How To Shut Down Prying Questions About Your Personal Life (No Matter Who Is Asking)

We all know at least one person, maybe several, who's always asking questions that make you go "Did you really just ask me that?" Sometimes, they're just genuinely interested in you and your life. But sometimes, they're just straight-up nosy and looking for hot gossip.


Either way, interactions with these invasive question-askers always provoke a moment of awkward panic. Should you actually answer the question? Should you tell them to eff off? How do you politely tell someone to eff off? And while you're racing through these mental gymnastics, they're just staring at you expectantly, waiting to see what you're going to say, perhaps completely oblivious to the fact that they've made this conversation unbearably uncomfortable.

If even picturing this scene is giving you anxiety, take a deep breath. We know how stressful these situations are. That's why we've tracked down the absolute best ways to shut these conversations down. Spoiler alert: it's all about practicing good boundaries. Don't worry. We'll walk you through each tried and true method so you'll be prepared next time Nosy Nancy gets to prying.


Change the subject

Anyone who's ever seen a magician understands the power of misdirection, and this powerful tool is always the easiest way to deflect a question you really don't want to answer. Before that awkward silence hangs for too long, change the subject.


The downside of this technique is that it's not always successful, so you've got to be savvy about how you change the subject. Kirsty Britz, who's spent years studying human behavior, says that you have to pick your topic-changing strategy based on who you're talking to. Play to what you know about them.

If they love to talk about themselves, pay them a compliment and then redirect the conversation to them. If they've got a special interest, ask them about that.

Since our brains are hardwired to make connections between topics, you could also try changing the subject to something related to the question they asked. Like if your nosy aunt asks if you're ever going to get married, you can skip that and talk about how your cousin just got engaged instead.


If all else fails, look to your surroundings for a quick topic change. Ask about the new "insert thing here" that they got, or ask if they've ever noticed that weird-looking tree outside your favorite cafe.

Changing the subject may take a few tries, and if the person is committed to their nosiness, it might still fail. But worry not! We've got more techniques for you.

Give a really vague answer

Nobody is entitled to the details of your life, especially prying friends, relatives, or strangers. But sometimes giving some kind of answer is the only way you're going to shut down the conversation. In that case, find a way to give the vaguest answer possible.


Standard responses like, "I'm good, thanks" or "Thanks for asking, and it's going well" or "I'm working through things right now, and I'll let you know when I know more" are perfectly acceptable responses to nosy questions about your work, physical and mental health, and life in general.

If the intrusive interrogator asks about something more personal, like your love life or kids, you'll need to decide if you even want to give a vague answer. If you do, something like "Still single and loving it" or "I'm focusing on my career right now" are sufficient.

Like changing the subject, giving a vague answer may not have a high success rate. If the asker doesn't get the hint that you don't want to talk about it, they may press you for more details. Then you'll have to employ another tactic.


Deflect with humor

Responding to an intrusive or just plain awkward question with a witty joke is a particularly effective way to shut down a nosy person because it works on multiple levels. First of all, you're shifting the mood of the conversation away from the discomfort of the question. In a subtle way, you're also making it clear that you have no intention of answering seriously. And sometimes, if you choose your words right, the joke can clue the asker in on the inappropriateness of their question.


If you're headed into a situation where you're pretty sure you'll get asked about something you don't want to discuss, you could plan some funny responses ahead of time.

Witty comebacks can have their downsides, though. Three TV comedy writers warned Redbook Magazine that deflecting with humor requires nuance and an awareness of your audience. If your response is filled with snark and sarcasm, you may end up alienating the asker. When the asker is a repeat offender or a complete stranger, this may not be a big deal. Let the snark and sarcasm bite! But if it's just your gossipy aunt who's a little tipsy, keep your joke light and courteous.

Turn the question back on them

One of the best ways to catch a nosy person off guard is by answering their question with a question. Specifically, turning their own question back on them. This tactic can take a few different forms.

Lynne Curry, an executive coach and author of "Beating the Workplace Bully," suggests asking them why they want to know the information they're asking for. In most cases, they won't have a good answer for you, which may leave them flustered enough to abandon their nosiness. Or, your pushback might make them realize that their question is inappropriate, which should be enough to shut the conversation down.


If you're feeling bold, you could take a more direct approach by asking them the same question they just asked you or asking them if they'd want to answer the same question they just asked you. If they realize they wouldn't answer the question themselves, they'll probably back off.

Of course, a truly nosy or oblivious person may not respond to these tactics. Some people truly don't understand why the questions they're asking are intrusive or wouldn't mind sharing that information about themselves. If that's the case, you're going to have to try some more assertive tactics.

Tell them to mind their business, politely

No matter who the Nosy Nancy is — a family member, a coworker, even a boss — you're never obligated to share information about your life that you don't want to share. Unfortunately, the people who feel okay about asking intrusive questions often don't acknowledge that fact. So, if you can't shut down the conversation with more indirect techniques, you're going to have to be blunt.


