How do you respond when someone asks you a personal question?
If you’re like most of us, you hesitate, thinking, “Why on earth would you ask me that?”
Then maybe you rack your brain for an appropriate response.
To help you navigate these situations, we’ve found 19 of the best ways to dodge personal questions without starting a war.
How to Avoid Answering Personal Questions: 19 Face-Saving Strategies
The best approach for dealing with personal questions is to think like a lawyer. Why?
Lawyers know the most common reasons behind aggressive questioning. They also know the potential consequences of personal information ending up in the wrong hands
When you think like a lawyer, you’re more likely to pause and ask yourself the following:
- Why are they asking you this question?
- Do they need the information they’re asking for?
- What could they do with any information you give them?
It’s not enough that they might be trustworthy. How could they use the information against you? Also who might overhear your answer, and what trouble could that cause?
The following tips are divided into subcategories based on the questioner’s motives.
How do you respond to a rude personal question?
Some questioners are more aggressive than others. They’ll come right out and ask something impertinent to throw you off balance. Or they’ll lead up to a rude question that puts you on the spot. They’re counting on you answering at least one question truthfully.
Try one of the following evasive maneuvers instead.
1. Answer with another question.
Pause and respond with a question of your own.
- Questioner: “How’d someone like you even get that job?”
- You: “Why do you ask?” or “Why do you want to know?”
2. Dodge the question.
Pause and respond by pointing out the irrelevance or deeply personal nature of the question.
- Questioner: “How much do you spend on those fancy coffees each month?”
- You: “I don’t see how that’s relevant” or “My money, my business.”
3. Shame the questioner.
Sometimes the best way to respond to an invasive question is to shame the questioner — just a bit. After all, if they’re willing to make you uncomfortable, turnabout is fair play.
- Questioner: “What size are those pants you’re wearing?”
- You: “You really do like asking personal questions, don’t you?” or “I wonder why you’re so curious about my clothing size.”
4. Start with “No.”
Add something like, “I won’t answer that.” Then walk away or change the subject. First it lets them think you’re giving them a negative answer; then it shuts them down.
- Questioner: “Would you say people like you are having a hard time financially?”
- You: “No, I won’t answer that. A better question to ask would be….”
5. Ignore the question.
Go on as if you didn’t hear the question. You’re sending the message that it’s irrelevant or unworthy of an answer.
- Questioner: “How old are you, anyway?”
- You: “As I was saying…..”
6. Put them on the defensive.
If they won’t let up, respond with questions of your own. Not only does it distract them, it sends the message you won’t be bullied into a corner. Turn the spotlight around.
- Questioner: “You didn’t answer my question….”
- You: “How would you answer it? Or what if I asked you, ‘<impertinent question>?’?”
7. Use a canned answer.
Prepare answers to personal questions you don’t want to answer, and visualize yourself responding with them.
- Questioner: “Would you describe yourself as a liberal?”
- You: “I describe myself as someone who loves their neighbor, whatever their demographic or background.”
8. Give a general answer to a specific question.
Steer the conversation away from the specific question to a general concern of yours. This strategy is more effective when the questioner shares that concern.
- Questioner: “So, who are you voting for this November?”
- You: “I’d rather this conversation didn’t devolve into a political debate. What interests me more is how we can help those really struggling right now.”
9. Excuse yourself.
This is a great time for a bathroom break, to get some refreshments, or to go say hi to a friend you just spotted. Use whatever you’ve got.
- Questioner: “So, are you two gonna finally… you know?”
- You: “Ha. You know what? I really have to go… you know.”
How do you politely avoid a question?
Not all those who ask personal questions have bad intentions. Sometimes, a gentler approach is in order.
10. Offer advice instead of an answer.
If someone asks a personal question, and you know they’ll want a detailed answer, sidestep the question by offering helpful advice instead.
- Questioner: “What’s going on with your weight lately? How’s your thyroid dosage?”
- You: “Honestly, I found something that has given me so much more energy lately, and I’ve been telling everyone about it….”
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11. Restate (and reframe) the question.
Restate the original question with a twist to steer the conversation in a less personal direction.
- Questioner: “So, I heard you believe in reincarnation? What do you think you’ll come back as?”
- You: “I think what you’re really asking me is whether I believe, as many seem to do, that one short life is all we need to learn everything we need to learn.”
12. Redirect the conversation.
Steer the conversation away from the personal question to a topic you feel comfortable discussing.
- Questioner: “I’ve been hearing rumors that you like vodka…maybe too much?”
- You: “I heard a rumor you were test-driving a Lexus the other day. How’d it go?”
13. Answer ambiguously.
Rather than dive into an unwanted debate with a direct answer, try giving an ambiguous answer — answering without answering. Or ask them to answer their own question.
- Questioner: “Are you planning to give your kids the COVID vaccine when it’s ready?”
- You: “Well, an effective vaccine may take another year or so,” or “What do you think?”
14. Stall them.
Ask them to clarify the question to buy more time, so you can decide how much information you want to share — if any.
- Questioner: “So, how much do you pay for this place?”
- You: “Sorry, I didn’t get that,” or “Compared to what?”
15. Be honest about your discomfort.
Plainly tell them you’re not comfortable answering that question. Be direct and then pivot to a compliment or to a subject that interests them.
- Questioner: “So, when are you two going to tie the knot?”
- You: “I know you mean well, but I don’t feel comfortable talking about that. Besides, I’m more interested in how on earth your turkey is never dry.”
16. Sidestep the question by asking for advice.
Dodge the question entirely by asking for some related advice. Most people love to share things they’ve learned — as advice or as useful life hacks.
- Questioner: “So, how much does your job pay?”
- You: “Actually, I’d appreciate any investment tips you might have. I hear you’re the one to ask.”
17. Use a safe word.
Arrange for someone to interrupt when you say your safe word (or phrase) and implement an escape plan of your choosing.
- Questioner: “So, when are you going to settle down and give me some grandkids?”
- You: “You know, I’ve been thinking of getting a cat.” (Cue interruption.)
What are some funny ways to avoid answering a question?
Sometimes, the best way to handle a personal question is with humor. Depending on the questioner, that humor might either distract them in a pleasant way or send the message, “Let’s talk about something else.” Use whatever humor is appropriate to the situation.
18. Deflect with evasive humor.
- Questioner: “How much does that pay?”
- You: “Not enough!” or “Enough that my kids don’t get free lunches anymore.”
19. Enlist friends or family to create disarming distractions.
Prepare to lighten the mood by enlisting a friend or family member into creating a distraction when someone (a guest) asks a specific question or type of question.
Questioner: “So, who do you like for the governor’s race?”
One of your kids: “Oh, don’t get her started on that! Please! I’ll give you a cookie!”
You can politely avoid answering personal questions.
Now that you know 19 of the best ways to avoid answering personal questions, which ones appeal to you the most? Which have you used already?
If you already have a go-to evasive maneuver, it can’t hurt to mix it up a little.
And if you’ve been getting a LOT of invasive questions lately, it’s good to have plenty of options for sidestepping them and steering the conversation away from your personal life.
If they don’t need to know what they’re asking, you don’t have to tell them. Simple as that. You’re allowed to respect your own privacy.