows. I learned long ago to stop doubting him, but I think it did take him actually reacting to the cold one time for me to believe him completely.

    4. Blue Eagle*

      Even more effective – “OK, Grandma”, followed by “my Grandma always asks me those questions too”.

  44. Foreign Octopus*

    I think that if you’re feeling up to it then the next time she asks you where you’re going /what the appointment is for, you can say something like:

    “Hey, can I tell you something? I just wanted to let you know that when you ask me where I’m going for my appointments, I find it a little invasive. I’d rather not tell people what I’m doing because I like to keep my work and life separate. Thanks for understanding.”

    If, however, you’re not up for that then I think the following might work.

    OP: I’m signing out.
    Rec: where are you going?
    OP: Just an appointment.
    Rec: What for?
    OP: Nothing interesting.
    Rec: You can tell me. I only ask because I care.
    OP: That’s not necessary. See you when I get back.

    I personally like the “that’s not necessary” in response to “worry about your” and “I care about you” because I feel like it’s a polite way to say stop. Then again, you might need something stronger, in which case I would say see the firmer one above.

    Good luck, OP, and let us know how it goes. Tis the season of updates after all :)

      1. BadWolf*

        Me too!

        I’ve started using cheery “No, thank you” a lot more even if it doesn’t quite line up. It usually stops people because it sounds polite and there was a “no” involved.

  45. Bored IT Guy*

    Come up with absurd made up events/explanations:
    “My cat locked himself out of his car”
    “There is a reason you’ve never seen me and Superman in the same room … gotta run, the world needs saving”
    “My pet goldfish has a sprained toenail”
    “I need to be home when the mail comes”
    “My (partner/spouse/dog) left the towels in the dryer, and I don’t want them to get wrinkled”
    “My bicycle needs a new catalytic converter”

  46. That guy*

    You don’t have to answer inappropriate questions. The other person may really, really want an answer, but that doesn’t obligate you to give one. I actually recommend disrupting the discussion by responding as though she had asked a different question. For instance, if she asks, “Where are you going for your appointment?” I think you should reply in your most upbeat voice, “Bye, Nancy, see you at [time you’re returning]!” And then just ignore any further questions. Basically, pretend she never asked you about the nature of your appointment. Or you can say something like, “You’re like the office mom! Always trying to make sure everything is ok!” And again, straight up ignore any further questions.

    I suggest this because people like your office manager can take statements like, “I don’t share my personal health information,” to mean “Something is seriously wrong with me, I’m defensive about it, and you should pressure me to share.” Whereas refusing to participate tends to shut the whole thing down.

    I wouldn’t use this strategy with a superior, but it sounds like the office manager doesn’t have any direct authority over you, so I think it’s fine to deflect like this in this situation.

  47. Liet-Kinda*

    I think she can be a lot more direct, as long as it’s delivered without hostility or irritation.

    “Oh, Linda, I know you don’t mean to be nosy.”

    “That’s awfully personal! I’ll see you when I get back!”

    “I see that you’re coming from a kind place, and I know you don’t mean to be intrusive. See you later!”

      1. Joielle*

        These are perfect! A lot of the scripts people are posting are a bit lecture-y for this situation. The OP doesn’t want to come off like she’s scolding the receptionist… just cheerfully and politely not answering her questions.

  48. Catwoman*

    If you’re ok with being very direct:
    “That’s a rather invasive question that’s not appropriate for work, and I’m going to pretend you didn’t ask it.” Then walk out the door.

    If you’re looking for a softer tone:
    “That’s kind of you to be concerned, but I’d rather keep my work and personal life separate, and that includes discussing details of appointments with my co-workers. I’m asking that you please respect my privacy and refrain from asking these types of questions. I know you mean well, but it makes me feel uncomfortable.”

    1. Liet-Kinda*

      I feel like it needs to be short and snappy followed by immediately moving on. That second script is technically correct and complete, but it would come off as a serious lecture.

    2. LKW*

      Agreed shorter is better here maybe “Look at you being all nosy parker! Bye!” said in the same voice you’d tell a 2 year old you’re proud he put his toys away.