In most cases, snapping "None of your darn business!" isn't the appropriate response. You'll just increase the discomfort and potentially hurt the asker's feelings. So, you'll need to find that fine line between being direct and being polite.

Author, educator, and PTSD survivor Susan Ballinger writes that if the asker seems truly clueless about the awkwardness of their question and genuinely curious, you can go with something simple like "Thanks for asking, but I don't want to talk about that right now." If the asker seems genuinely gossipy, you might opt for a more assertive response like, "I'm not going to talk about that." Either way, it's important to make your boundary clear and stick to it.


The majority of people will gracefully accept this boundary and appreciate your tact. If they don't, you'll have to up your game.

Set a clear boundary and tell them what you'll do if it's crossed

Most of us have at least one person in our lives who just refuses to respect the boundaries we set about sharing information about our lives. With these people, you'll need to abandon politeness and set a clear, non-negotiable boundary. Therapist and author of "Boundary Boss — The Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen and (Finally) Live Free" Terri Cole tells her clients that creating a clear boundary means getting specific about what is and isn't acceptable, and then explaining what you'll do if that boundary is crossed again. Setting boundaries isn't about telling other people how you want them to behave.


So, in the case of an intrusive interrogator, it's not saying "You need to stop asking me about [insert topic here]!" It may look like saying, "I've been clear that I'm not willing to talk about this with you, and if you cannot respect that, I won't be calling as often/visiting for the next holiday" or whatever feels appropriate to you given your relationship with the person.

Setting clear boundaries like this is really uncomfortable, so you'll need to be sure that you can stick to the boundaries you set and the consequences for violating them. This tactic should be reserved for the people who continually ask intrusive questions and refuse to accept your attempts to deflect or set polite boundaries.


Excuse yourself

Every once in a while, you'll get a question so intrusive or encounter a person so unwilling to respect that you don't want to talk that pretty much the only solution is removing yourself from the conversation entirely. Though you may want to storm off angrily, this isn't the route to take. You'll need to find a way to gracefully excuse yourself.


The old standby "I'm just going to head to the restroom and be right back," is always a convenient excuse to walk away and collect your thoughts. If you're lucky, the conversation will shift when you return. If it doesn't, at least you got some time to think through how you want to proceed.

If you're in a group setting like a family or work event, or at the office, you can always use a vague excuse like "I need to go check on something." Bonus points if you can connect the nosy person with someone else present to shift the conversation — "While I'm gone, you should totally ask Linda about her kid's soccer team" — then just peace out.

Excusing yourself from a one-on-one conversation can be a little more awkward, but you always have the right to state what you need. If you can't think of a good excuse to walk away, be honest. "I need a moment to think/get some air" is always an acceptable ask, even if the other person gives you a hard time.


Don't say anything at all

Sometimes, silence says more than words ever could, and sometimes, a prolonged, awkward silence is the best way to shut down a conversation. As Julia Dellitt points out in an article for The Everygirl, gossiping and oversharing have been so normalized that we're just not used to long, awkward silences anymore. This makes silence a powerful tool for shutting down inappropriate inquiries.


Silence sends a very clear message that you don't want to talk about the question on the table. And it forces the person asking the question to continue the conversation, even though it's clear that you don't want to talk about it. Most people won't be comfortable pushing the issue once your silence indicates that you're definitely not answering. Since many people are uncomfortable with silence, especially in social situations, an uncomfortable silence — with their question lingering in the air — might be excruciating enough to prompt the asker to change the subject themselves.

Staying silent is a tricky tactic, though. You'll have to endure the discomfort of your own silence too. And you might feel bad about essentially giving the person the silent treatment for a bit. But if you can stand it, silence is an incredibly effective way to indicate your complete unwillingness to address a particular topic. Maybe save this one for people who just won't drop the subject or those nosy friends/relatives/coworkers who repeatedly engage in next-level nosiness.


Give them the real answer

Sometimes, we don't want to answer intrusive questions because we know that the person doesn't want the actual, brutally honest answer. But, as members of The Mighty's chronic illness community shared, answering a question with the pure, unadulterated truth can stop the conversation real quick. Like if you've given your nosy second cousin every vague answer in the book to the question "When are you having kids?" you could respond with "I've been struggling to get pregnant for years and I really wish everyone would stop asking me that." Your cousin will be embarrassed, for sure. You'll probably be embarrassed too, or at least feel uncomfortably vulnerable. But your cousin probably won't ever ask you that question again, and that might make all the discomfort worth it.


Radical truth-telling is a bold path to take. It should be reserved for situations where you really want to make a point, like with someone in your life who continues to violate boundaries you've set about intrusive questions or doesn't respond to the other tactics we've gone over. You'll also need to be really sure you're okay with the person having that information about you. If not, this route isn't for you, and that's okay. You don't owe information to anyone.

In each situation with a prying person, you'll need to assess what information you're willing to give, what you're absolutely not willing to say, and how assertive you'll want to get with shutting down the conversation.