I get it, people like to share things, know whats going on in each others lives and connect with each other. I don't, I'm a private person, I don't want to share personal things and because of that I don't expect anyone to share their stuff with me. some people get that and some don't.

This is particularly an issue with several people I work with. I usually don't care if someone is offended by it, but I'm worried it may negatively impact my career.

In all cases, those who don't understand seem think I don't like them for some reason, but really that's almost never true, I just establish that kind of relationship (or lack there of) with almost all people. Maybe that's an intrapersonal topic I'll explore in a separate quorum.

The kind of people in my office who get it talk to me about non personal things, I am comfortable with them, and things don't get awkward.

On the other hand, those that don't, continue to ask me personal stuff, which makes me uncomfortable and I act accordingly, giving them short, generic answers in a rather cold tone. Or they have learned my reactions to their queries, avoid talking to me at all and kind of treat me as if I'm a jerk.

How do I interact with those who don't understand, so that things aren't awkward between us or so they won't think I'm a jerk?

Edits based on comments: I'm in western USA working on a software development team as a developer.

I will admit I do expect people to read between the lines and just understand after our interactions. That is likely problem, and I should consider being more direct with my boundaries.

The best example is when people try to ask about my past which is just not going to happen. It is expanded into simpler things such as the baby my wife and I had 9 months ago concerning his health and behavior (of which he has no issues).

My past is negative and I don't want to talk about it. But I also just don't want to share anything personal, even positive things like my son or even my hobbies.

I should also add that I'm the highest performing member of my team and was just promoted. So I guess I'm not overly worried about it impacting my career. It's more of a quality of life thing and not wanting these people to think I'm rude.

  • 3
    'some people get it, some don't' > Is this after a good explanation of your boundaries to them? Or are you expecting them to read between the lines when you're giving the short generic answers? What's the company culture like, is it 'normal' for people to keep to themselves (easier in a corporate setting, much less so in a family business for example)... How acceptable is your behavior, culturally?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 16:59
  • 3
    'How to interact' is rather broad. Is this about explaining the problem, about asserting the boundary once you set it, or about avoiding directly mentioning the problem in your responses to personal questions (as you've been doing now)?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 16:59
  • 8
    Can you give a specific example of a time this happened so that we can better understand the situation? Have you ever told them that you prefer not to talk about it or are you expecting them to figure it out from your terse responses?
    – Catija
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 17:00

8 Answers 8


For the most part, I do that with work colleagues too. I prefer to maintain a separation between my professional and personal life.

What tends to help keep things professional, and maintain a healthy amount of comradarie is making an effort to engage in non-personal conversations. Like discussing work related matters, clients, new policies, etc. This helps to give the impression that you're approachable and even friendly, while not divulging anything personal.

It also helps me to be able to engage in some limited non-personal, but also non-work related topics. Like discussing the weather, sports, politics, or whatever. This helps to give people the impression that you're open to talking with them, but you still maintain a healthy separation between your professional life and personal life.

When asked more direct personal questions, I usually just give vague, generic answers. It's even become a bit of a joke where I work:

Them: Hey how are you doing?
Me: I'm doing.

It's become a joke because it's always the same answer, but they ask anyway, knowing that it'll be the same answer.

Even with more personal questions, like:

How's the family?
What did you do on your vacation?

Generic friendly answers still work. Such as:

Same old, same old.

People seem to respond well enough as long as I smile, and am willing to engage in more genuine conversations about other subjects.

Picture of Ron Swanson saying "I once worked with a man for three years and never got to know is name. Best friend I ever had. - We still never talk sometimes".

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    Thank you, I really like this answer. I might even make an effort to go to these people who think I'm rude and try to talk to them about non personal thing in a light hearted and open manner.
    – cwebb91
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 17:31

I'll be honest, this will be bad for your professional career. Knowing nothing about you, your coworkers have no reason to see you as a real person. I'll give you a real example.

I used to be an IT department manager, and had two employees that were under performing. I got the OK from the higher ups to let one go, and hire a new guy.

Guy X was pretty lazy. Didn't seem to care too much about the job, but would occasionally bust out some decent work. He was into video games, kickboxing, made people at the office laugh, and brought his girlfriend to the company Christmas party. All around decent guy.

Guy Y was also pretty lazy. Didn't care about going above and beyond, but usually got his work done. He was about 20% a better worker than guy X. In conversation he would say he doesn't feel like talking about his hobbies, living situation, or anything personal. Other coworkers would question me about him, asking why he was so weird about not sharing his personal details.

The decision was incredibly easy. I fired Y without hesitation. These are two people that I have to work with on a daily basis. Guy Y barely seemed like a person to me. I had a hard time having sympathy for him when he would do poor work.