  49. Anonymousaurus Rex*

    I struggle with this too–not so much because other people are nosy, I just tend to be an over-sharer and then instantly regret it. When I did IVF this year I got really good at just saying “medical appointment” or “medical procedure” with no details, but I regressed yesterday when I had to tell my boss I was cancelling a meeting in another town today to get a melanoma removed.

    Somehow I always feel like when I have to inconvenience others or change plans at the last minute due to a medical thing I feel more pressure to provide justification. She was perfectly nice about it, but I felt super awkward afterwards and just wish I could have come up with another way to convey that this medical appointment was urgent and more important than the meeting (but likely not life-threatening in my case).

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      You’ve got it right there: “this medical appointment is urgent and more important than the meeting (but not life-threatening)”.

      If it helps, most people don’t WANT to hear the details, for any number of reasons from getting grossed out to being in a rush.

  50. PockyFever*

    I previously worked somewhere where we had to sign in/out and although we didn’t have to put the reason we had a “caring” receptionist too. Many used phrases similar to what Alison suggest, so you can’t go wrong with those. Others got tired of being asked so they either, had someone else who was leaving at same time sign out for them, leave out the building at a different door and sign in/out when they got back, or just ignored the receptionist when she asked. However, there was one past-coworker told the receptionist, in the nicest way possible, that it was none of their business and the prying made them feel like they were being treated like a child. Unfortunately, the receptionist didn’t agree and it turned into a shouting match. On a good note she stopped asking people where they were going after that but, it’s unfortunate it had to come to that to get her to respect peoples request.
    OP, hopefully your receptionist is a reasonable person and that Alison and the other commentors suggestions work. for you

    1. WellRed*

      Uh, if someone feels any certain way, others don’t get to “disagree.” Geez, WTF with that receptionist?

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        She was embarrassed, which led to her feeling angry. Very human. The adult version is when you have the feelings but keep them on the inside where they belong.

      2. PockyFever*

        Honestly, she was always overall aggressively “motherly”, all because she “cared” so much about everyone, and would get defensive if you admitted you didn’t like it. Luckily that shouting match was the only one and curbed her behavior. Except for those who had health conditions she knew about, they still had to suffer her caring about them and 21 questions if they left the building, or for example had diabetes and were eating the “wrong” food.

  51. nnn*

    If, for whatever reason, you struggle with saying nothing or with dissuading her from asking, another option is to spew a ton of words at her telling her nothing that’s not her business.

    “Oh, I’m just off to an appointment, I expect to be back by 2, I have my phone with me but I’ll be in the subway for a bit so if I don’t answer just leave me a message and I’ll check messages when I get out of the subway, my drafts are on the shared drive, I’ve already sent Jane, Wakeen, Lucretia, Fergus and Myrtle emails with updates on my progress so they have all the information they need to run with it if they need to and you don’t need to worry about a thing! See you later!”

    Constant stream of words, constant bustling motion, right out the door. Nothing that’s not work-related, nothing that’s actionable on her part so she doesn’t feel that she needs to stop you and take notes or anything.

  52. Lumen*

    Her: *nosy*
    You: “Just an appointment.”
    Her: *spiel about worry and care*
    You: *weird look, because she’s being weird* “It’s personal, Betty.”

    There’s no reason not to make nosy people uncomfortable when their nosiness is so uncomfortable for you.

      1. Lumen*

        IIIIII would not say this even as a joke, because Betty doesn’t need to know about OP’s medical worries at all, much less worry about them with her.

  53. Blackberry Lemon Water*

    We are doing fertility treatments and I don’t want my work colleagues to know So I have been putting Dentist appt on my calendar. My management is aware of what I am doing, but he knows I don’t want it known. Most of my co-workers have either not noticed that I am seeing the dentist almost 1 a week or they don’t care, I have one that sends an email or calls when I come back to ask if I need anything as I have been to the dentist quite a bit. My management knows she is asking and sent me a email to tell her I suffer from “Spontaneous Dental Hydroplosion” and we are trying to keep my teeth from turning into liquid and then dripping down my throat. I don’t think she knows the disease is from the office but she leaves a candy bar at my desk every now and then so its a happy medium.

  54. Kaittydid*

    I am a 20 something woman, and I had a 50+ male coworker who wanted to know where I was going each of the 3 times a year I went to an appointment. I stopped telling him, but had a backup plan to describe a particular kind of appointment in aggressive detail if he ever pressed for an explanation. It’s kind of a nuclear option and won’t work if you genuinely don’t want to share details, though.

