How to Politely Shut Down Intruding Questions About Your Life
Ah, family get-togethers. Mom’s potato salad. Dad’s swearing at the TV over whichever game happens to be on. Grandma’s famous knitted blue sweater with the flower patches. And, my personal favorite, the intruding questions about your life.
I’m qualified to talk about this
I come from a middle-class family. I grew up in a small town in Missouri and lived in a brick house with a big yard and lovely neighbors. My dad worked for a telecommunications company and my mom cooked school lunches at the local Catholic grade school. My brother joined the Navy and has a beautiful hilarious wife with a baby on the way and my sister is a teacher with a husband and three adorable rosy-cheeked little boys. And me?
Oh, hello, I’m the black sheep of the family. I had seven ear piercings before I graduated high school, I stayed out all night drinking with my friends long before the age of 21 (do I get arrested for admitting that now?), and I have not one but – gasp! – two visible tattoos. Not to mention that despite the fact that I am 25 years old, am engaged, and hold a master’s degree, I am packing up and moving to Ireland in six months where I will more than likely work in a pub and scrape by on Irish minimum wage but dammit will I love my life.
Whew. That’s quite the mouthful. And the point I am trying to make is that I am the one who gets asked all those intruding questions at family get-togethers. Seriously, you should see the looks on people’s faces when they hear about my life plans (which right now are like nonexistent). You can only imagine the questions I have been asked.
So, worry not, friends, I’m an expert when it comes to politely shutting down these questions.
First and foremost, you need to remember that Aunt Patrice isn’t trying to be an asshole when she asks what you’re up to these days. Most of the people who ask intruding questions don’t even realize that they are, in fact, intruding. They just want to know what you’re up to but they go about it in the wrong way.
Granted, there will be a few snide comments from time to time in which case you shouldn’t worry about being polite in shutting them down. But when dealing with your grandpa who keeps asking when you’re going to give him his fifth great-grandchild, consider being a bit more delicate. They’re just trying to keep up with your life, after all. No need to crucify them for asking questions.
Don’t tell more than you want to
One of the most important things to remember about intruding questions is that you only have to give out as much information as you want to. If you don’t want to answer the question, don’t! I usually kind of gloss over the top of stuff that I don’t want to discuss with people.
Sample question: “So, Maggie! You’ve got that master’s degree, huh? What exactly are you doing about that now?”
My rather ambiguous, vague answer: “Yeah I sure do! Well as you know, I’m moving to Ireland in May. And when I return, I plan on putting that masters degree to good use. So how is Tom doing these days? I heard he’s moving jobs….”
Boom. Done. Polite, gives out just enough information to pass, glosses over the fine details that nobody really needs to know about, and then redirects. Which brings me to my next point….
Redirect, redirect, redirect
There is always a way to shift the focus away from yourself. Always. And yes, you can still remain perfectly cordial and no one will ever even realize that you’ve just shut down those intruding questions.
This might look a little different depending on the situation but trust me, you’ve always got an out. Let me give you some examples.
Questions about your life/future. If someone is poking and prodding around in your work life or trying to figure out what exactly you’re doing with your future, you can redirect and bring the talk around to that great book you just read about following your heart. For me, this book is usually Wild by Cheryl Strayed but be genuine and be prepared to go into detail about said book. If you just bring it up halfheartedly for the purpose of a distraction technique, they’ll totally catch on. But a genuine recommendation for a book about following your own path can certainly get the crosshairs pointed elsewhere.
Questions about your relationship/having kids. This is another great place for a book recommendation if you haven’t pulled out that technique yet. If you have, this can be a good place to gloss over the details of your own life and then steer the conversation toward the latest Hollywood gossip. “Oh, my relationship status is the same as always! You know me, haha! But did you hear the sad news about Brad and Angelina? Ugh, they were my favorite!”
Questions about your political opinions. This one is especially pit-stain-inducing for me. As I mentioned, I’m somewhat of a black sheep in our family and that definitely includes my political stances. The next time someone tries to gather your opinion of the president-elect, say something generic like, “I just hope that the US keeps moving forward!” and then change the subject to a feel-good story that everyone can be happy about. “Hey, did you see the video of the rescue dogs on Facebook? So cute! Let me find it!” Mission redirect is successful.
Whether you’re a black sheep like me or if you’re just a regular millennial getting drilled about their very existence, don’t worry! It’s entirely possible to shut down invading questions without being rude. Just remember that you never have to give more information than you want and you can always redirect the conversation. With a little glossing, a little steering, and maybe a glass of wine, you’ll be politely shutting down intruding questions like a boss!
Have you ever had to deal with nosey people? How did you shut down their questions? Share in the comments below!
Oh awesome, I’m going to be sure to pull in some of these techniques. You actually had me giggling away.
I am going to have to recommend Fuck It The Ultimate Spiritual Way, its an awesome book and literally changed my life. You should read it, it will surely give you something to put in your arsenal for the next family gathering 🙂
Sadly your post made me think of my Grandpa too, he died last year. He started losing it towards the end and was always asking me the strangest questions trying to keep up with my life. He kept asking about my boyfriend and when we would settle down and have kids… when we are married with two.
I’m not a millennial… however, I have a problem with this from my ‘step daughter in law’!! She constantly probes me about my husband and draws me into conversations about his first wife! I finally realized this, that I allowed myself to be drawn inti questioning and answer time…. I was defending my husbands first marriage when his wife was a constant filanderer! Thanks so much for your article, I am now ready for this if it happens again!