There’s usually one (or two) in every office … the coworker who enjoys hearing the sound of their own voice, while office mates run for cover. Some people don’t realize they are coined the office “Chatter Box,” and others simply don’t care. Here are a few tips for handling talkative coworkers:
Speak up. Often a pleasant reminder is all that may be necessary. “Sylvia, it’s nice to see you this morning, but I am really strapped for time on this project and don’t have a second to spare.” Keep your tone of voice friendly while delivering the news.
Offer an alternative. It’s not necessary to completely shut a coworker’s interactions down, simply delay them to a better time when you are not on task. “I’m interested in how this story ends, but I can’t give you my full attention right now. Will you be around at lunch to pick this back up?” If the answer is “No”, you can reply “Then, perhaps another time”, but now you have stood your ground and made it clear you are not available to talk.
Don’t encourage conversation. By chiming in, nodding your head, and asking open-ended questions, you are sending the message you are engaged and want to hear more. Steer clear from, “And then what happened?”, or “What did he say next?”, which opens the door to further time wasted.
Don’t give your coworker your full attention. Avoid turning your entire body around to communicate, offering direct eye contact and an alert posture to your chatty coworker. Stay focused on your computer, or consider standing up and stretching, perhaps grabbing a quick drink of water, escorting your coworker to the door as you take a short break.
Wear ear buds. Listening to your favorite music or wearing noise cancelling earphones to drown out the humming or mumbling of a talkative coworker may be all it takes to get you back on track. Check the office policy before plugging in, and ask your supervisor if he or she minds if you filter out miscellaneous office distractions.
Ask to be moved. Request a change of desk space the next time one becomes available. While it’s not your intention to hurt a coworker’s feelings, your primary job is to deliver quality work. Speak confidentially with your supervisor, explain the situation, and keep your words positive so you don’t appear as if you aren’t a team player.
Tell the truth. When it’s clear a coworker isn’t getting your not-so-subtle hints, directly address the issue by saying, “Alison, I really enjoy your company but I would prefer we chat at length another time.” It’s not necessary to apologize for setting up boundaries that allow you to work at an optimum level. Most often, when dealing with a chatty coworker, honesty is the best policy.