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How to dodge personal questions at work

Last updated on: January 8, 2010 16:06 IST

How to dodge personal questions at work

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Disha Pinge

Picture this: You're sitting with colleagues and having a nice chat during lunch. It's a pleasant conversation about nothing in particular and you're participating freely. But then, you see the conversation flowing in your direction! Before you know it, one of your colleagues asks you a very personal question. Now this could be about your family, relationships, health or your (non-professional) equation with another colleague. With all eyes on you, you feel obliged to answer. So what do you do to escape this tricky situation?

If something like this happened anywhere else, say, at a party or any other informal social gathering, you could probably get away with saying that you couldn't answer. Even if your audience thought of this as rude, it wouldn't stay with them too long and the conversation would smoothly venture into another zone. But at work, being rude just isn't an option, especially when someone asking the question is a senior colleague.

So, here are some easy ways of avoiding these prying questions, without damaging your reputation at work. For the sake of simplicity, let's call this nosy colleague the 'Pryor'.

*Names changed on request to protect privacy

Illustration: Dominic Xavier

dodge


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Cross question

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This is a very convenient and age-old formula for bouncing back those prying questions. Whenever you are asked a question that you wouldn't like to answer, just ask very casually, "Why do you want to know?" The other person is now obliged to answer and this gives you a chance to change the topic or move the conversation in another direction.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh



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Upfront honesty

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Sometimes, you just need to be honest no matter how uncomfortable it may make others around you. But be careful when you tread these waters. Politeness is the key. When faced with the question, smile and tell the person directly that you appreciate the concern, but you had rather not discuss the matter at that time or in that place.

Hopefully, our Pryor will get the message and quit prodding. Vaidehi Shah*, who works at a radio channel, says, "I would rather be honest than make any excuses. I think people are mature enough to realise that there are certain questions I wouldn't like to answer and honesty is always appreciated."

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh



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Huh?

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This works best if (like in the previous situation) there are a lot of people around. There will be several people talking at the same time and you can ignore the question altogether. Keep in mind that this does take a lot of acting skills on your part. The person may be inclined to repeat the question. Another way to avoid it is to pretend you didn't understand the question.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh



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Excuse me, please!

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This is the exact opposite of the previous method simply because it works best if you're alone with the Pryor. Pretend you have a lot of work and you really have to get going.

Rohan D'Souza, who works as a copywriter at an ad agency, says, "I'll say team meeting or 'Damn I messed up...gotta go!'" When asked what he would do if the person was a senior colleague, he came up with the perfect excuse. "I'll say-hey that idea I told you about, what do you think about it? Or hey your idea was amazing man! How did you come up with it?" This will definitely take attention off the question at hand.

But when all other excuses fail excuse yourself to go to the washroom and return only when the coast is clear!

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh



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The politician's choice

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If you're the tactful kind, blessed with the gift of the gab, this is the way to go. Whenever politicians are asked an embarrassing question that can't be escaped, they beat it with a simple ploy. It's called beating around the bush. Answer the questions but in extremely vague terms. Don't directly answer, but vaguely touch upon the topic at hand. This will satisfy the Pryor for a while giving you some time to think and move the conversation to a point where you are more comfortable.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh



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Laugh it off

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If you share a light-hearted relationship with this colleague and if you are in a situation where it is possible to do so, make a joke and brush the question aside. This is probably the safest way to avoid sounding rude as well as remaining in your comfort zone.

Devyani Purohit*, who has only recently started working, says this method works best for her. "I wouldn't ever lie, but if I am really cornered, I'll try to make a little joke about it and direct the conversation away from me."

Everyone has secrets, or just things they had rather not discuss at work. Nevertheless, there will be people who want to know everything about everyone and being faced with one of their prying questions is just not the social situation you hope for. But armed with presence of mind and a little bit of tact, you should be able to find a way out.

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh



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