Northampton Press

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Respectfully Yours: nosy co-worker

Friday, February 9, 2018 by JACQUELYN YOUST Special to The Press in Focus

Dear Jacquelyn,

What’s the best way to handle a nosy co-worker who is asking too many personal questions? I don’t know how to answer without sounding rude.

Dear Reader,

When you’re working with the same people every day, co-workers naturally start to become curious about one another. This isn’t unusual considering these are the people you spend most of your waking hours with.

However, there are people who push your personal boundaries to the limits and who want want to pry into your personal life. They may want more information about your private life than you’re comfortable sharing. They may not even know they’re being rude.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for the nosy co-worker. But there are ways to take control of the situation and keep nosy co-workers at bay, and make your life a little less stressful.

How you respond to a nosy co-worker’s attempts at being intrusive can make all the difference. It certainly can be hard to stay professional when working so closely with co-workers who don’t seem to understand. You may just want to run and hide or respond with a sarcastic remark, but try not to get defensive.

If you find yourself engaged in conversations where the co-worker wants to find out too much information about you, simply excuse yourself politely. Keep office conversations to a minimum and do not continue the conversation longer than you have to.

Having a sentence ready is a good deterrent, such as “I have an important email to get out.” This provides you with an easy, tactful escape. Setting boundaries will let your co-worker know that you are not comfortable with all their questions.

When you are given unasked-for advice or comments, you can respond politely with “Thank you for your advice. I will take it into consideration.” This method makes the nosy co-worker feel like he has been heard. That might be enough to end the conversation.

A good trick to nip a conversation in the bud is answering with another question. That will usually put an end to unwanted question-asking.

If your co-worker’s questions are getting to be too much for you, change the topic and talk about something boring. Your co-worker might get so confused by the sudden change in topic that he or she will get back to work. This might send a clear message that you are not interested in hearing what the person has to say.

Use body language as another way to handle nosy chatter. A change in body posture and returning to the position you were working in before being interrupted is a great way to signal that the conversation is over. Another tip is: if you stand when someone enters the room, you can easily signal for them to leave by sitting back down.

No one likes to be put on the spot about something personal, especially by a nosy colleague. You can divert unwanted questions with some crafty maneuvering and finesse.

Respectfully Yours,


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Jacquelyn Youst is owner of Jacquelyn Youst Etiquette Consulting, specializing in protocol training. She works with the National Civility Foundation.

All Rights Reserved © 2018 Jacquelyn Youst