A nosy person is like a mosquito circling around you. Both are irritating, hard to ignore and you wish to swat them away. However, with the former, restraint is difficult but often necessary, especially if they are an acquaintance, neighbor, or worst case scenario a co-worker you see daily. Then it’s advised to force a smile, feign politeness and handle their meddling with grace. Before I disclose how to tactfully respond to a snoop, one must understand their psyche.
I believe a person who sticks their nose in other people’s business does so for two reasons. The first is to acquire information to share with anyone they may encounter in order to appear well-informed and possibly intelligent. By updating co-workers and friends on one’s personal life they cultivate a sense of self-importance by appointing themselves as the” bearer of news” as people look to them for daily gossip and information. In other words, they alone are in the know. They have the latest scoop. Now the second reason for their inquiry is a bit more devious, because their intention is to dig up the shortcomings and achievements of those around them and then compare them to their own lives. Odds are their fixation results from feelings of inadequacy that often stems from insecurities.
If a snoop determines they are “victorious”—having a greater paycheck, higher test score, more ‘prestigious’ alumni mater—let them gloat. They got their fix but their happiness is fleeting.
Knowing how nosy people operate is key to getting the upper hand should one seek you out. Snoops usually start off with light conversation or butter you up with compliments before they worm their way towards increasingly invasive questions. As a parent, for instance, you may find yourself chatting with another parent whose child attends school with your son or daughter. Between chit-chat and complimenting your child, a snoop will seize an opportunity and attempt a point of entry to sniff out information. For instance, the random subject of college admissions will offer them the chance to casually ask “how did ‘insert name of child’ do on their SATs?” A seemingly harmless question, but a question they have no business asking. Their reason for inquiry, however, is most likely to compare against their child’s score.
Your answer should be vague, yet mannerly; “fine” or “(s)he got through them” should suffice. Giving a hazy answer to an offhand nosy question signifies discomfort and a cue to back off and respect your privacy. If the snoop can take a ‘hint’ they will move on to another topic. At times a snoops’ curiosity will get the best of them, or they are just blatantly rude, and they will try to pry further. They may repeat the question or try to slowly extract the information by treating your ambiguous response as a “guessing game.” They may inquire “was their score above or below ‘insert score number’?” This is the turning point. If you respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’ they will take this as a sign of intimidation and continue their questioning to narrow in on a concrete answer. You will give them want they want before you know it.
A persistent nosy parker needs to be stopped in their tracks. Be direct and firmly state “my child’s score is personal information that I prefer not to share with anyone.” If they question why, simply reaffirm your preference for privacy, cut the conversation short and politely excuse yourself. Boundaries must be set; don’t let anyone take advantage of you.
By standing your ground, both you and the snoop will benefit. You will send a strong yet subliminal message letting the snoop know the inappropriate nature of their behavior and the importance of respecting others that has yet to be learned. Equally, you will strengthen yourself through building self-confidence and learning how to deal with people who test your patience.