  55. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    I vote for no verbal response at all, just smile and wave on your way out the door; and if that doesn’t work after a while then a puzzled or concerned look, because it is puzzling why she would ask such a rude personal question. Any verbal response will invite more conversation when the goal should be to shut it down completely and it sounds like the OP is somewhat easily overmatched by a verbal manipulator. Stop playing on her “turf” as it were.

    1. Delta Delta*

      Oh! This is good! You could also make sure you’re talking on your phone while you sign out so you can only wave to the receptionist. Or if you’re not talking to anyone, pretend.

  56. Goya de la Mancha*

    Be prepared for this to never end. No matter how much you shut her down (unless you’re willing to have an all out confrontation about it). My older co-worker does the same and I’ve been “coaching” her with generic responses for 4 years. You’d think eventually they would get the hint to not ask personal details.

    1. MLB*

      See that’s the problem, you can’t be subtle to boundary crossers. Your generic responses aren’t working so you need to be direct. It doesn’t have to continue if you really want it to stop.

  57. Walter White Walker*

    A breezy non-sequitur can work wonders in these situations, if you can commit to it.

    Receptionist: “Where are you going?”

    OP, smiling pleasantly: “Oh, I’m good, thanks!”

    Receptionist: “What? I asked where you’re going!”

    OP, walking off, still smiling “Bye! See you later!”

    Responding to her probing with polite banalities (feel free to shake things up by mentioning the weather) deprives her of control of the conversation while maintaining a veneer of sociability and politeness.

  58. Delta Delta*

    I think there can be a balance, depending on comfort level. I don’t mind saying something like, “headed to the dentist, hoping I don’t need any fillings!” because really, it’s true and it’s also a little bit of a non-answer. If said correctly, it’s got kind of that whole “this is a boring part of life, amirite?” vibe while still sort of answering the question.

    For things that feel a lot more personal, I like a deflection that just doesn’t answer. “Where are you going?” ” Be back at 4!” and sashay off. (I find the sashay to be key; others’ mileage may vary.)

    If I feel especially saucy, I might look around furtively, open my mouth as if I’m going to speak, and then close it again. Then say something like, “I’d better not.” And walk away. Then when it comes back around later (and it probably will), say “I just had to go to the dentist. Not interesting.”

  59. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

    Oh gosh, I wish I had had these for the time when I ended up on a train ride from our office to our city’s downtown, which is about 45 minutes, next to a coworker. We were discussing that we both went to therapy downtown, which was fine, but then she started prying about who I went to! I go to a nonprofit org for a very specific and private problem and absolutely did not want to share any of that info with her so I just repeatedly demurred. It was super cringey.

    1. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

      I feel obligated to note that this was when I decided I never needed to even mention more than “I go to an appointment sometimes after work” with a coworker ever again.

    2. Former Retail Manager*

      This might be an unpopular opinion, but I think people should never disclose that they go to any type of therapy (other than physical therapy) to a co-worker. It’s just a landmine, and to be honest, I wouldn’t pry and I’d try to be supportive, but I’d secretly wonder what you’re going to a therapist for. Are you one step away from becoming unhinged and could potentially be danger to someone, just dealing with a little garden variety depression and anxiety, sexual abuse survivor, anger management therapy because you had a domestic violence incident? Regardless, it’s stuff that I really don’t want to know about my co-workers and is best kept private unless there is an absolute need-to-know between an employee and supervisor, or some similar situation. I think your approach to never discuss this stuff is excellent.

      1. Ariana Grande's Ponytail*

        I agree with you like 90% but I do want to push back on the notion that people are going to therapy because anything is wrong with them. There are plenty of people who go to therapy to deal with a brief event in their life (like starting college), or who go on a low-frequency but recurring basis just to check in. Anyone who posed a danger to themselves or others would be committed immediately by their therapist to a psych ward for further evaluation because they are mandated reporters. It seems like you realize this, but as a person who attends therapy for non-threatening reasons, I always feel a sort of duty to put this out there!

      2. TG*

        I disagree, and think that this kind of assumption can contribute to people not getting the mental health help that they need.

