How can I tactfully avoid answering personal questions about myself in everyday conversation? I hate talking to other people about myself and keep my life as private as possible, and would like to avoid disclosing to people various details of my life such as what I do for work, what I study at school, what my hobbies are, etc. Is it even possible to avoid such basic, friendly questions without coming across as totally standoffish and arrogant?

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5 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    No. This is not possible. If you don’t want to connect with people then they will not want to connect with you. And if they don’t want to connect with you they will not want to work with you or date you or have lunch with you.

    So you can tell people directly: I hate people so don’t talk to me. Or you can figure out how to find pleasure in connecting with people as a basic human need.

    You are probably writing to me because you realize that the world is set up so that it’s easier to answer basic questions about yourself than avoid them. Which means you have an extreme need to avoid answering. If I had to guess I’d say that you are extremely insecure about being judged and that you should go to therapy to try to understand your need to hide very basic details of your life.

    Penelope

  2. Anoel
    Anoel says:

    I’d also add that if you don’t want to answer personal questions-tell people that. Just say, I’m sorry, nothing personal but I’m not really comfortable discussing that. Instead ask them questions about their life or move the conversations to questions you are okay with being public about. People like talking about their lives so just be interested in them and ask questions about what they bring up.

  3. JessicaJane
    JessicaJane says:

    Penelope has a good point – you probably should look at your insecurities because they will serve you no good and hold you back from limited opportunities. I’m guessing you are in your 20s or younger – those years go very fast and if you spend too much time trying to “decide” what you want to do or trying to “figure out” everyone and everything around you and what they think about you… you’ll miss a decade. The best decade when you realise all the extra limitations of the next decades.

    But back to topic… I suspect it may not be as much about insecurities as much as just wanting to know the skills (although it could very well be ALL insecurities). One example I’ve noticed is working in corporate environments where men often seem much more apt at this skill or maybe there are just more men to proportionally notice!

    I’ve found myself in the odd situation where I am with someone who may have an alterior motive or I know they arnt going to reveal anything so it feels awkward to find yourself answering personal questions. You feel like they have a skill at this non-revealing extraction. It can feel like you have less control than the other person. Sometimes its just not good business sense to reveal too much, and being judged unfairly can be a legitimate career threat and revealing things nervously is not a good way to reveal anything you want to be overlooked.

    I’m not good at this but from observation -a friendly smile and a humorous line seem which is smoothly followed by a genuine question to the other person usually does the trick. Reveal a little to allow the other person to relate but keep your personal examples out. You may not, but most people do like talking about themselves, their life & their world. My best practical advice would be to write down all the questions people ask that you hate answering then think of a positive friendly response to all. The better you deliver it or the less you care, the more vague you can be.

    Another option could be to “get into” something – I’m thinking sport but really anything thats relevant. A passion for something generic can override personal in many conversations, if you pick your audience correctly. (Although, this can be a personal definer in itself – as can being silent, cagey or gruff!)

    Basically… I’ve got no idea. Just try not to give a shit for your own happiness. Even though they may ask, most people dont even remember what you said 2 sec later. Also, please consider – what does it matter if people know anything abut you? (trust me, i get the ickiness but…), how does that actually affect you?. Your attitude to it is what affects you and that aint going to change until you do it.

    Whilst I agree with everything else I think “Just say, I’m sorry, nothing personal but I’m not really comfortable discussing that” is fine if someone has just asked you who you lost your virginity to, but if you’re saying it in reply to “what do you study at school” it sounds pretty douche and screams insecurity.

    All this is great for small talk, acquaintances and groups but it a sucky way of dealing with people you value and want as part of your life.

  4. Kayle
    Kayle says:

    Sounds like an introvert. This is legit. They may be gossips or insensitive to boundaries or looking for bullying fodder. What’s with the hostility??
    People are NOSY, this doesn’t mean it’s her job to accommodate or it’s dysfunctional. Get a grip.

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