Uncomfortable Questions and How to Deal with Them
One of the challenges of speaking in another language is that we can be more easily caught off guard when asked uncomfortable questions like… So, why don’t you have kids yet? Why aren’t you two married yet? How’d you lose your job? Why are you still single?
And the list goes on. The truth is, we all have nosy neighbors or colleagues. Or sometimes someone is just a little too curious.
Sometimes people ask questions they wouldn’t normally ask or that they know they shouldn’t! Those kinds of uncomfortable questions shock you. In fact, you might be thinking, “Seriously?!? Did you just ask that?”
But in the moment, you feel worried or stressed about how you should deal with the question. It’s difficult to know what to do or say in your second language.
In today’s Confident English lesson, you’ll get several strategies of how to deal with uncomfortable questions and specific examples you can start using today.
My strategies for uncomfortable questions in English.
Lesson by Annemarie
Strategies for How to Deal with Uncomfortable Questions + Examples
Play Them At Their Own Game
In other words, instead of answering the question, ask an uncomfortable question in response. I only recommend this if you know the person well and you can control your English intonation so it sounds more like a joke. For example:
- Why don’t you tell me how much you weigh first?
- You first. How much money do you make?
- Well, first, why aren’t you married yet?
Politely Address It
This is my preferred strategy. The best way to immediately respond to uncomfortable questions is a polite comment such as:
- I’m so sorry, I don’t like talking about that.
- I’d rather not discuss that.
- I don’t want to get into that.
- I’d rather not discuss this now/here.
- Sorry is it okay if we change the subject? So, ice-cream, strawberry, chocolate or vanilla?
- Sorry, is it okay if we talk about something else?
- I don’t really feel comfortable discussing that.
“Sorry is it okay if we change the subject? So, ice-cream, strawberry, chocolate or vanilla?” — a great way to change the subject!
If the question is particularly inappropriate and you need to be more direct, try one of these common phrases:
- That’s a bit direct, I’m not going to answer that.
- That’s a bit forward to ask that.
- You are making me uncomfortable. I don’t want to answer that.
- That’s a bit personal, surely you don’t expect me to answer that?
- I am surprised you would ask something so personal.
- Wow! Are you seriously asking me that? (Note: This is very casual/informal.)
- I’m gonna pretend you didn’t just ask that.
Call Them Out
When someone refuses to stop asking; when they keep pushing and being intrusive, here’s how to let them know it’s not okay:
- I can’t believe you are asking that. It’s really inappropriate.
- I won’t answer that and you really shouldn’t be asking.
- It is not okay to ask that.
- That is very rude to ask.
- You really shouldn’t ask people things like that.
- Why are you asking me?
- Why do you need to know?
- I was taught not to ask questions like that.
Brush It Off with A Joke
Finally, if you’re comfortable enough, you can simply have a laugh about it by making a joke and not answering the question. Again, for these responses, it’s all about your intonation in English:
- That’s for me to know and you to never find out.
- I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.
- Wouldn’t you love to know?
- I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave you in suspense on that one… forever.
- You seem to want to know everything, would you like to read my diary also?
- My lips are sealed on that
After you’ve had a chance to watch the video and review the lesson, I’d love to hear from you on two questions:
- Have you ever had someone ask you some uncomfortable or inappropriate questions? What happened? How did you handle the situation? Do you have advice for someone else?
- What is one new phrase or expression you learned in today’s lesson?
The best place to share with me is in the comment section below. I read all comments and provide feedback. It’s also a great place to share and learn from others in the Confident English Community.
Have a fantastic Confident English Wednesday!
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Hi Annemarie, thank you for another gem to boost our confidence in English.
As a foreign person living in English speaking country, sometimes it’s very difficult to deal with uncomfortable questions.
Just yesterday a coworker asked me why I left my homeland. I addressed the conversation as my own business (“for personal reasons”). I wish I watched this video before for a better answer with no guilt feelings.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
Rosi, I’m SO happy this was helpful. Those uncomfortable questions are such a challenge. I think your response with a focus on personal reasons was perfectly sufficient!
I just find you and your YouTube channel and I glad I did! This is my first comment on your blog post. I’m so impressed how you encourage other people to learn . You are such an inspiring and truly person! Again Glad to find you!
Following you from Italy!
What a kind, thoughtful comment, Rosie. Thank you! I’m so happy to know that my lessons are useful to you!
Absolutely Annemarie !!! Thanks to you for doing this!
Hello Annemarie, I just found this article and I’m so glad I did!
I’m biracial and have always been in a multicultural environment. Every time I meet new people, they always ask me very personal questions that made me uncomfortable… Thanks to your article, I finally have a good response!
I’m so glad to hear that, Isabel!!
I have been following you for a week in your YouTube channel and this is my first comment on your blog post. I’m so impressed how you encourage other people to learn and write down in comment and you joyfully replied to every comments.
In starting of my job career normally people asked me why don’t you go for higher studies or do something better than this ?
I simply replied to them.. Please do not bother about me..
But today I have learnt few sentences which could I used in inappropriate conversion. Thanks 🙂
Hi there, I’m so glad you’re enjoying my lessons and you’ve learned some new language that can be helpful to you!
what a wonderful video and amazing tips 👏🏻❤️
Hi Bayan, Oh, I’m so glad this was useful to you!! 🤗
Nice Article, Thanks for sharing me
I’m glad you enjoyed it.
Thank you so much for this useful lesson. 1) In my situation , sometimes when I meet with peoples that are curious and they ask me some uncomfortable questions like : how old are you? Why didn’t you continue studying after you graduated from university? And other inappropriate questions. Sometimes I respond by saying : Why do you want to know? Or if I answer their question I ad at the end of my response ” what about you?” To handle with these stressful situations I think that we need to be intelligent and have the ability to find other… Read more »
I’m so glad this lesson was useful for you. And thank you for sharing some examples from your life. I like your strategy of asking people why they want to know when they ask something inappropriate. 🙂
I’m so use to the question why are u still single .don’t you want to get married.at first it really hurt my feelings.but I’m so use to the questions. Then my response will be.being single and not married dont bother me and I don’t feel lonely.why must it bother you.?
That is definitely an annoying question but it sounds like you’ve got a great way to deal with it. I love your question, “Why must it bother you?” Great work! 🙂
I was in such a situation,I did not know how to answer,today I learned how I will answer .
Thank you !
Oh, I’m thrilled this lesson was helpful to you and gave you some strategies that can help you with this kind of situation in the future! 🙂
1) I’m a beginner student from Brazil and I’ve been having some conversations in English for the last two months. I’d never been through this situation so far. However, I asked someone once why she doesn’t want to live in her country and she said that it’s a difficult answer, there are many things involved in her decision and it could be complicated to explain to me that moment. I had never imagined that it’s an inappropriate question! Now I know, haha. 2) Today I learned the expression: “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you!” Hahahahha.… Read more »
Hello Ana, Thank you so much for your comment. Your English writing is really impressive! And I’m glad you found a new expression you really liked. That’s great! 🙌 About the question, “Why don’t you want to live in your country?” I would say it’s delicate, but not inappropriate. Some people are happy to answer that question and they have a positive answer. For others, that might be a difficult or painful question. It can be okay to ask it but it’s also important to be aware of how people feel and whether they want to answer it. And the… Read more »