How to deflect nosy questions at holiday get-togethers

23 Dec

Experts in marriage and family therapy, small talk and manners share tips on how to deflect nosy questions at holiday get-togethers.

By Jessica Yadegaran 

Contra Costa Times

 

Everyday nosy questions

Author and expert conversationalist Debra Fine gives good answers to three common personal questions.After an absence from the office:

Q: “So where have you been?”

A: “I had a commitment that took me outside of the office.” Or, deflect with humor: “I’ve been meeting with Obama’s transition team about heading up National Security.”

At the office:

Q: “What did the boss want to see you about?”

A: “Why do you want to know?” This throws it right back at the person.

At a party:

Q: “How much did you pay for that?”

A: “I have no recollection.” Or, “I have no idea. I have never been good with numbers.”

De-nosy your questions

Sincerely want to know but don’t want to come across as nosy or callous? Start general and ask genuine questions that prove you care, and don’t put the person on the spot, says author and expert conversationalist Debra Fine. Here are tips from Fine and Judy Levit, Oakland, Calif., marriage and family therapist: 

On relationships:

Rude: “When are you going to get married?”

Genuine: “Are you dating anyone new or special?”

On career:

Rude: “Still haven’t found a job?”

Genuine: “What’s been going on with work since the last time I saw you?”

On appearance:

Rude: “You look great. Have you had any work done?”

Genuine: “You look great. What’s your secret?”

On college:

Rude: “Did your kid get in to Stanford?”

Genuine: “What are your kid’s plans after high school?”

On just about anything: “I’m anxious to know, but I don’t want to put you on the spot. I know this might not be the best time or maybe you’re not ready to talk about it, but I care and I think about you often.”

Contra Costa Times

For the past three Thanksgivings, there’s one question Harrison Karik of Berkeley, Calif., has had trouble dodging at the family meal. And it has nothing to do with a second slice of pie.

“Everyone wants to know when I’m going to get married,” Karik says.

It wouldn’t be a holiday gathering without someone asking you a personal or inappropriate question. Some people don’t mean to be nosy (it just comes naturally), but it certainly can come across that way, especially when you’re not particularly close or see each other once a year at such functions. But you can avoid awkward situations by doing a little internal homework before the family event, says Oakland, Calif., marriage and family therapist Judy Levit. Just think about what you feel comfortable talking about and how much you want to share.

“You’re not obligated to share everything and people don’t necessarily want to know all the details,” Levit says. “Think about what you can say that would satisfy your relatives without making yourself feel too vulnerable.”

Or, you can come prepared with three topics of conversation, says Denver-based Debra Fine, communication guru and author of “The Fine Art of Small Talk” (Hyperion). In the event our advice fails you, we asked Levit, Fine and Amy Alkon, a Los Angeles-based syndicated advice columnist and author of McGraw-Hill’s forthcoming “Revengerella,” a book about the collapse of manners, to provide some quick and snarky comebacks to five commonly asked nosy questions.

The superficial: “Have you had any work done?”

Levit: It depends on your relationship to the person and how much you want to share, she says. Some women love talking about it. If you don’t: “No, thank you for saying that. I’m just feeling wonderful these days.”

Fine: Revert to junior high school: “That’s for me to know and you to find out.” Or, play a different game: “I don’t know what I did, but it sounds like you like the results.”

Alkon: The game-change — turn the tables and put it on the questioner: “No, I’m just genetically lucky, but if I decide to go under the knife I’ll try to benefit from all your experience.” A good alternative: playing dumb, as if it’s unfathomable that she would ask such an inappropriate question. Try this: “We had a man in a few weeks ago to have the rain gutters done.”

Mute wedding bells: “When are you going to get married?”

Levit: Depends. “Still working on it” works. So does “I’m having a great time being single, so it’s not an urgent thing for me.” If she’s nosy, chances are she’s also a matchmaker. Might as well find out by saying: “I’m dying to. Know someone?”

Fine: “Why do you want to know?” Or, “When Prince/Princess Charming finds me.”

Alkon: “When I tire from indiscriminate sex with strangers.” Or, if you really want to end the conversation: “I don’t believe in marriage.”

The rudeness scale: “Have you gained/lost weight?”

Levit: “Yes, I have.” Or, “I was hoping nobody would notice.”

Fine: Yes or no, followed by “Same old diet roller coaster.”

Alkon: Lost: “I had a 12-year-old surgically removed from my back last week.” Gained: “I just started buying pants that make my butt look big.”

Womb wonder: “When are you going to start a family?”

Levit: Stick with an answer that is gracious. “We’re talking about it, and it’s an important decision for us to make. As soon as I’m pregnant, everyone will know about it.”

Fine: “You are going to be the third to know. First I’ll know. Then Mom, then you.”

Alkon: “Tonight, if we don’t think we’ll wake anyone.” Or: “A family of what?”

Senior-nosy-itis: “Isn’t it time for you to retire?”

Levit: Go with the little white lie. “I really like my job so I’ve decided to keep working for a few more years. We like it. I’m not in my wife’s hair all the time.”

Fine: “Retirement is a dirty word for those of us young at heart.” Or, “What makes you think so?”

Alkon: “I just got here.”

 

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/living/2008403306_nosyrelatives18.html 
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