  60. Yuan Zai*

    Instead of appointment, try writing down that you’re going to a meeting. Why we so commonly use “appointment” for some encounters and not others I don’t know. I also don’t know why people are less likely to pry when you say “I have a meeting” vs. “I have an appointment” except that “appointment” says medical/dental/behavioral health more than meeting does and far too many people feel entitled to pry into other people’s health issues.

    1. nonegiven*

      You also may have appointments with your insurance guy, financial planner, lawyer, accountant, or banker.

  61. Chocoholic*

    Haven’t read all the comments, but we used a version of this with my IL’s when they would ask what something cost. We would just say, in a kind of light and joking tone, “Oh, about $100.” That was our answer to everything: how much was our house, how much do we pay for daycare, how much was our car payment, how much do we get paid, etc. They eventually got the idea that it was none of their business.

    If you had the same answer that you just repeated, she will probably eventually get the idea. “Going to see a man about a horse” or “getting my teeth cleaned” or “getting my hair done” may all eventually get the point across.

    1. TootsNYC*

      My now husband used to answer prying questions about whether we were getting married by saying, “It is the policy of the United States Navy to neither confirm or deny the existence of nuclear weapons aboard its vessels.”

      And when they’d laugh and ask again, he’d repeat it, verbatim. So they asked me–I’m no dummy, I said the exactly same thing.

      The fact that it was mildly funny was a huge part of its success. Also powerful was the fact that in the answer itself was the message “we aren’t going to tell you.”
      But the biggest part is that we used the exact same wording. Every time–no deviation.

      So I like the “gotta see a man about a horse” because it’s funny, but it’s also clearly not an answer to the actual question. And if you use it every single time, you don’t have to spend any energy thinking of how to evade the question. It’s just “that thing you say when this brain synapse is triggered.”

  62. Nea*

    My go-to script for anything like this is “Thank you for your concern, but I prefer not to discuss personal issues at work.” Not as amusingly satisfying as “tell a really graphic story” as suggested up thread, but it has the virtues of:
    1) not giving the other person anything they can be offended over; you’re even thanking them
    2) not telling them anything because it’s not their business
    3) making it clear that they’re being pushy and unprofessional if they continue the conversation.

  63. HannahS*

    Very helpful phrase: “Oh, nothing to worry about! I’ll be back at 2:30.” Smile, breezy, then leave.

    1. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

      My hubby says “see a man about a horse” but he uses it as a euphemism for peeing… I don’t know the origin of the phrase…

  64. SigneL*

    I’m a caring person, and normally wouldn’t ask, but on the other hand, I’d want to know if I could help. So I guess I’m wondering – how do you convey that you’d like to help without being intrusive?

    1. StrongBelieverThatYouCatchMoreBeesWithHoney*

      Chances are that coworkers know you are a caring person and that your being kind goes farther than you think it does. So for you, you have to respect people enough to know that they will ask for help when they need it. You want to help – but that can be more about you and not be about them.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      “Any messages to give if someone asks for you while you’re gone?”
      If the answer is no, drop it.

    3. Squeeble*

      You wait for information that you can do something about. If a coworker tells you oh no, I just got some terrible medical news/my partner broke up with me/my apartment flooded, you can offer to help at that point. But if they’re just leaving the office for an “appointment,” it’s safe to assume it’s none of your business.

      1. Cat Fan*

        This. There’s no reason to assume someone needs help just because they are leaving the office for a while.

    4. Parenthetically*

      The thing is, I don’t need a coworker’s help if I’m going to the gyno for a pap smear or to the dentist to get a cavity filled, which is what 99% of things like this are going to be, and I certainly don’t want an offer of help (much less an inquiry) as I’m walking out the door to my psychiatrist’s office for an appointment to get my anti-anxiety meds refilled. If I need help from my coworkers for a health issue I will solicit said help. Anything more than, “See you when you get back, don’t freeze out there!” is going to be way too entangling and personal for work.

    5. Observer*

      Ask “Is there anything I can do?” rather than “Where are you going?” or “what kind of appointment?”

      1. Elsajeni*

        But also, don’t even ask that if the information you have is “an appointment,” because… anything you can do about what? “An appointment” is a pretty long way from “a problem I need help and support with” or “a problem I need workplace accommodations for” or anything like that.

