Why Not . . . Be Discreet?
Wednesday August 17, 2011

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The epitome of a chic classy modern lady is her ability to always be mysterious which due to this behavior provokes even more curiosity in those that are around her. But as one of my readers pointed out to me recently, while many of us respect the decision to be mysterious, it is much more difficult to actually be mysterious and opt for discretion rather than the alternative.

After all, we are surrounded by friends, family and colleagues who want to know what is going on in our lives, and they become especially curious when we don’t want to reveal too much voluntarily (ironic, but true). While most people are asking about topics not intentionally trying to be nosy or hurtful, there are others who aren’t necessarily asking because they care. Either way, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, that is reason enough not to answer. It took quite some time for me to realize that just because a question is asked of me doesn’t mean I have to answer.

But the question remains, how do we respectfully, tactfully and gracefully navigate such situations? Well, I’ve gathered together what I have found to be most successful for myself as well as a few other people I questioned about this topic (they were willing participants I promise!)

The key to any of these approaches is that it will take practice. Choose a few that you think will work best for the situations you know you’re bound to run up against and give them a shot.  The more you use them, the more they will become second hat.  And more importantly, if you consistently make it known that you are not going to be gossiping, answering personal questions or engaging in conversations that are inappropriate, in time most people won’t approach you with such nonsense.


Respond to a Nosy Question with a Question.

Why do you ask? Wouldn’t you like to know? Can I consider you intrigued? If they persist, keep responding with a question. Often I can find myself in the middle of a impassioned political discussion, and I find that the best way to calm the situation down is to ask where they found their information (in other words, from what source did you hear that?) This usually stops them in their tracks because even if they know, they have to recall the information and that veers them off course a bit.

Redirect the Conversation (aka Changing the Subject)

If a question makes you uncomfortable and the person doing the asking isn’t taking your subtle hints, change the conversation altogether “I’m going to the bar, can I get you another drink?” or flip the tables (not literally, although that would change the subject now wouldn’t?) and give them a genuine compliment about their wardrobe, hair, etc – anything to divert the attention off of yourself.

Stay on Top of Current Events

The best way to avoid uncomfortable questions is to be preventative. Always have a conversation topic at-the-ready.  Preferably something that your company may be aware of, but isn’t gossip (avoid gossip at all costs as it only reflects poorly on those doing the talking). Raise the bar and talk about concepts and ideas, rather than private personal matters. Here are a few sources to stay abreast of current news:

60 Minutes
morning television programs (Today Show, American Morning, The View, Morning Joe, etc)
The Wall Street Journal
The New York Times (Sunday edition)
Esquire or Men’s Journal (you will find universal conversation starters believe it or not)
”Page Six”
any book on the bestseller lists
local newspapers
(the list could go on and on, but hopefully this is a great start and if ever at a loss of conversation, talk about the weather)


Ask Questions of People That They’d Like to Discuss

So often many people do feel comfortable talking about about themselves if it is something they don’t mind sharing or are proud of.  Why not begin the conversation by setting an example of what type of questions you wouldn’t mind answering.  In other words, always follow the golden rule.  Whether they follow your lead is up to them, but at least you are paying them the respect you would like to receive. (Click here to read about the benefits of being a good listener.)


Smile and Shake Your Head (Chuckle a bit if necessary)

Words can get us into trouble, so why not say nothing at all? Yes, this may seem awkward at first, but had the person not asked such an uncomfortable question, then they wouldn’t have to be feeling awkward. Basically, give them this subtle hint that this is not a topic up for discussion.


Give Vague Answers

If you’re not quite comfortable telling someone they are prying much too hard into your personal life, simply answer with a vague statement.  If they ask how your love life is going, reply, “Very well, actually.” And leave it at that.


Become Distracted

When a question is asked that you’d rather not answer, busy yourself with another task or walk to another group of people excusing yourself first, and if you’re in a casual setting take out your cell phone and start going through your apps or viewing your messages, or pick up a magazine or read a book.


Cut to the Chase

If you are comfortable telling-it-like-it-is or someone has constantly been nagging you incessantly, just tell them the truth, “I’m not one to share such personal information.” Or better yet, if you are continually plagued by the questions about why you are still single or when you and your husband are going to have a baby state very bluntly, “My sex life is none of your business.” Actually what I’ve always wanted to say in this scenario is to return with a question of my own that is equally personal, “And might you share with me the success of your marital sex life or is it so boring that you have to inquire about mine?” Okay, that’s a bit over the top, but truly, wasn’t their question just as nosy?

