7 Polite Ways to Deflect Rude Questions, Etiquette Experts Say
You don't have to answer something just because you've been asked.
As human beings, we're naturally curious people. But we've all been stuck in a conversation at some point where the other person crosses the line with their inquiries. When you're hit with a rude question, your first reaction may be to freeze. Then you might start racking your brain for a response that isn't indignation. But you don't have to spiral or give an answer you aren't comfortable giving. Read on for seven polite ways to deflect rude questions.
Use "I" statements.
When you're asked a rude or insensitive question, one of the most polite things you can do is take ownership over the fact that you don't want to answer it. That's why Stacy Thiry, LMHC, a licensed therapist from Grow Therapy, recommends using "I" statements in these situations, as in "I'm not comfortable answering that question at this time."
"This is a calm and assertive way to communicate a boundary with another person while not placing blame and instead taking ownership of your feelings," Thiry shares.
Give them the benefit of the doubt.
People may not realize that they're asking something they shouldn't be. Acknowledge that by responding with something along the lines of, "I believe your intention is good, but I'm not sure how that is relevant or appropriate to ask," Thiry says.
"Giving benefit of the doubt and acknowledging the person's good intentions can disarm and neutralize any negative energy while also still allowing you to challenge the person's intention behind asking the question," she explains.
Ask a question in return.
If you're not willing to come right out and say that you're uncomfortable with the question being asked, answer back with another question instead. Thiry advises that you first acknowledge the question, and then give your own: "What an interesting question. I'm curious to know why you asked that/what made you ask?"
"Using a question to answer a question is an effective way to shift the focus onto the other person," she says. "It can also help gain clarity as to why they may feel it appropriate to ask."
Redirect the conversation.
Similarly, you can deflect things by redirecting the conversation to the other person, according to Caitlin Weese, LCSW, a trauma therapist with Intuitive Healing and Wellness LLC. So instead of answering with a question, Weese suggests replying with a statement or request that still sidesteps the conversation.
"You can respond, 'Let's not focus on me, I want to hear about you,'" she says. "This shows interest in the other person while to allowing you to avoid a rude or uncomfortable question."
Use body language cues.
You don't always have to rely on your words to convey how you're feeling, however. "Don't underestimate the power of non-verbal cues," Phillippa Quigley, a health and wellness coach working with Soma Analytics, says.
If you want to signal your discomfort to politely deflect a rude question, you can cross your arms or slightly step back, according to Quigley.
"This is a subtle way of letting someone know they've crossed a line without a word spoken," she notes.
Make a joke.
If you're looking for the "least confrontational way" to dodge certain questions, turn your response into a joke, Thiry recommends. You can say something like, "I'm not sure this crowd/audience is ready for the answer to that question," but make sure you add a laugh to really drive home the playfulness in a polite way.
"Humor is a great way to add levity to an uncomfortable situation," Thiry points out.
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Be short and direct.
People are often afraid to clearly assert their boundaries or position, because they're worried about being mean. But Thiry says that being direct or definitive may be exactly what you need to do in this type of situation.
"We often feel the need to explain or over-explain as a result of people-pleasing, avoiding confrontation, or conditioning," she says. "Sometimes an assertive and confident 'that's what I decided' is all we need to say."
The way you respond with your directness is also extremely important, Boston-based psychotherapist Angela Ficken tells Best Life.
"Calmly express yourself," she advises. "Maintaining a polite tone while asserting your privacy helps maintain a respectful conversation."