Believe it or not, some people don't like to talk about their personal life. I know, I know, this seems bizarre in a time when people post photos of themselves sitting on the toilet or reveal every detail of giving birth.
In the workplace we often form friendships -- some of them very close -- and as a result we share details of our lives. The woman in the next cubicle, for example, knows that your teenager is getting into trouble and your husband lost his job last week. But those are details you may not want to share with the woman down the hall because a) she's a terrible gossip and b) you don't know her well enough to share that information.
Still, the woman down the hall is nosy. She asks questions like, "I saw your husband at the grocery store in the middle of the day -- is he on vacation or something?"
What can you do when people are nosy at work? You can't be rude because you have to work with them and the boss won't appreciate you having a rift with a teammate about personal business. Lying is never a good idea -- it snowballs and can reflect badly on your character if the truth comes out.
When you feel that a colleague is becoming nosy about your personal business, here are some options:
- Tell the truth. This may be the last thing you want to do, but really consider the situation from someone else's perspective. Maybe you don't want to reveal that your teenager is in trouble, but perhaps the colleague has gone through the same thing with her child or was once a troubled teen herself. She may be asking the question not as a chance to gossip, but because she sees you seem to be upset. You can give a simple, truthful answer, such as: "Well, you know teenagers often hit some bumps in the road and Angela is no exception." If the colleague presses you on details, just say you don't want to violate Angela's privacy, but appreciate the colleague's concern.
- Change the subject. Your husband may have asked you not to discuss his job loss with anyone, and you need to respect his wishes. If you're asked about it, change the subject or move away from the person. "Gosh, I can't believe what time it is! I've got a deadline in 30 minutes. I better get to it or this client is going to be be unhappy. I've got to run!" Or, answer with a non-answer: "Mike was at the grocery store pickup up some things we needed. Hey, that reminds me: Have you ever tried making homemade ravioli? I have a new fabulous recipe. Let me send it to you -- what's your email?"
- Limit access. You cannot blab about your teen daughter woes or your husband's job loss on Facebook or Twitter and then not expect people to feel like they can get a bit nosy. If you want to be private, be private -- and that includes online. Set boundaries and stick to them, which makes it much easier to say: "Thanks for your concern, but it's a family matter and we're handling it."
Finally, don't expect others to respect your privacy if you don't respect their privacy. You can't demand nosy people mind their own business when you're not willing to do the same.