Tis the season for family gatherings where in many cases awkward questions are served up with the turkey and fixings. In the spirit of being prepared for potential uncomfortable moments, I’ve put some thought into ways to face these moments without losing your cool or saying something you later wish you hadn’t.
I’m assuming of course, that you want to preserve family harmony and not make a scene. If you don’t care about either of these, then I’d suggest you reply “None of your d”mn business.”
As for the rest of us, here are some suggestions that I’ve used with varying degrees of effectiveness under questioning from some pretty expert interrogators. Hopefully these tips will keep you from undue cross-examination by the nosy Ned or (more likely) Nellie at your holiday gathering.
So, here you go..
Pretend not to hear the question. Selective hearing works especially well in noisy places with lots of cross talk going on. Give your interrogator a quick glance, as if you’re just about to answer, and then be quickly absorbed by the conversation around you, even if you’ve heard the story a million times before… pay close attention, laugh along with others or join the discussion.
This evasion works especially well with older people who may be hearing impaired, these are the last people who will point out another who might not have heard something, Sports (even golf) on TV or classic movies are also wonderful distractions.
Change the subject to the questioner. More than minding your business or checking in on your children’s or career progress, people love to talk about themselves. Having a compelling question at the ready for busybodies you’re likely to encounter is a bit of planning you won’t regret.
To turn the conversation back on your interrogator, you answer, with as much humility as you can manage, “Never mind about that… it’s boring. Tell me about your latest trip/surgery/accomplishment.”
Shift the focus to someone else in the room. Someone who loves the sound of their own voice is perfect, but lacking that, go for the oldest (or youngest) person or the guest least connected to the family. Stay away from religion or politics, and rely instead on topics like travel, hobbies or interests, music or technology. For older folks, you can never go wrong with questions about their health or past memories. Parents will ramble endlessly about their children, others do the same for pets.
You shift focus by saying something like, “We’ll get to that, but first I want to hear about Aunt Mary’s surgery.”
If the question is particularly outrageous, or crosses some line in your own mind, ask the questioner to repeat it. While making direct eye contact say just loud enough for others around you to hear, “I don’t think I heard correctly, what did you just say?” Only the boldest, brashest soul will not take the hint, or will muster the nerve to repeat something outlandish when more ears have been alerted.
Feel free to reply, “I don’t feel comfortable talking about that here. Let’s talk later.” And then be sure ‘later’ never comes. You have a right to privacy about your situation, your finances, your physical and mental health, the progress of your children or whatever else. Just because someone asks, even under the guise of caring, does not mean you are obligated to supply an answer.
Lie your pants off. If it’s information you truly don’t want to share, and the curious clod will not be denied or diverted; lying is your last resort to maintain your own privacy. In an earlier post we talked about spotting liars, so bear this in mind. Keep the lie simple with few details and then get up to…
- Help in the kitchen.
- Visit the restroom.
- Check in on a child/spouse.
- Refresh a drink.
- Grab more food.
- Get some air.
If you’re lucky these tricks will free you from the questioner’s clutches, giving them a chance to focus their nosiness on some other poor soul. But it won’t be you.