Open-plan offices have unleashed many horrors, but perhaps none are as difficult to cope with as the chatty coworker.
In the olden days, you might have had an office with a door. Now, you probably spend the bulk of your workday toiling away, elbow-to-elbow with your colleagues in one big room. That’s great for collaboration and team-building — and not so great when it comes to getting work done, uninterrupted.
But of course, you can’t be rude. Being part of a team means getting along, even when one of you isn’t very good at picking up on social cues. When you find yourself in this situation, you have a few options for keeping the peace … while maintaining some peace and quiet.
1. Take the Direct Approach
If you’re a polite person — and you are, or you wouldn’t bother looking for advice on dealing tactfully with your motormouthed colleague — you might prefer to deal with problems in a non-confrontational manner. There’s nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that it requires other people to pay attention to your signals.
Not everyone is intuitive enough to register body language. Worse, some people just don’t care. Those folks want to talk and they’re going to talk, dammit, and no amount of squirming or ignoring them will put them off their quest.
When you’re dealing with a determined talker, the only thing to do is to be direct. Interrupt if you have to. That’s rude in conversation, but not during a monologue you didn’t ask to hear.
You can still be polite by framing the problem as one that you share, e.g., “Ugh, I’m up to my eyeballs in this project we’re working on, and I want to get you those reports by EOD. Can I catch up with you later?”
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2. Connect When Appropriate
At The Muse, Sara McCord points out that a coworker who routinely stops by your desk to chat may not be thoughtlessly chewing up your time. She may be trying to connect with you. If so, dismissing her will only strengthen her resolve.
So instead, McCord recommends connecting selectively:
So, if you have a minute, stop what you’re doing, focus on her, and make a relevant, declarative statement. “Oh wow—I can’t believe it took you 20 minutes to get through the line at Starbucks!”
Then, when she stops by later, you can smile and say that you are really slammed and don’t have any more time to chat today. (Busy when she stops by the first time? Reverse your reactions.)
That way, you’re protecting your time, but not missing out on a chance to forge a stronger connection with a colleague.
3. Plan Your Escape
If nothing else works, it might be time to take your most pressing tasks out of the open office and into a more private workspace. That could mean booking a small conference room or hiding out in an empty office. It could mean lobbying for the right to work from home on a regular basis and using that telecommuting time to tackle heads-down work.
If you do go the telecommuting route, just remember that office workers never truly disconnected these days. If possible, answer your email on a schedule rather than as it comes in, and use an away message for Slack and other messaging applications, so that people know you’re not in a chatting zone.
Then, take advantage of your time away and get as much done as humanly possible while your coworker can’t engage with you in person.
Tell Us What You Think
How do you deal with chatty coworkers at the office? We want to hear from you. Share your tips in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.