Flash forward many years later as I'm interviewing for a software dev job. The interviewer talked to me about everything BUT technical skills. It was a personal interview. I was hired, based on the fact that I was nice to be around (and a resume to back the up skills that he didn't ask about). One year later, I hear that another dev was fired. I was not shocked to learn it was the guy that nobody knew anything about. He kept to himself, and paid the price.

My point is, though it may make you uncomfortable, you absolutely need to be seen as a REAL person by your coworkers. When it comes time for raises, promotions, bonuses, special projects, travel, whatever SPECIAL thing you want, I can promise you that things outside of your work performance will be considered.

You don't have to spill your guts to them, but you HAVE to find common ground somewhere, or find a way to be somewhat interesting.

  • 9
    Also @coinbird, I understand that we live in a world where people favor charisma over skill and abitliy (for some ungodly reason). I actively choose to live the way I do knowing that. I'm not asking how to become an extrovert. I'm looking for advice on how to maintain the way I live without giving people the wrong impression.
    – cwebb91
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 22:11
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    While not trying to contradict you, your experience has a strong cultural bias. Some countries are harsher than others to people that does not go with the flow, or that does go with the guys for beers after work. Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 3:09
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    That's an interesting anecdote but it answers a different question than the one asked. Perhaps you could expand on how OP can be more pleasant to be around without too much hassle.
    – user510
    Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 7:01
  • 6
    @cwebb91 Charisma is really just a fancy word for people skills, something that is valuable in any career, even software development. Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 7:13
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    @cwebb91 That ungodly reason is because we have to spend 40+ hours a week with our coworkers. One third of your life. I'll gladly pick up a little slack versus being around someone that is seemingly socially retarded. I'm far more productive when I'm happy.
    – coinbird
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 5:21

To keep people from misinterpreting your behavior and thinking you're a jerk, you have a few options.

  1. You can have some meta-conversations, telling coworkers that you know it makes you seem distant, but that you usually don't talk about personal things because you like to keep work and your personal life separate.

  2. Building on apaul's answer, you could even cultivate a generic interest you're OK with talking about at work, such as a sports team's progress, Fiona the Hippo, some local artisan food/drink, your favorite plant outside the office, the crossword puzzle, etc.

    "How are you doing?"

    "I'm really excited that the cherry tree outside is starting to bloom--that really made my day!"

  3. For the people you're worried don't get it, you can try to interact politely with them and show interest in them (especially the non-personal things that work with your other coworkers). Perhaps you could also do other things to deepen your professional relationships with them. (It might not make much sense to them if you don't explicitly tell them that you just don't share about family things at work.)


Saying, "I don't feel like talking about that" should work. Some people are nosier and won't accept that. If you have a good deadpan delivery you can generate an over-the-top answer for laughs.

We're not talking about small talk like "What are you doing tonight?" which is easy to answer. More like nosy stuff. It'd be good if you supplied some examples of what they're asking.

  • 4
    The thing is "What are you doing tonight" is not easy for everyone. I don't care to share what I'm doing even if it's just making dinner and watching TV with my family. Why do they need to know? They don't.
    – cwebb91
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 17:29
  • @user16403 just say "nothing worth mentioning" or "I don't know (yet)". Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 17:58
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    @cwebb91 They don't actually care about what you're doing tonight. They just want small talk, that's all. Not being open to that might be a career limiting move depending on your situation. Commented Apr 7, 2018 at 17:33
  • That it's small talk makes it easy to answer, because it's just small talk. People are inherently social creatures, just make some small talk.
    – X Head
    Commented Apr 8, 2018 at 20:29

This sounds like a transparency issue to me. It looks like instead of communicating I don't want to talk about this topic, this makes me uncomfortable you end up communicating I don't want to talk about this topic WITH YOU. The latter I can take as an insult the former I have to take with respect, because usually I don't want to hurt you.

[In an edit:] I will admit I do expect people to read between the lines and just understand after our interactions. That is likely problem, and I should consider being more direct with my boundaries.

You've already acknowledged my point partly. The easiest way to approach this is to say that the current topic makes you uncomfortable and you'd rather not elaborate. If you want to be a good conversationalist you present a new topic to discuss and the better you are the more subtle this happens.

I think I can relate to your issue, because I know what it's like to have a difficult past and it took me ages to learn why people even bother with chit-chat and off-topic conversations, e.g. at work any non-work conversations or in video games non-game related discussions.