    6. LilySparrow*

      I know you mean well, but this strikes me as an odd question. Why would they need help just because they’re going in or out of an office building? People who are conducting their lives and going about their business in an ordinary fashion don’t usually need help, so there’s really no way to convey that without being awkward or inappropriate.

      They could be going to get their taxes done. Or to an interview for another job. Or to meet their partner for a quickie. (Or to meet someone else for a quickie). Or to get their eyes examined for an adjustment to their glasses prescription. It’s just an unidentified appointment on personal time, not notification of a crisis.

      If they are weeping, bleeding, falling over or showing signs of struggle, pain or distress, sure. Say, “How can I help?”

      Assuming pro-actively that people need help – and particularly your help – when you don’t even know that there’s a problem, is inherently intrusive.

  65. EmKay*

    I hate office “worriers”. Once at OldJob, my boss left at lunch on a Friday. I hadn’t been feeling well and so I left early. Boss was aware of this.

    Monday morning, THREE of my coworkers “casually mentionned” to her that I had left early, because “they were worried” about me. Yeah right. They thought I was getting away with something and they wanted to tattle.

  66. StrongBelieverThatYouCatchMoreBeesWithHoney*

    Is it possible to speak with her when you are not running out the door and say

    “You often ask me where I am going and say you worry about me. I do not want or need you to worry about me. I would certainly let (insert boss’ name here) know if there was anything that is serious (even if not true – it is a good caveat) so don’t be surprised when I keep my personal matters to myself. You are just great and I am sure you will respect this. Thanks! See you later!”

  67. Anon for today*

    There are plenty of valid reasons for needing this information as others have pointed out (safety, etc.) but I’d also suggest that the LW talk to the boss about this situation and see if there’s another way status can be communicated that reduces the interaction with the receptionist. For example, we had a web-based electronic IN/OUT board – we could mark this from our desk. Then LW could just walk out with a quick “bye” and if the receptionist said anything, LW could just say, “sorry, in a hurry, it’s on the board”.

  68. Jennifer Thneed*

    > and she wants to know what’s going on “because I care about you” or “because I worry about you.”

    Her: What’s the appointment for? I’m worried about you.
    You: Thank you! (as you leave)

    There is no rule that we must answer the (nosy) question that was asked. We can always answer the question that *should have been asked* instead.

    1. Serin*

      I was just coming to say exactly this. Answer another question, and keep moving to avoid follow-up questions.

      Her: An appointment for what?
      You: A little over an hour. [out the door]

      Her: An appointment for what?
      You: If anyone calls, I should be able to return the call when I come back at 3. [out the door]

      Her: All these appointments! Is something wrong?
      You: I’m not expecting any visitors, but if anything’s too urgent for voicemail, Kari is my backup. [out the door]

  69. Granny K*

    A friend of mine came up with this as a polite way to say ‘It’s none of your business’ :
    I appreciate your concern, but you don’t need to worry about it.

    This works about 95% of the time, but I HAVE run into a few folks who have replied with, ‘well I’m not worried, I just want to know.’ I have then replied “See you missed it…this was my polite way of saying ‘It’s none of your business’.” (I had a guy actually reply with ‘So does that mean you’re not going to tell me?’ “Yes, that’s what that means.”)

  70. Half-Caf Latte*

    I have a friend whose husband is a physician. They have an ongoing joke since he graduated medical school that every appointment he has for the rest of his life is a doctor’s appointment.

    This was also handy for them fending-off unsolicited advice/intrusions with a newborn. “Oh, the doctor wants us to do X with baby instead of Y.”

  71. clunker*

    I have a chronic illness which I’m very open about and everyone around me knows about (type 1 diabetes) because it’s just such a part of my life it’s kinda unavoidable to talk about without actively keeping it secret. (At least for me, obvs other people do it differently). But I also have a couple of other ongoing health concerns (that I don’t talk about because they’re the sort where I just take meds/get monitored and so there’s no reason for anyone else to know) which means I have a really really noticeably unusual number of “doctors appointments”. I’m never detailed in how I talk about it, just “appointment” or “medical appointment” and if anyone asks I just say “oh that’s just what it’s like to manage a chronic illness– it’s nothing to worry about” which is true even if it IS a concerning appointment for me. It’s nothing for THEM to worry about. If someone tries to point out that they are close with a diabetic person and they don’t see the doctor this much, I might say something like “Oh, I’m just doing what my doctor says. Everyone’s different, you know!”

