Rude questions catch us all off guard. They are such an extreme social blunder that they make an impression for all the wrong reasons; you probably remember the last time someone asked you something inappropriate! Unfortunately, most of these rude folks are not aware of their bad etiquette. Whether the asker is naïve or nosy, you can answer their question with 1) the truth, 2) a clever retort, or 3) a deflection. It all depends on why the person is asking. In any case, be prepared with a short and sweet answer that is not too revealing and that moves the conversation along. And since great etiquette is all about graciousness, give your answer with a calm tone and a smile, using humor when possible, and then strategically change the subject.
Have an Answer at the Ready
Rude questions happen every day! The good news is, you don’t have to think of an answer in the moment if you keep these responses at the ready:
- Pause and say with a smile, “Did you really just ask me that?”
- “I have a policy not to discuss that topic with anyone.”
- “I’m not getting near that topic! Let’s talk about something else.”
Artfully Change the Subject
Most people will take a hint when their question is met with brevity or humor. But some won’t! When that happens, be prepared to steer the conversation to a new topic. Gracefully change the subject by:
- Bridging to a new topic. This method works well if someone is asking a rude question because they don’t know any better. Try pulling the topic toward you before using the asker’s momentum against them; don’t meet force with force. Let the asker in to a point where you are comfortable, then swiftly move the topic in another direction. For example, when a family member asks, “What happened to your ex?” it can be best to just tell the truth: “We weren’t able to make it. You know how relationships can be. Yet he’s a great guy and we’re in a good place. How’s your son doing at college?”
- Asking for advice. If someone wants to connect with you, you’ll probably have luck changing the conversation by asking for their advice. After all, people love to talk about what they know! For example, if someone asks you if you’re planning to marry your significant other, try responding with, “That’s a good question! What’s the best and worst thing about being married?”
- Being direct. The direct approach, including putting your foot down, works well on people who are rebelling or trying to push your buttons. Try politely changing the subject by asking the intention behind a rude question:
- Q: When are you having kids?
- A: Are you concerned I’m waiting too long?
- Q: Why are you still single?
- A: Are you worried I might be lonely?
Answers to Four FAQs: Frequently Awkward Questions
- How much money do you make? This question is completely intrusive, but it doesn’t stop people from asking! An answer like “I never discuss money with anyone but my spouse” is direct enough for most people. I usually reach for humor, in answers like “Enough to pay my bills and have fun now and then” or “Not enough to do everything I want!”
- How much did your house cost? Here’s another money question people tend to ask in close quarters, such as when they’re eating at your dinner table. A polite answer looks something like, “The rate was comparable to other houses in the area. But I knew this was the one right away—did you see that curved staircase when you walked in?” Fun fact: Anyone who really wants to know what you paid for your house can easily look it up online.
- Have you gained/lost weight? A great deflection for this ill-considered question: “I feel fantastic! How about you?”
- Why are you still single? First consider that most people asking this question just want you to be happy and ride off into the sunset with your true love. So try an answer like, “I’m still looking for that person I want to spend the rest of my life with, but when I do, I’ll be sure to share the news!”
The last thing you want to do is meet a rude question with a rude answer. With these tips and a little preparation, you can respond to any awkward social question with grace and dignity!