I work in an NGO in India, and I am Indian. To do any research or interact with people from different communities, you need to gel up with them so that they can feel comfortable.

My target group is rural people with conventional mindsets. In their community it's normal to ask people personal questions like "what is your caste?" and "why aren't you married yet?", and they ask me these questions, which I am uncomfortable answering. How can I answer these questions in a genuine and polite way? I have to have to answer in order to build trust.

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    Is there a problem with answering the questions truthfully? – Philip Kendall May 29 '17 at 14:59
  • Actually these are personal as well as sensitive issues. That is what concerns me. – Kumari Shradha May 29 '17 at 15:02
  • Since your job seems to require asking them personal questions. You really can't hold back from answering a few of theirs. If they ask something you'd prefer not to answer try and steer the conversation back to why you are there. – Snowlockk May 29 '17 at 15:04
  • Yes, this can be a possibility. – Kumari Shradha May 29 '17 at 15:22
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    Its not abhorrent, rather here the case is a bit different. Your identity may sometime let people feel uncomfortable, unable to connect with you, and hence they may not open up completely with you affecting your work objective (uncomfortable in both the senses, either you stand above or below the social hierarchy). – Kumari Shradha May 29 '17 at 15:48

Whenever your job involves dealing with the public there is a risk of questions about your personal life. If you are not in a position where trust is inherent (doctor, civic official, etc) it is likely that they will try to build trust and rapport by learning about you.

If the common questions about you will fail to build rapport due to different values or factors outside of your control (race, caste, religion, etc) there are two big things you can do. Prevent the question and deflect the question.

To prevent the questions, presenting a powerful image helps. If you meet the prime minister or head of a prestigious hospital you are unlikely to start probing them with personal questions as they are respectable but not relatable. The catch for you is I don't know if this will run directly contrary to your development work, if you need to be relatable to these people to do your job. To present a powerful image, dress well, be well groomed, stand tall, speak clearly and confidently.

Once the question is asked you have to be ready to divert it. If the question is asked in a hinting way rather than directly, answer a similar point that wouldn't harm rapport with these people. eg If they ask about your wedding talk about all the wonderful weddings your family has had and any quirky wedding traditions in the family. One key point to this is make the answer long so that they forget that you didn't actually answer their question. With some practice you can come up with a story that will come back around to the reason why you are in the village. This can take some practice but if you ever watch political debates you will see great examples of answers seeming like they answer the question but quickly divert to a different point entirely.

  • Prevent and deflect mechanism,yes, will be helpful! – Kumari Shradha May 29 '17 at 16:01
  • "make the answer long so that they forget that you didn't actually answer their question." Great suggestion! I do this all the time to avoid uncomfortable questions! – Vylix May 29 '17 at 19:56

"Can anyone help me answer these questions in a genuine and polite way?"

Only you can answer. Figure out what your answer is, write it down, read it out to a mirror (to yourself); rehearse your answer.

Prepare a counter-question and follow-up; the same question or one more difficult.

Expect some people to not let you leap out of your caste and exceed theirs as that is not your (the people's) way.

You could answer truthfully that such things have no affect on the good service you will provide to each and every one of them. (None of your business/concern). Make that the new good answer.

  • I hope you understand that is not ONE idea but a few different ideas, one or more you might want to consider. You don't want to try all those different ideas on one person in one conversation. Decide what you feel most comfortable with. Some areas and people are very strict and you "must", others only want to know that things will be OK for them. It is like trying to say you MUST be of a certain height, gender or religion, you must be fat, or you are no good for anything. If you want to promote those ideas it's your choice, if you want to say skin color or caste will not affect things do so. – Rob May 31 '17 at 16:55

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