I did an internet search: 

  • why are people nosy
  • what makes people ask prying questions
  • how to tell people their questions are inappropriate. 

The last topic is the only one that scored any direct response. For the first two, the closest psychology behind folks who butt into our business and think nothing of their questions sounding like an inquisition centers around their self-absorption. 

The last question hit a number of good articles so if you’re in that spot, do a Google and read up. This article is about why we regular humans are reluctant to say, “I’m not going to answer that question.” You don’t even have to add a because. It’s your right not to respond to impertinent people.

Open books and closed mouths

I’m an open book in far too many ways. It’s not that I over share—you won’t scream TMI at me shortly after we meet. However, I’m usually willing to relate my experiences—it’s what writers do whether we focus on fiction or non-fiction—because we learn from each other. If something I’ve been through can help someone else through a similar situation, then I should be willing to discuss it, correct? That’s one side of the coin, being a person who opens up and shares in order to benefit another.

But the prying ones that ask questions not out of kindness or concern for us, but because they like to put people on the spot and make us uncomfortable. Those are the people who puzzle me—why do you think it is your business or your right to know what I’m going through?

What do you do with those people who:

  • Judge you.
  • Tell you what to do.
  • Insist that you’re wrong.
  • Diminish what you’re going through.
  • Drone on in their infinite wisdom and supreme opinions.

The Jurists:

Once upon a time many years ago, I made a large life decision to get divorced. For various reasons, eventually I had to make this known at work. I dreaded it and was right to do so as Ms. Nebby proceeded to get into my business. Her meddlesomeness was ceaseless, unabashed, and judgmental. What I was doing was already difficult enough, her intense callousness was making it worse. As she asked the question I kept refusing to answer for the sixth time, I finally mustered my strength and said: “I really have no desire to discuss this with you.” She was completely offended but stopped hassling me.

The Instructors:

These are those folks who adamantly tell you what to do when you haven’t asked for their advice. Now, I admit that I am famous for saying, “You should…” but I usually follow those words with something outrageous like, “… totally paint your dining room red if that makes you happy.” The Instructors, though, are the ones who can spout off for half an hour telling you what to do, how to do it, and why they are brilliant to advise you to do it. If they have not walked the proverbial mile in my shoes, why do they think they are the authority on what I’m going through? 

The Perfectionists:

Oh to the paragons who are the perfect humans. They, not subtly, state, “I’m right, you’re wrong, let me tell you how to correct yourself.” These are those folks who invariably know better how to do what you went to college for and have been doing for ten years. They don’t hesitate to point out the flaws and errors in your approach to the project/job/brain surgery because they watched a National Geographic episode that explained it all. 

The Scoffers:

You burst with excitement to tell a coworker-friend that a wonderful thing has happened. The scoffer loiters nearby and waits for the perfect opportunity to interject with, “That’s not so great, I once…” You know the type. This person often crosses into the  Perfectionist arena as they constantly work to one-up you and everyone else around them. I wonder how they have learned to excel to such extent when they never think anyone else knows anything.

And finally, The Tiraders

I debated about including these folks, but in the end decided that they do get into our business even without an invitation. These are the people who can launch themselves into a diatribe about any topic and speak non-stop for 15 to 45 minutes at a time. They are ignorantly unaware that their audience’s eyes have glazed over, they have been inching towards the door to escape, and that nothing being said is of the least value to the captive. Their dissertations can be corrective, demeaning, and utterly pointless. Yet there we are, stuck listening to them with no way to interject or cut off the stream of inane words.

So why? Why do we put up with these people?

Why are these individuals put off when we assert ourselves and tell them to stop interfering in our lives? 

People will talk about us, our choices, the things we do. But when they are in our business without invitation, how do we shut them down? When I was a teen and doing something out of the ordinary (for example, going to the junior prom with five guy friends), Mom asked: “Don’t you care what people think?” I answered: “People will talk about me my whole life, so I might as well do what I want.” 

Can we learn how to disagree?

In my upbringing, we were not taught to deal with conflict. It’s not that the Griffiths are without flaw, but as a whole, we’re nice. We never witnessed our parents, Dad’s parents (we lived across the road from them), aunts and uncles (same road—lots of relatives), arguing. It just wasn’t done. I’m still trying to figure out if they were/are repressed or that conflict was something handled away from others, dealt with maturely as adults, and then moved on from. After all, it wasn’t until my thirties that I thought to ask my parents, “Didn’t you ever fight?” Mom burst out laughing, “We had whoppers. We simply didn’t think you kids needed to hear them.” 

I both admire and resent this approach! Admire them for being adults around their children—at least most of the time—and resent that without hearing them argue and witness them make up, we missed the chance to learned how to disagree.

Acquiring the skills to clash with others has been a lifelong process. Mine started at 31 when I told that co-worker that I would not discuss my divorce with her. It was empowering to know that I could speak those words and get a result. But my first response is to back away, let the person speak as they want, and not disagree with them. I can let a lot ripple off me while I assess the situation and decide is it best to confront them and speak my piece or simply purge them from my life?

If eliminating them from my world isn’t an option, then I opt to write out responses to their prying, practice the words, and be prepared for the next onslaught. I’m not always successful with this approach, but at least I am confident that I tried to do what was best for me without being harmful to another. When it is our private business we’re striving to protect, that confidence in self is sometimes the best outcome we can expect.


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