Q. I feel like I’m giving up some of my privacy when I feel compelled to answer personal questions. What can I do?
A. Being asked personal questions can be frustrating. After years of being asked questions from A to Z, I don’t think most people set out to be deliberately rude. They just don’t think! Depending on how curious they really are, they may ask you directly, ask someone behind your back, or even persist in trying to obtain an answer from you when one is not forthcoming.
My belief is that you do not owe others an answer just because they chose to ask a question. In childhood many people were socialized to answer any and every question put to them by an adult. Consequently, as adults they tend to answer automatically or to feel guilty if they don’t answer every question. It is high time to get past that!
What can you do? Try a variety of techniques. Deflect unwanted questions with humor. Brainstorm in advance how to respond neutrally without really answering the question. Become adept at changing the subject. If none of those techniques work, and you truly do not want to answer the question, just say something like “I prefer not to discuss that topic.”
You probably would have difficulty believing some of the questions seminar participants have asked me—most of which are none of their business, although that hasn’t stopped them from asking. Here are a few examples.
Question: Since you are a speaker I suppose you’ll be having a facelift one of these days, right?
Response: I get a temporary facelift every time I smile or laugh, and your question just triggered a laugh.
Question: Are you wearing makeup on your face?
Response: I was last time I checked but that was before the seminar began. (Where else would I be wearing it?)
Question: How old are you?
Response: That depends on what age you are talking about. I am younger biologically and psychologically than I am chronologically.
Question: No, really, how old are you?
Response: As really old as I am.
Question: How come you wear glitzy pins?
Response: Because I enjoy wearing glitzy pins.
Question: Do you believe in sex at your age?
Response: I was unaware that sex was a belief system.
Question: Just what do you do at holidays?
Response: I just be.
And so it goes. Realizing that each person’s brain is as unique as the owner’s thumbprint helps me to avoid becoming defensive, taking things personally, or overreacting. Usually! I suggest you imagine some potential question scenarios in your mind’s eye and craft responses that work for your brain. Rehearse them a few times, and voila, when the situation presents itself you’ll have some ready responses.