    Also I’m very very prepared to lecture about the science of diabetes or diabetes tech at any time so if anyone wants to get curious I’ll go into explaining things at either a population-health level or a molecular science level and either I bore them to tears or they’re genuinely interested in that. It’s very easy to turn personal questions into these sort of questions which is good because it dissuades people who just want to gossip or judge my management/diet/health while giving what feels like a meaty answer to people who are just trying to be polite and don’t actually care.

    None of that’s to say anyone SHOULD have to do those things or share any kind of details at all, just wanted to share how I go about it as someone with a lot of doctors appointments that people get curious about.

  72. Cheesesteak in Paradise*

    When my husband’s uncle died, I was surprised at the number of people who asked me the cause of death. Like, in actuality, it was suicide and I’m glad you didn’t ask me in front of my husband. It’s a bit of a non sequitor but a lot of people seem to feel entitled to info like this. I like Allison’s last response for shutting it down. I personally have had therapy appointments and as well as medical appointments for IVF for infertility, and neither is something I want to discuss at work.

    1. PersonalJeebus*

      I actually do understand the urge to ask that question, although I would NOT press the person for that information if they aren’t volunteering anything. The curiosity comes from the belief that some causes of death are especially traumatic to the survivors (suicide and homicide being at the top of the list), and I often wish I could know whether the person is dealing with any of those events, as I want to be mindful of how I treat them. So, in addition to some people just being impulsive, curious, and plain inconsiderate, I think that mindset is often driving the questions.

      Again, it’s not a good idea to ask just because you want to know, even with the best of intentions! We don’t get to know all kinds of things we wish people would tell us …

  73. Former Retail Manager*

    This may have been addressed already and Alison’s answer alludes to it, but we have an employee who specifically lists “personal appointment” for all time off that isn’t holiday related. For some reason, the addition of the word “personal” rather than just “appointment” seems to put everyone on notice that it is something to not be discussed unless he chooses to bring it up. I only recently found out that this is just an old habit for this employee, but he agreed that is seems to keep anyone from inquiring as to why he’ll be out. Whenever I see “personal appt or personal time” I automatically assume it is something the person doesn’t want to share and don’t inquire about it.

    1. LilySparrow*

      One time a person on my team left for a “personal appointment,” and a younger, inexperienced team member asked chirpily, “what are you going to do?”

      He answered, “Just some personal business.”

      Chirpy asked again, “What does that mean?” He looked very uncomfortable.

      I finally told her, “It means it’s personal and it’s none of your business.”

  74. PersonalJeebus*

    Since she’s made it explicit that she’s asking because she “cares/worries” about you (which is SO presumptuous of her), I’d use one of Alison’s lines and then follow it with: “You don’t need to worry about me. I’ve got everything under control.”

    And every time she asks after that, keep saying, “Jane, I’ve told you you don’t need to worry about my personal appointments,” or its firmer variation, “I’ve told you not to worry about my personal appointments. See you at 3:30!” Be a broken record: her worrying is neither wanted nor needed.

    Alison’s lines are fine, and I do like the advice on how to tell this woman that you’d prefer she stop asking for privacy reasons. But I’d suggest immediately addressing the part of her behavior where she justifies *why* she thinks she has the right to ask. Make it clear that you have no use for her “caring” about you on a personal level. All you need from her is basic professional respect.

    I know that boundary-setting is largely about addressing unwanted behaviors and not motivations, but in this case the overt *expressions* of worry/caring are themselves behaviors as well, and they should be addressed.

