How to Deal with a Nosy Co-worker Who Smells Your Privacy

nosy co-worker

Nosy co-workers. If you have ever held a job, you must have come across them. Small talk at the water cooler soon escalates to overly personal questions you rather not answer. Perhaps an inquiry into your relationship status: are you living with the father of your child?” “are you going out with Chris from accounting?” Or, when are you getting married?

Then there is the guy that always hovers like a ghost behind you while you are working on an important task, trying to know about everything you do.

No matter the form it takes, undue interest into your affairs from co-workers can be a source of irritation. Or even worse, it could prove harmful to your career.

So, being placed under scrutiny by your prying co-worker can be unpleasant. But do you tell them bluntly to get off your case? Or, tell a nice lie to protect what you prefer to keep personal?

How do you deal with a nosy co-worker?

Handling nosy co-workers is a delicate balancing act. While you want the prying eyes off you, you wouldn’t want to come off as a jerk. Because maintaining a cordial relationship with your colleagues is essential.

Using the psychology of communication, here are some ways you can handle co-workers that do not know when their possibly well-intentioned curiosity tend towards the invasion of your personal space.

Observe the signs of impending nosiness.

Watch out for tell-tale signs that your colleague intends to know more than you are willing to let on. Perhaps, the line of conversation is increasingly becoming personal in a way that discomforts you.

Control the situation so that you won’t go further with the discussion.

Politely answer a few questions and shift attention to your work. You can engross yourself in an important document or concentrate on writing an email. Also, pointedly complain about the load of work you have to go through before the close of business. Hopefully, they’ll get the clue and get off your case.

Be truthful about the facts you’ll want to share.

When placed, squirming uncomfortably, under the microscope by a co-worker, you will be tempted to lie so as not to reveal what you feel is your private business. However, once you start to lie, you place yourself in the increasingly difficult position of creating more lies to back up the initial one in further conversations.

A better way to handle it is to be honest about the facts, if any, you are comfortable in sharing.

Find out why you consider the question “nosy.”

Sometimes, your curious colleague may have no ill intention in mind but is asking a casual question only out of genuine concern. But you might take the question as nosy because it pertains to issues in your life that you are sensitive about. That feeling of invasiveness might just be the trigger that will help you delve deeper and come to terms with your concerns.

What is it about this particular issue that bothers you so much? Should it?

Prepare socially acceptable responses to common questions.

Develop a set of answers for prying questions that recur commonly. With practice, you will find it easy to respond without revealing anything that makes you uncomfortable.

Don’t spend so much time analyzing me and my life. Worry about your own, that is obviously where the real issues lie.  – Brittany Marcum

Switch it up

Curious Cathy’s live off gossip. To them, nothing is sacred, and often, they will try to draw out juicy details from you with tricky questions. Anything they pull out of you will be fodder for their gossip cannon in future interactions with other people. But you can deftly cut them off.

Simply side step and counter-attack.

If they ask you a question that you deem too private, give an evasive reply and fire one of your own wickedly private questions. This will make them very uncomfortable, and they will hopefully realize how intrusive they have been. They will then understand how inappropriate it is to discuss private matters and will steer clear of such topics next time.

nosy co-worker

Deflect the question

Instead of lying, directly change the direction of the conversation. When your nosy neighbor starts to trespass into your personal space, simply shift the attention. If that fails, find a way to physically move away (“let me go get some water”) or engage someone close by in a conversation and smoothly move on.

Be honest about how you feel

Your colleague may not be aware that they are invading your personal space, that their seemingly innocent questions touch a raw nerve.

Tell them straight away how their inordinate curiosity intrudes into what you consider very personal.

And since they may not be aware, letting them know they are prying will cause them to respect your need for distance. They will also appreciate your straightforwardness in coming out plain. It may not be easy to tell your nosy co-worker how you feel about their questions, but it’s better you tell them sooner than later. They will be more careful in future interactions.

Control who sees you on Social Media

A nosy colleague in the office will also be curious everywhere else. There’s a good chance they will be scouring your Facebook and Twitter timelines and pages, looking at your Youtube history or any other investigation that promises some personal titbit to feed their insatiable curiosity.

Carefully curate the social media platforms you add them to.  

You may not necessarily have to ignore their friend’s request, but most social media platform allow you to set your privacy. That is, you can limit the information they are privy to on the platform.

Politely confront your snooping co-worker

Some people are always trying to find out what you are up to: the guy who rambles up behind you to look over your shoulder at your screen while you work; the idle co-worker that eavesdrop on your phone calls; or, the colleague that finds an excuse to look into your drawers.   Naturally, these co-workers can be annoying if not downright creepy.

These sorts of intrusion are best dealt with directly.

Next time nosey Nick turns up to read that sensitive email you are working on, turn around, face him and politely ask how you can help him. With that, his lurking will cease.

Respect boundaries yourself

It’s often easier to see other people’s character flaws than it is to see yours. It’s possible you co-worker is reciprocating similar signals picked from your questions.

Observe your discussions. Maybe you have a penchant for asking questions that are a bit probing. If so, learn to curb your curiosity concerning your colleagues’ personal affairs to maintain healthy boundaries.

As if getting on top of your tasks at the office is not enough, you may have to deal with curious Cathys, nosey Nicks and prying Peters. This can be quite a handful. But with these strategies, you can remain your sweet self without pissing anyone off. And most importantly, they won’t have to know that your step-sister’s girlfriend’s cat always jumps in bed with her and her boyfriend. How embarrassing.

BA in Accountancy, he entered the entrepreneurial world by starting his first online marketing business in 2004. Passionate about personal finance, the stock market and a digital marketing addict. I also love to read books on entrepreneurship and technology and always on the lookout for new opportunities. I'm an avid golfer and currently a 15 handicapper.

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