August 22, 2017

How to Deal With Nosy Neighbors

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Neighbors can be great.  They invite us over for coffee, bring a meal by when we’re sick, lend us their power tools.  (Hopefully we give them back!)

But every once in a while, you run into a neighbor who’s a little too… nosy.

She asks for more information than you’re willing to share.  She seems very observant.  She’s always around.

So how do you deal with nosy neighbors?  You can’t allow yourself to be forced into oversharing forever.

There are a few steps you can take to respond effectively to nosy neighbors, without making things awkward going forward.  Let’s take a look!

What’s considered nosy?

First, let’s define what “nosy” is.  When I say “nosy neighbor,” I mean someone who:

  • Asks questions you aren’t comfortable answering
  • Seems to observe you, your family, or your home more than you would expect

Nosy is subjective.

Second, “nosy” is subjective.  What I see as a nosy question or action may seem perfectly acceptable to you.  That’s why my definition of a nosy neighbor considers your comfort level and your expectations of others’ behavior.

Why so nosy?

People have all kinds of reasons for being nosy.  And the truth is, most of them probably don’t even realize they’re doing it.

As I said above, “nosy” is subjective.  That neighbor who all but asks for your Social Security number may think she’s simply getting to know you.  She may be a naturally open person, and assumes others are as well.  Or maybe she’s stuck in a cycle of comparison – asking questions about your life to see how it stacks up against hers.  (Also known as “Keeping up with the Joneses”)

In defense of your neighbors

Regardless of the reason for their nosy ways, the vast majority of overly-interested neighbors don’t mean any harm.  They aren’t out to get you.  Are there some who might be?  I suppose so.  But give them the benefit of the doubt, and assume they’re prying out of curiosity.

Why not satisfy that curiosity and maybe make a friend in the process? Try inviting your curious neighbor over so you can get acquainted. A group setting with a focused activity gives you and Ms. Nosypants other people to talk to. It also gives you something specific to do, rather than sitting on the couch, trying to make awkward small-talk. Try a housewarming, crafts & cocktails night, or wine and cheese party.

How to deal with nosy neighbors

That one neighbor.

When you talk to her, you feel like she’s planning to write your biography.

She asks questions about EVERYTHING.  Where you grew up, which doctor you see, why your son has that weird birthmark on his face, how much money you make, what kind of marital struggles you have, and on and on.

You may not mind answering those questions from a close friend.  But if they’re coming from someone you only know casually, things can get awkward fast.

Here’s the thing – you get to choose which information you share with which people.  You get to decide which details of your life stay private.  Don’t give in to social pressure to provide information you’re not comfortable sharing.  Remember that innocent curiosity doesn’t serve as a license to peer into the depths of your private life.  You don’t owe anyone an explanation, apology, or justification for keeping your personal life personal.

You don't owe anyone an explanation, apology, or justification for keeping your personal life personal.Click To Tweet

Try humor first

A well-placed joke is a great way to deflect a nosy question.  It helps you keep your calm when faced with a personal question.  It also hints to the other person that you don’t plan to provide the answer they’re looking for.

For example, let’s say you like to keep your finances private.  Your neighbor asks you how much you have in your 401(k).  You could say, “Oh, about a million kagillion bucks.  How about you?”

If she asks again, be firm but graceful

If the inquisitor comes at you with the question again, gently but firmly slap a protective bubble around the topics you want to keep private.

Remember that this person is someone you’ll likely run into often.  Therefore, it’s in your best interest to keep your cool and be gracious about the situation.  (I totally get that it’s hard to maintain poise when someone is asking about private topics, but give it your best shot!)

Plus, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.  So, politely ask for some space around the issue, then transition quickly to another topic.

You can say, “I’m not comfortable discussing (Whatever the issue is).  But what do you think about (Something less private)?”  Or, you could say, “That’s a tough one for me.  Would you be willing to give me some privacy around that issue?  On that same subject, though, I will tell you that (Something less private).”

Let’s say the nosy neighbor presses you again about your 401(k) balance (Who does that?!).  You can say, “You know, my retirement balances aren’t something I’m comfortable discussing.  But, I have heard that people my age will need to save more for retirement, because we won’t be able to rely on Social Security retirement benefits as much.  What do you think?”

If she keeps pushing, double down

If the person continues to push for information, it’s time to get firm with your response.   Try saying, “Thanks for your concern, but that’s a topic that I have boundaries around.  I’d appreciate your respect for my privacy.”

If your neighbor agrees to drop the subject (Hopefully she will), thank her for her understanding and switch to a less-intrusive topic where she can contribute to the discussion.

If, for some reason, she still won’t let it go, you have every right to walk away from the conversation.  Say, “I’m not going to discuss (whatever the topic is).  Unless there’s something else, I hope you have a nice afternoon.”

If she brings up the situation the next time you see her, reinforce your boundaries in a friendly way.  Such as, “I know you didn’t mean any harm, but please understand that there are areas of my life that I want to keep private.”

In summary

You’re bound to run into a nosy neighbor at some point.  However, you aren’t obligated to answer their questions.  There are some easy ways to respond to nosy questions that are gracious, yet undeniably firm.  Here’s a quick rundown of what I addressed today:

  • “Nosy” is subjective – what you consider nosy might seem perfectly fine to someone else… and that’s okay
  • Most nosy people don’t mean any harm
  • Don’t feel like you have to provide the information they’re after
  • You don’t owe an explanation, apology, or justification for wanting to keep something private
  • It’s in your best interest to be polite and gracious about the situation
  • Start with a joke to deflect the question
  • Tell the person you’re not comfortable with the topic or question raised, and change the subject
  • If the person keeps pressing, stand your ground and ask that your privacy be respected
  • Politely walk away from the conversation if the person is relentless
  • If he or she brings the situation up later, reinforce your boundaries in a friendly way

Learning how to deal with nosy neighbors takes some practice, but it’s worth it in the long run.  Your privacy and sanity will thank you!

What experiences have you had with nosy neighbors?  Are there any techniques you’ve used that worked or didn’t work?  Let me know in the comments below!

I hate to use the words

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