  75. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

    I have a co-worker who is a fondly maternal type and a couple decades older than me. When I started I was in my mid-twenties, the youngest person at our location, and brand new to llama wrangling, while she is a very experienced llama wrangler who legitimately taught me a lot. She’s also a big time worrier; all of this contributed to her motherly attitude towards me.
    She would make comments to me that came from a place of kindness but drove me absolutely bat crap crazy. Subtle replies to express my dislike of these comments didn’t work, so not knowing what else to do I sat down with her in private to tell her to cut it out.
    It worked perfectly. Key to this chat being a success are:
    1. It must be in private
    2. Assume good intentions from the person and they will respond in kind. Your approach should be “since you want to help, let me tell you the current way is actually unhelpful. This new way would be helpful instead.”
    3. A calm, matter of fact tone that pleasantly conveys what you are asking for is how it’s going to be.
    After I told her the comments made me feel uncomfortable, she apologized and told me she wouldn’t do it again. We work well together to this day.
    (It helps that she is a kind person who really meant what she said when she told me she’d stop. If the kind and direct approach doesn’t work, you’re probably dealing with a jerk.)

    1. TootsNYC*

      My mother-in-law used to verbally push food on my at every single dinner I had at their house. I’d have eaten a full meal, and she’d be saying. “Have some of this,” “don’t you want some more that?”

      I kept deflecting, but I just felt badgered, and it was getting in the way. She’s a loving, lovely lady, and I wanted to have a good relationship with her. We all get to be annoying (we all ARE annoying), and we’re entitled to our idiosyncracies, but it had gone past the point where I could just slough it off.

      So I had a similar conversation: “Please know I always feel welcome at your table. But when you push this food on me, it makes me feel like I don’t want to be here. That’s not what I want. I need for you to stop. I’m going to remind you of this conversation in the future, because I know it’s a habit and you’ll probably forget.” Longer, a little nicer and more loving.
      It worked, eventually. I did have to remind her several times, but eventually she would remind herself, and then she ended up not bringing it up at all.

  76. Wintermute*

    personally, I hate to say it, I don’t like some of these scripts. From someone nosy they just pour more fuel on the fire. Saying “I’m sure you haven’t thought of this, but some appointments can be very personal and people may not want to share those details at work.” You could add, “I’d rather not be asked for that reason.” is just asking for her to make assumptions that you’re going for some reason you don’t want her to know and if she is “worrying” then she’ll just be even more curious. That or she’ll assume it’s something like therapy you’re trying to hide (I hate to stereotype but “older, maternal” types are demonstrably more likely to stigmatize mental care) or something you might want to conceal (something reproductive-related, an embarrassing medical condition, etc).

    It gives away just enough to pique curiosity in someone with poor boundaries, which I’m not a big fan of.

    I’d keep it bland and boring, “oh it’s no big deal, just an appointment I have to keep”, “just a routine appointment, nothing to worry about (ha ha)!” or just pretend you didn’t hear her as you quickly walk out the door.

    If she continues to pry, I’d name the behavior, before I give away that tantalizing detail that “it’s very personal” and get her mental gears turning overdrive– “It’s kind of you to worry about me, but I’m not real big on sharing stuff like that”, “It’s nothing you need to worry about”, if you feel like being very direct, “I know you have the best intentions but always trying to figure out just where I’m going is a little [invasive/weird/annoying]” without planting the “it could be a deep dark secret” seed in her subconscious.

  77. CanCan*

    Other approaches:
    – cheerful: “Oh, nothing to worry about!”
    – humorous: “My baby dinosaur is having his teeth cleaned.”

  78. cheluzal*

    Ugh, nosy co-workers. During my pregnancy I was miserable: I gained 50 pounds, missed 3 months at the start due to hyperemesis and kidney stones, ankles so swollen it took 10 minutes to walk to the car near the end….and someone blurted out about my cankles. Wtf…

    I very quickly told her it wasn’t appreciated. Instead of backing off, apologizing, she kept going forward and said, “I’m your work mom.” I told her I had one crazy mom and I don’t need another. She didn’t relent. I won’t speak to her now. Like…she knows I am pissed but I don’t care. It was so rude and I do not respond well with boundary-breaking.

    1. Eirene*

      Omg, my mouth just actually fell open at reading this. I wouldn’t say that to my friends who are pregnant, let alone a coworker! What kind of person would say such a thing instead of offering help?! I mean, okay, I know what kind of person would, but still. Holy cats!

    2. Observer*

      She’s your work mom!? Like “I decided to adopt you and you don’t get a say” work mom?

      I just …. SMH.

