Inclusion or Intrusion?

What is an intrusive question?

We know those questions that leave us stunned or at least a little uncomfortable. They generally take one of two forms:

1. They seem inappropriately curious, or

2. They are driven by a moral judgment waiting to be confirmed.

With the former, the question seems too personal 😳.  With the latter, it seems the asker has already concluded there is only one “right” answer 🤨.

So what makes a question intrusive?

It depends.

▪️It’s contextual:  It depends on who is asking, where and why.

▪️It’s personal:  Is it our individual preference to share a lot about ourselves or are we more reserved?

▪️It’s cultural: How is privacy valued and construed in our cultures, and what topics do our cultures consider inappropriate to ask about? And,

▪️It’s changing. Social norms can and do change over time. What used to be taboo might be encouraged these days or vice versa.

That’s a lot to consider!  More than just an annoyance, determining what is too intrusive to ask or answer creates a lot of anxiety in our workplaces and other settings.

Why does it matter?

👉 We want to foster inclusion and get to know others, but we want to be respectful.

👉 We want to address important topics by learning from the experiences of others.

👉 But sometimes we ask with the intention of scolding or judging, blowing any chance of an honest answer or meaningful discussion at all.

If we are too cautious we may not progress, but too reckless and it could set us back.

So what can we do?

🧐 Pay attention to the person’s sharing style. Do they share a lot about their personal life or do they tend to be more private?

🧐 Know why you’re asking. Are you genuinely interested in getting to know the person?

In my experience, it’s harder to predict what will be too intrusive to ask than it is to decide how to respond.

And when on the receiving end of a probing question, I used to dodge and distract by gently steering the topic in another direction. Now I’m practicing asking “Why do you ask?” and explaining why the question surprised me. An honest curiosity about THAT on both sides can lead to better communication going forward.

❓How do you respond to a seemingly intrusive question?

•For those wondering whether privacy is increasingly under-appreciated lately, head over to The Case for Privacy for some reflections.

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