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July 5, 2009

How to deal with personal questions at work?

Question: Why do people do this? You are asked to go somewhere with someone and you tell them, ‘I have other plans’ or you are asked about your weekend and you say, ‘I have plans’. Now, what do you tell the person when they ask ‘what plans, taking care of your animals?’ I get this from coworkers because I am not a socialite and I usually do things spontaneously. should I respond in a professional manner?

Answer: “What plans, taking care of your animals?” – I don’t know about you, but that seems a little condescending to me, bordering on a rude amount of sarcasm. Ah, the office drama; there’s always someone trying to stir up trouble and poke their nose into the business of other people.

From the tone of your letter, I don’t get the feeling you are overly fond of the people you work with, or at least one or two people. It can be hard to work in close quarters with people who annoy you, especially if they keep trying to get personal with you instead of keeping it professional. You get caught in the middle, because while it might behoove you to play nice with your coworkers, you also don’t feel like you should have to tell people the nitty-gritty details of your weekend plans. It’s a difficult situation, and as someone who used to work in an office, I certainly feel your pain.

The truth is, “I have other plans” IS a professional answer; after all, this is a workplace, not a club. Your plans are really not the business of your coworkers; don’t they have work to do? By asking a rude question like, “what plans, taking care of your animals?” they are trying to goad you into a response by embarrassing you. Basically, it seems they assume you are lying to them, that you don’t actually have any other plans. Whether you have other plans is, again, none of their business.

If you don’t want to socialize with your coworkers on your time off (completely understandable) that is up to you. I would not suggest giving your inquisitors any further information; they seem rude (from the example response you provided) and who knows what they might use against you. I would never suggest being rude in response, but I would suggest keeping your answers vague: “I have lots to do this weekend, sorry” or “I’m going out with some friends” should help them realize that you don’t want to socialize with them. Or, if you want to have fun, come up with something creative: “I’m performing at the opera” “I’m having dinner with the President” or “I’m hiking Mount Everest.”

PS – good for you for wanting to keep your personal life to yourself! Too many people treat their coworkers like therapists, revealing all their problems and issues to one another without a second thought.

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