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A vexatious version of events:

What can you say to shut someone down when they ask you really personal or inappropriate questions?  My brother-in-law routinely asks me and my husband how much money we make (we’ve never answered), and my sister asks WHEN am I going to have children or WHY don’t I have them already? – It’s infuriating.  


Yes it is.

But I’m afraid that for you to – how did you say it? – “Shut someone down”? – is quite rude, so I can’t possibly answer the question from an etiquette point of view.  My New York friend informs me that the correct answer is “That’s none of your fucking business, asshole”, but there you go.  He’s peevish like that.

No, no, no – what you want to do is parry the question right back; a glancing deflection that leaves you cool tempered and them flustered.

It’s also a great deal of fun.

A: So, how much do you bring home, the two of you?

B: Why in the world would you need to know that? (you ask, laughing sweetly)

A: I’m just curious.

B: Well now I’m curious why you’re curious! (said with beaming eyes)

A: I just am!

B: That’s not a good enough reason… (teasingly)

A: How much do you make?

B: Why in the world would you need to know that? (another genuine chuckle)

And so on.  They usually give up after five or six attempts, so it won’t take long.  Some really determined inquisitors, however, will continue to hound away.  Then you can shift into making statements.

A: How much?

B: (a la Gosford Park) You’re not very curious, are you?


B: I couldn’t say off the top of my head…

A: Give me an estimate.

B: Oh, I’m terrible at estimations.

Finally, you can treat them like children.  Without correcting their behavior, you tell them the consequences of their actions and let them make their own decisions.  Research shows that when people take an active part in making the choice in their own action towards behavior change, that change is longer lasting – they learn their lesson.

A: Why won’t you tell me?

B: You know, some people feel extremely uncomfortable talking about money.  It can even really hurt some people’s feelings.

A: (abashed) Are you uncomfortable?

B: I didn’t say that.  I just said some people wouldn’t be comfortable with this line of questioning.

A: Do you want me to stop?

B: Do you want to stop?

A: Well… (slowly sinking in) I was just asking… (making excuses) I don’t want you to be mad at me… (seeking forgiveness)

B: I’m not mad at all.  Say, would you pass the sweet potatoes?

The tactical redirection is useful in all situations.  No matter what is asked of you, when it is inappropriate or too revealing, you just redirect the question back at them.  Oh, unless you’re in court, then you say “I plead the 5th.”

I know that there are people in this world who just won’t take no for an answer.  They’ll bring it up, harass and bully, manipulate and whine until you break down and tell them what they want…or respond like you’re fresh off the bus from a visit to New York.

I sincerely hope you aren’t related to those people.

Cause they need to quit.


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