    3. Kuododi*

      Oh good grief!!! If someone were to try that nonsense with me… I can’t promise there wouldn’t be throat punching in retribution:(. That’s multiple levels of wrong!!!! Hope the pregnancy turned out well and healthy…inspite of the turkeys. Best regards

  79. T*

    This is so annoying, it sounds like your job is grade school and you have to ask permission to leave and use the bathroom. What kind of bosses make people sign in and out? I was at a job that didn’t require this, management trusted us and we didn’t have time cards or sign in sheets. But we did have an obnoxious receptionist who kept a log and wrote down when each person arrived, left for lunch, came back, etc. just to be a total ass and nosy. Word got around she was logging our whereabouts and they eventually fired her. She was replaced by a recording machine that directed people’s calls.

  80. stump*

    My first instinct is to go simultaneously bland, uninfomative, and peppy. Like, when you’re on your way out the door:

    Receptionist: What kind of appointment?

    You/me/whoever needs this: Oh, you know, nothing big. Have a great daaaaay! *huge used car salesman smile as you’re walking out the door*

    I’ve generally had positive results with this in the past. Especially if you just KEEP MOVING and DO NOT STOP to answer any further questions. And, you know, the cheesy smile. ;D

  81. Hiring Mgr*

    This is probably completely unrelated to the OPs question, but why do you have to fill in a sign out sheet everytime you go to an appointment? If people need to get in touch with you wouldn’t they just call, email, IM, text you, etc?

    1. Not All*

      No idea what the situations is for the LW, but here are the reasons I’ve had In/Out boards that were maintained in a certain level of detail:

      -it was reasonably frequent (weekly?) that something very urgent would come up (such as a Congressional data call) that needed to be responded to within a few hours. We needed to know how likely it was that a given person was going to be able to respond/see an email/text or if they were on personal leave or at a meeting that couldn’t be interrupted.
      -we had a couple key projects going that could (figuratively) blow up at any time and the project leads needed to know at a glance how quickly (or if at all) a given team member would be able to deal with it, or if they needed to reach out to the back-up
      -we worked in a building that had had numerous active threats against it…if any of those were ever carried through, we needed to know immediately whether everyone was accounted for
      -we had a lot of specialists who needed to do field checks irregularly, often in dangerous areas. We needed to know if someone was at one of those areas and not back, or just took an early afternoon.

      The issue isn’t that there’s a sign-in/out…the issue is that the receptionist wants MORE information than is actually required by management to have on it.

  82. Phil*

    With people like this, I like to coyly say things like “It’s a secret” and refusing to give them any more information. Walk out leaving them with that, and enjoy seeing them get all worked up over nothing.

    1. thankful for AAM*

      I said this upthread. I’d say in a loud, cheerful voice, I’m getting my vagina serviced. And I’d hope that it showed her an example of getting what you asked for.

  83. ArtK*

    I vote for breezing out as soon as you say “Just an appointment, bye!” I’d be terrified of saying “Some appointments are personal” and having Ms. Nosy manufacture something in her head and feed it into the rumor mill.

  84. HannahBlannaba*

    So happy to see this article. I just had cosmetic surgery today and will be off work for a week. I’ve been answering questions about it with increasingly ridiculous procedures. “I’m having the world’s first interspecies brain transplant. So if you hear me making dolphin noises just know you’re hearing the future of science!” “I’m getting two extra arms attached so I can try to keep up with my paperwork.” “I’m having my knees replaced with TY beanie babies.”

  85. LilySparrow*

    I prefer the bland no-information non-answer: “Routine maintenance.”

    Or the silly answer: “Multistate crime spree.”
    “Alien abduction.”
    “Government brain chip implant.”
    “Illuminati conference.”

    Everybody has to go to the doctor/dentist/mammogram/proctologist/dermatologist sometimes. It’s not just that it’s nobody’s business – it’s not even *interesting*. She must be not just nosy, but desperate for material.

  86. Clay on my apron*

    “I’m going to have my teeth sharpened”
    “My annual rabies shot”
    “Going to have my extra nipple removed”

  87. TooMuchInformation*

    Oh no, my comment got posted before I was finished typing it. Embarrassing! I meant to say Oh man I’m glad I’m not in this situation because I am far too sassy. I would say something like ”Hemorrhaging, back in a jiff.”

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