What worked for me to bridge this gap is to realize that people aim for two things with their "small talk". 1) Discuss a scenario to find the best behavior to achieve something (similar to this SE :D ) and 2) what your goals in this scenario are.

the baby my wife and I had 9 months ago concerning his health and behavior

Take this example, assuming you are a normal person (with some margin of error) your goal is clear: You want the best for your baby. It's likely similar to the your co-workers goal and their child (or potential child). So when they ask they want to learn from you (who has different or more experience then they do) how they should or shouldn't behave in a similar situation to achieve this similar goal. [A similar idea seems to apply to gossip, though it's more a "look, this is what you shouldn't do"]

Now if there really is nothing you can contribute with confidence to the general scenario of having a baby that's fine. You should communicate that and move on. However, I think it is more likely that you just haven't thought thoroughly what you can contribute. For example you could respond with

The baby is fine, but you know what? I've read this really [wierd,
interesting, disturbing] post about what you should do if your baby ...

Now you can have a non-personal discussion about something that is related to what the co-worker wants to discuss, while still being far enough away for your comfort. Who knows, you might end up learning something interesting in the process. That's what I found when I got the hang of it anyway...

This is slightly off-topic, but I couldn't resist pointing it out:

I usually don't care if someone is offended by it, but I'm worried it may negatively impact my career.

He he, so you do care. Your goal is to have a good career. To achieve that you think (and I strongly agree) that it is a good strategy to not offend people who will enable you to get promoted. Thus, not offending people becomes an instrumental goal of yours. Not because you want it, but because it helps you get what you want. [The same principle applies to things like money or staying alive. You usually don't want it because of the thing itself, but because of it's instrumental value for your actual goal.]


It seems to me the answer is very simple:

When asked any question, just be straightforward and sincere, while giving exactly what information you are completely comfortable giving.

No point being cold. Here are some possible examples:

What is your hobby?

Hmm... My hobby is doing whatever I like whenever I like. =)

Anything specific?


What do you plan to do during your vacation?

Things I like to do. =)

How is your baby?

He's fine, thank you.

Is he crawling yet?


Is there any problem so far?

No/{Nothing concerning.}

When you get tired of answering or the questions start getting too personal:

I don't like to talk too much about my personal life. Hope you understand.

The last part is key to putting the responsibility on them to understand to be considerate and not pry into your life (intentionally or otherwise). They cannot disagree with that without coming off as obnoxious.

Concerning people asking about things that others may not consider personal but you don't want to reveal, you can ask a counter-question as nicely as possible:

Why do you want to know?

If you prefer a gentler version:

Can I not answer that please?

Depending on the answer, you can respond appropriately:

I just want to get to know you better.

Okay. I'm a rather private/introverted person. Now you know. =)

I am just curious.

Oh no need for you to know. Nothing interesting there.

Hopefully you get the idea. If at any point your interlocutor starts giving unreasonable responses to the above, you would have good reason to break off:

Why are you so anti-social?

If you think I am anti-social, that's your choice. (And just go off and do other things.)

Another rather different approach is the following universal response to any question you do not want to answer:


It may not work well when you are an adult, unless it fits your character. Children can use it very effectively though, because you can't force a child to reveal what he/she considers a secret.

Also, to address some other things you said, you don't have to go out of your way to try to talk to others about non-personal things, especially if out of the blue. You can just take the opportunity when it presents itself.

Furthermore, you should focus more on developing a good working relationship with the people who do understand your preference for privacy. Others can then more easily see what kind of interaction you are more comfortable with. The people who insist on pushing your boundaries are not worth worrying about; obnoxious people will never see themselves as that (until they stop being obnoxious).


Someone mentioned the difference between corporate culture and small businesses. I think also there can be national cultural differences about the separation between work and home life.

For example Germany has quite a strong culture of social interaction between workgroups but then small & medium enterprises (SMEs) are a big part of the German economy. For example construction workers will have a crate of beers in the van to drink after work or colleagues will go for a meal in the evening periodically.

In Finland all employers are obliged to take their staff for a day out once a year, must not be work related (no focus groups etc). So might be to a museum or the seaside.

In the UK my experience is that out of work socials tend to happen around events (end of year, person leaving, etc).

Perhaps there are other places where there is greater separation between work and home life, worth considering if you're ever tempted to work abroad.

Also, if you don't feel comfortable talking about your personal life for good reason, then perhaps the best approach is to think of other stuff which isn't work related which you can chat with colleagues about. Turn this into a positive. Finding non-work conversations to have with coworkers can make life a lot less awkward. sport, books, films, wildlife, are obvious subjects, politics & especially religion risky ground unless you already know your co-workers well enough to get into those subjects.


Try the other answers listed here, but if the way a certain person acts makes you uncomfortable with redirecting their questions perhaps too bluntly, or perhaps someone who tends to ask those questions approaches you and you want to forestall the issue, try asking them questions about their life. You don't really have to listen to their answers if you really don't care, but you'll be more likely to come across as more caring... even if you don't actually care. And if they ask an "And you?" question, just politely tell them you don't really like to talk about yourself.

And sometimes, people aren't really looking for a deep conversation. Sometimes they are, but don't automatically assume they are.

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