12 Tips for Dealing With Prying Coworkers

Elle Scott


Photo by Mimi Thian on Unsplash

Do you remember being the new guy/gal at your job and having nosy people ask the most prying questions because they just have to know?

While it is understandable that there will be curiosity surrounding the workplace newbie, that doesn’t give anyone the right to be invasive and rude.

Everyone has the infrequent slip-up of asking a question, or two, most of us know better.

Somehow, nosy people have an annoying way of grating your nerves while shrugging the civility in the room and making some sort of social faux pas.

You may choose to respond to these types of questions and move on to another topic, or you may choose not to engage at all. But it’s important to remember that you are under no obligation to.

How you should not respond to a nosy coworker

Responding to rudeness with rudeness will not accomplish anything positive.

What it will do is put both of you on bad terms with each other, when a positive working relationship could have been forged.

Plus, you’ll appear to be at the same cognitive level as the rude person, to begin with.

Be the bigger person

Sometimes, these rude people are unaware that they are indeed being rude. However, if you know these people are fully aware that they are being rude, you shouldn’t let that change how you react.

Whether you choose to:

  • Ignore them
  • Respond
  • Change the subject
  • Enquire further

That is up to you, and don’t feel bad about it.

If you are concerned with your response having the wrong tone, you can add some humor to your response.

That will lighten the mood and hopefully keep the professional boundaries clear.

Are you married?

People love asking this question when you’re the new woman on the job.

And it’s probably really uncomfortable for you to keep hearing that same question throughout the day.

Your first thought may be to respond, “Nunya.” But let’s not do that because that wouldn’t be professional.

The best response to get you out of answering this question: “I don’t discuss personal matters at work.” Or you could go with: I don’t think that appropriate to discuss at work.

Other appropriate responses:

  • Respond with a yes or no
  • Change the subject
  • Ignore completely – This works best if you have your earphones in
  • Pretend to take a call while avoiding their question, and them, entirely

How far along are you? / When are you due?

If you are pregnant, hearing this question will probably make you smile from ear to ear as you gleefully talk about your due date.

However, if you are not pregnant and battling a case of the “muffin top,” you’ll probably feel a little embarrassed at this question.

A few responses:

I’m not pregnant

Give your due date as a date so far in the future, the nosy person will be embarrassed for asking

The best response, “I’m a man” while looking sternly into the rude person’s face.

Haha, this one will keep them from asking idiotic and rude questions in the future.

Where do you live? No really, WHERE do you live?

This question is not only rude but it screams major CREEP ALERT.

No one at work should be asking you for details on where you live.

Unless they are HR, and even HR should only need the most basic information.

With a question like this, you could easily respond with “Why?”

As a newbie on the job, you need time to get to know people and access their intentions. Someone asking this question when they first meet you will probably be a person you want to keep your distance from.

Other responses:

  • Why do you need to know where I live
  • Why are you asking me a question like that at work
  • Have we met before
  • Are we related
  • Am I under investigation

How old are your children?

With so many weirdos in this world, parents have to protect their kids’ privacy. Unfortunately, with the rise of information vomit, people have ways of searching for information online and finding out more information they shouldn’t have.

While divulging the ages of your children may not seem like a big deal, it could be a huge privacy breach if combined with other personal information you’ve shared.

Someone may simply be attempting to get closer to you by asking these questions, but as a person new to the company, you will want to guard certain information.

Did you get … surgery?

Insert any type of surgery into those X’s because it’s all inappropriate.

I’ve seen this happen a lot when people get some sort of weight loss or cosmetic surgery.

If you are asked this type of question, it is perfectly fine to respond with: “I don’t discuss personal matters at work.”

How old are you?

Age is a sensitive topic and really shouldn’t be a topic for discussion at work.

Some people don’t mind telling their age, but some do.

Instead of getting into a heated debate over whether this was an inappropriate question to ask in the first place (it is), you can respond by saying: “That’s on a need-to-know basis.”

How did you get this job?

Upon starting your new position, you may run into the person who wanted the same job. They may be a tad bit salty that you were hired over them.

It could be someone really curious (which they shouldn’t be) about how you got the position.

Simply ignoring this question is fine, but answering with “I applied and was interviewed” is also okay as a response.

Do you own or rent?

This question is way too personal to ask someone you don’t know.

However, rude people still ask the question because they are nosy and have no filter.

Response: “That’s personal, and I don’t discuss personal matters at works.”

This should be enough to shut that person down while you remain as professional as they are not.

I loved how Christoper Gurrie describes this question being asked in social situations but the same is true for a coworker asking.

He compares this question to “terministic screens.” Though his explanation is hilarious, it is true.

What’s your salary?

While typing this question, I instinctively did an eye roll. Depending on your friend circle, money talk is off-limits.

And it is generally known that discussing salary is rude.

However, rude people are inappropriate so asking this question means nothing to them. They only want to know the answer.

And you have no obligation to give it to them.

Being asked about your salary most likely made you feel uncomfortable because that’s a very personal topic.

Discussing salary at work could lead to unintentional problems and hurt feelings.

Why? Because somewhere deep inside, unless the salary is A LOT of money, people mostly feel like they should and can be making more.

That’s right, a lot of people feel underpaid for the job they do.

And discussing your salary at work could lead to someone knowing that you make more than them, and they do the same job.

That’s unnecessary resentment and with this question, it’s okay to simply change the subject.

Don’t worry if you come off as rude for ignoring this question.

The coworker asking the question already knew it was a rude question before asking you.

They just didn’t care!

If you feel like ignoring them is a bit much, you can answer a question with a question.

Like this:

“Why do you ask?”

And this way you’ll get to know the real reason they asked, or you can turn the uncomfortable tables on them.

What kind of car do you drive?

While some people see this question as a general conversation starter, it isn’t.

Most likely nosy people ask this question to compare their car against yours.

And while you may want to respond with, “It’s none of your business,” it is important to stay professional in the workplace.

Response: “Why are you thinking about buying?”

If they answer “Yes,”, you can respond with “I’ve heard that XXX are great cars,” and move on from there.

Notice how you remained professional, seemed helpful, and moved the conversation focus away from what you have to what could suit their needs.

However, if they respond “No,” you could ask about why they are asking you the question, and move on from there.

How much did you pay for…?

I will admit that sometimes I enjoy making nosy people uncomfortable.

However, I am never rude.

Though when people ask me how much I’ve paid for something, it always seems to make me stop for a second before answering because I know that I’m itching to let them know how rude they are.

Sometimes for the hell of it, I will respond to this question with an astronomical number…not often. But it still shocks me that people ask this type of question. It’s like if I paid a dollar for it, does it make what I have less valuable than something you paid twenty dollars for?

It’s just an odd question to ask someone you aren’t close with.

But if you’re faced with being asked this question, the best answer you can give is “I don’t recall.” I do it most of the time. Or “It was a gift.” people usually don’t press the matter further once hearing these responses.

Any question involving religion

This type of question inquiring about going to church or which religion you practice is a huge no-no. Alas, some people are insensitive and they don’t care.

Religion is a “trigger topic.” Someone is bound to say something offensive and it can spark a serious argument. Employers like to avoid trigger topics, therefore some companies have written into their policy that religion is not to be discussed during work hours.

If someone asks you a question involving religion while at work, here are some responses:

“I don’t feel comfortable discussing this. Let’s move on, shall we?”

“Do you realize how rude that question is?”

“That’s not an appropriate topic to discuss at work. But feel free to ask me something work-related.”

In Closing

Remember that you do not have an obligation to respond to rude and nosy people.

If you feel that a question is invasive, insensitive, inappropriate, etc…you have every right to say so.

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