When it comes to relationships, there’s a difference between nosey people and those who are genuinely curious about others. Avoid the former and learn how to become the latter. It’s what today’s episode is all about.

The best Father's Day gift for 2022

A few weeks ago in the episode about The Best Father’s Day gift for 2022, I mentioned that this best gift is to ask your father questions about his life. And if you have a son who’s a father, ask him questions about his life. It’s one of the best gifts you can give anyone. Because we don’t know people nearly as well as we think we do. If you missed that show you can find it at  john certalic.com/162.

I’ve given lots of talks in workshops on how asking people questions can deepen relationships. But there’s always an issue that someone in the audience invariably brings up. I’m going to deal with this issue in today’s show.

And if you hang around to the end I’ll also give you a useful tip on how to answer an awkward question that comes out of nowhere that puts you ill at ease. But before we get into all this here’s Carol:

Welcome to You Were Made for This. If you find yourself wanting more from your relationships, you’ve come to the right place. Here you’ll discover practical principles you can use to experience the life-giving relationships you were made for. And now, here is your host, John Certalic.

Hey, thank you, Carol. And hello everyone! I’m glad you’ve joined us today for episode 165, “Nosey People Weaken Relationships; Curious People Strengthen Them.“ If you’re new to the podcast and like what you hear, I encourage you to follow the show by going to my website, JohnCertalic.com, and then click on the “follow” or “subscribe” button.

Why don’t we ask meaningful questions of each other?

I’ve mentioned in a number of episodes before the powerful impact asking questions of each other has in drawing people closer together. There’s also a downside to question asking, which I’ve also discussed, but we won’t get into that today.

Instead, I am going to talk about an objection I often hear about asking questions of people. I first talked about it in episode 63.

We’re reluctant to ask meaningful questions of each other, for fear of being perceived as “nosey.” I find this reason for our lack of curiosity to be most interesting to me. As I mentioned before, in workshops I give on this subject, invariably someone will ask something along the lines of: “But if I ask questions of people close to me, won’t they think I’m just being nosey? I was always taught ‘If someone wants you to know something about them, they will tell you.’”

A culture of secrets

This is one of those “exception” questions that often come up in workshops. It’s usually from someone in the crowd who disagrees with what the presenter is saying, or who wants to hijack the direction the speaker is taking with his or her own agenda. Or it’s someone who just loves to hear himself talk.

The “I have always believed if people wanted you to know they’d tell you” comment reveals a person who often comes from a background or culture of secrets. They hold things close to the vest. Their theme song is we need to be private, and we mustn’t invade the privacy of others. You find this dynamic in people who grew up in families where there was addiction, sexual abuse, or other dysfunctions.

All of this raises the question of what’s the difference between nosey people and those genuinely curious about others? I posted this question on Facebook a few years ago and here are a few answers I received:

Listener responses

Rita. Curious people genuinely empathize with others and what they learn about them. They delight in, rejoice over, wonder further, grieve with…in order to grow deeper in a relationship. Nosiness satisfies a fleshly yearning to know more, not to know better.

Joan. I think nosey people ask questions about situations or things that have happened, like in the neighborhood or even in family situations that they need to know so they can then pass it on and gossip. I think a genuinely curious person wants to know about you, your feelings, and situations that are true to the core of your being. They want to make sure you are ok and demonstrate care and concern out of love. A curious person will share of themselves and maybe share a situation that they themselves have experienced. Curious is more heart-centered, nosey is more informational.

Rob. I cannot add much to the above. I always referred to myself as being nosey when I asked people questions. Recently I was corrected by someone who told me I was curious and should use that word. I think that is true because I do not just want information but want to know something about that person. People are interesting and we do like to talk about ourselves. At least I do!

Other reasons we may not ask meaningful questions of others

There is an element of culture and personality to this issue, too. Some cultures around the world are very private, and there are others where personal privacy is non-existent. Personality is part of it too. I’ve found that the more extroverted among us don’t even think about what questions to ask others. While the introverted, think of questions but are too shy to ask them. It's hard for them to be nosey.

Here are a few more of my thoughts on the differences between nosey and curious:

Am I being nosey or curious?
  • Nosey people don’t enrich your life. Curious people do.
  • Nosey is the cousin of gossip. They are close relatives.
  • Nosey people ask so they can evaluate others and compare. Curious people ask to understand.
    Curiosity requires something of us. Nosiness doesn’t.
  • Being nosey separates us. Curiosity brings us together.
  • Nosey people assume there is a deeper relationship than actually exists
  • Nosey people often use information they gain from you against you. Curious people use information they get from you for you.
  • Finally, I’ve come to the conclusion that our fear of being nosey in our relationships is usually just a cop-out. Just an excuse to get us off the hook from failing to honor people by wanting to understand what life is like for them.
Here are 6 benefits of being curious enough to ask people questions about themselves
  1. It gets us out of our self-focused life to see the wonder of what God has created in the life of another. It draws us closer to God as we better understand our brothers and sisters created in his image. For when we see how much God loves someone else, warts and all, it makes us appreciate God all the more.
  2. Asking questions of others opens doors for deeper connections with them.
  3. It’s a great remedy for depression and loneliness.
  4. When we understand people better because of how they answer our questions, it causes us to be grateful for what we have, that others do not.
  5. Being curious enough to ask people questions draws out the experience and wisdom from the quiet introverts among us.
  6. We can learn from other people’s mistakes when we understand them better.
So what does all this mean for YOU?

Two things.

Question your questions. Are you asking them to better understand people and deepen your relationship with them? Or are you asking questions just to be nosey?

Secondly, don’t let your fear of being nosey hold you back from asking a meaningful question of a friend. Become more curious about the important people in your life. It will draw you closer to them.

Here’s the main takeaway I hope you remember from today’s episode

Being nosey weakens a relationship, being curious strengthens it.

For added measure, I’ll throw in this related quote from Ruth Haley Barton

Sometimes the questions we ask are more important than the answers we think we know.

Final takeaway: How to answer a question that catches you off guard

Have you ever been caught off guard by a question someone asks you? A question that surprises you, puts you on the defensive, or in some way is inappropriate? Here’s an effective way you can respond.

Simply ask the questioner, “Why do you ask?” It will take the spot light off you and shine it back on the other person. It will buy you time in trying to figure out where the conversation is going so you can decide if you want to go there.

Answer a question with a question. Jesus did it all the time.


In closing, I’d love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode.

And I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, enough to ask meaningful questions of people you want to understand better.

For when you do, it will help you experience the joy of relationships God intends for you. Because after all, You Were Made for This.

Well, that’s it for today. Please consider telling others about this podcast if you think it would be interesting and helpful to them. And don’t forget to spread a little relational sunshine around the people you meet this week. Spark some joy for them. And I’ll see you again next time.

Related episodes you may want to listen to

063: Six Reasons Why We’re not More Curious About People, and What We’re Missing as a Result

139: Why Should I Listen to This Podcast?

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