4

My aunt asks a lot of questions, some of which come across as invasive or non-constructive. One example is we were planning to meet at a mutual family members house and she kept asking me questions like which route I would take to get there. I eventually asked why and she said "just making conversation". For me this is slightly annoying because it was coming across as a logistical concern, not "just making conversation". Other examples, are my mom and dad recently went through a bad divorce and my aunt sometimes asks about his career etc. which I think she may turn into gossip.

Another question she frequently asks with for no apparent reason is "where are you?" or "are you home?". When I answer she usually quickly changes the subject or asks another question. This messes me up because if my plan changes or if I go out, then I'm not sure if I should inform her or if she was just asking for the fun of it. It could happen I waste time playing phone tag to tell her I'm no longer home when it didn't matter in the first place.

I would also add she's a very social person.

What's the best way to approach this? Should I tell her directly, try to deflect the questions or try to change the subject? Is it polite of me to just reply with "why do you ask?" I'm all for "just making conversation" but there's a time and a place for it and I find when talking on the phone it's not a great time. I’m introverted and it kind of stresses me out when people ask random questions.

How do I communicate to her that the copious amount of questions she asks are unwanted, and that she needs to consider what she's asking?

  • I edited to help clarify the question. If you disagree with my edit feel free to roll it back. – ElizB Aug 27 '18 at 23:33
9

It sounds like she might be sticking to the basics of conversation-making - ask a question, then the other person will have to speak. I wonder if she's attempting to bond with you, keep a social norm of light conversation, or is scared of being made uncomfortable by silence. Working out her true motivation will help you meet her goal without the expense of having to answer her quiz.

One way is to re-direct the conversation to herself. Ask her what she thinks. If she's asking about your route, you can say you're not sure yet and ask which way she would go. If she's asking about your father's career, you can say he's fine and ask after hers. This way all the pressure of talking is removed from you and she gets to feel highly valued.

If you're quite close, or become quite close, I think you could actually talk to her specifically about your issue of feeling stressed when asked many questions, but it's probably not necessary if she isn't heavily involved in your life.

  • Thanks for the idea. I don't think asking what she thinks is a solution and I've added more details to the question (sometimes she asks "where are you?" so "what do you think?" isn't really an answer). – eatlunchinpeace Aug 27 '18 at 21:04
  • I would write the same answer. It is not meant to ask question to question, or keep the same topic. The basic idea is that she is trying to start conversation based on your answers. Next time try you to ask question first, but something that can take some time answering/talking about that. Examples: What did you do today? What are your plans for the weekend?... I live in another country and my mom usually call me every day, so I feel you a lot. I learned this technique myself and for me it works really great. Sometimes I don't feel like I want to report everything... – lowselfesteemsucks Aug 28 '18 at 13:58
2

If she's "just making conversation" then you could make conversation, by giving her non-responsive answers. If she persists, thus making it clear that she's not just making conversations, you could walk away.

"Which route are you taking?"

"Don't worry, I've got it handled. Hey, have you tried the fruit salad?"

"No, but, are you taking I-5 or the coast road?"

"It's got watermelon, cantaloupe, and...I think it's kiwi."

"I was talking about your route."

"Or maybe pear. I'm going to ask Mom; now I'm curious. Great talking to you."

or

"How is your father coping with the divorce? Is it affecting his work?"

"Hey, how's your job at the nursery going?"

"I was talking about your father."

"I heard that landscaping is going through a boom lately. Is that true?"

"Your father. Is your mother harassing people at his work place?"

"I've been thinking of putting in some rosebushes. Hey, I need a drink. Great talking to you!"

This is sometimes referred to as the "bean dip method" or the "pass the bean dip" approach. The "original" post describing this method seems to be one by Joanne Ketch that is no longer available, but some other links:

http://livinganyway.com/wp/2015/02/06/the-bean-dip-response-companion-to-the-spoon-theory/

https://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/27/handling-the-grandparents-unsolicited-parenting-advice/

https://twolittlegrasshoppers.com/tag/the-bean-dip-method/

Now, if you're reasonably confident that the person is well-meaning, you could also try a little gentle direct pushback:

"Aunt Jane, is there a specific reason why you need to know these things? I'm getting a little overwhelmed by all the questions and would like to discuss something else"

If it's someone that you deal with all the time and you can be direct with, you could be direct:

"Joe, you ask a lot of questions. I know it's just who you are, but sometimes there are just too many. So from now on, I'm going to tell you when you're over quota on questions, OK?"

Which sets you up for:

"OK, so I-5. And then are you going to take exit 35 or 37? Do you think you'll go to In N Out or Chiles?"

"Joe. You're over quota."

This works well for me with my guy and close friends--when an issue is pre-discussed, with a key phrase ("over quota") ("no movie snark"), it's fairly easy to shut the issue down in the moment. My theory is that once the issue is understood once, ideally in a calm moment, it's easier to dredge that understanding up from memory.

  • 1
    Hi there, thanks for taking the time to answering! Right now, this looks more like a "try this" answer. Would you mind tell us if you ever tried such approach? If yes, how did it go? Why do you think this would be a good idea? Please give us some backup detail. Thanks :) – avazula Aug 27 '18 at 8:29
  • 1
    The main link for the redirect/bean dip approach seems, sadly, to be dead. (One of the many places that points to it is yet another stack exchange question. :)) But I added some links and a little expansion. – RamblingChicken Aug 27 '18 at 18:38
  • Thank you! I really appreciate specific phrases, though I know they're seen as off topic on this site. – eatlunchinpeace Aug 27 '18 at 21:02
1

You can try non-committal answers, followed by asking her a related question. For example, if she asks what route you are going to take, you can say you haven't decided yet. If she asks about your Dad's career, you can say you haven't heard any news, but maybe she should ask your Dad.

Then you can follow up with a question of your own that's related to hers: "When was the last time you visited cousin Mary (assuming you are meeting at Mary's)". Or "Speaking of careers, how is your work in real estate going?".

If she really just wants to chat, giving her a chance to talk about something she is interested in should get her going and stop the flow of questions.

If she's trying to be nosy, then you'll have to fall back on being non-committal till she gives up.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.