I hope these tips have helped a bit and always remember, the only reason you need to not answer is that it makes you uncomfortable (and this is always easier to discern if you haven’t had any drinks or just a few sips). A modern lady is always aware of her environment, knows her boundaries and respects herself first.

{Have a Twitter account and want inspiration throughout the day as well as being notified of the most recent posts on The Simply Luxurious Life? Follow me here @simplyluxurious. }

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15 thoughts on “Why Not . . . Be Discreet?

  1. Oh, Shannon thanks once again for your enlightening articles! I find it so hard to avoid personal questions and I somehow feel I’m obliged to answer each one of them (and feel like a total sucker afterwards =S). Can’t do that anymore and your suggestions seem very helpful to that!

  2. Thank you, Shannon. You advice always seems so timely and relevant.

    I will be reading this article several times, as it is something I am always working on. I find I get an overwhelming case of the ‘awkward ramblings’ when I get asked an inappropriate question. I give more information away than I would prefer, and then seem to talk around and around it for much too long!

    Definitely something to work on. Thank you again for your fabulous blog. I enjoy it so much.

    xo, Lisa.

  3. Ah, perfect timing. I am going to be hit with an onslaught of questions regarding my marriage in about 3 weeks when my husband moves out. Really not interested in telling the street why he moved and why I am divorcing him even if there is no big exciting reason.

    1. I hope you got over the change without a hitch. I believe it would be harder for me to keep my dignified silence when other people’s tongues were wagging about my divorce because people could be making all sorts of weird/stupid/unreal assumptions that had nothing to do with my case. Then I could be tempted to speak in order to nullify such assumptions to set the record straight.

  4. Eleni – I know exactly how you feel. What I’ve found is that if someone really cares about me, they will respect my decision not to share, and if they don’t understand, it’s more of a selfish inquiry than casual conversation which is a reflection of them, not me. The difficult part is politely, yet effectively making this clear. It truly just takes practice.

    Lisa – Thank you for stopping by. Enjoy reading your experience.

    Debbie – my thoughts are with you during this time of change and transition. Such decisions don’t need to be rationalized to others and those who love you should respect them. I wish you well during this time. 🙂

  5. Oh I struggle with emails and questions that fellow readers/bloggers ask sometimes – I have been asked a few super personal ones and it amazes me as I would never ask similar questions unless I was very close to the person.

  6. Hi Shannon! I absolutely love this post. It’s something that I try to work on being. I read in a book about French women that they have mastered that art and that is one of the reasons why the exude such class. Thanks for the tips 🙂

  7. All good points.
    I usually smile warmly and simply gaze back at them. The thing is, people expect you to react to their inquiries and they truly startle when you just offer them a heartfelt smile.
    To the persistent ones ( the ones you go ” well?!? ” ) I continue with the sugary smile, lean on to them and just as they expect to be tied in top- secret gossip, exclusively, I whisper to them ” being nosy now, are we..? Tsk tsk.”
    And to the rude ones I channel frosty- the snowgirl and slyly ask them ” In which way would this information of my personal life better the quality of your personal life? ” They usually need to take a few moments to process this sentence. Which gives you a mental upper hand.
    But usually a warm smile and complete silence is enough to both send a message and in some cases, bring a sence of appropriateness to nosybodies.

  8. Shannon, thanks for writing and sharing such informative and helpful posts! I have browsed through so many manners and etiquette resources, as well as quite a few lifestyle blogs and no one addresses these issues like you do.

    I am happy to have found your blog and the exquisite content featured in it!

  9. This post was inspirational for me. So often I have been caught in the trap of people asking me inappropriate questions, I give an answer, they don’t agree with me and somehow I find myself justifying my life when, if I had refused to answer in the first place, I wouldn’t need to justify anything to nosy people!

    If I have one regret, it is answering nosy questions!

    Thank you so much for your advice on politely getting out of them. I will practice.



  10. Thank you so much for this article. Coming at just the right time for me. My work friend is constantly asking question i don’t want to answer and this article may just save me!

    Love your blog

    Susan from Ireland

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