February 21, 2008

Getting your chatty colleagues to stop talking!

I received a great question from a reader (who asked me to keep her anonymous, due to the nature of the question ;)) recently:

How do you get the co-worker who shares your office to stop asking you questions all day long (about work and non-work stuff), constantly telling you stories about her family and friends and interrupting your work (without ruining a great working relationship and friendship at the same time)?

That sounds really awful, but definitely affects my productivity.


Sorry, I had to laugh. I have been in MANY situations like this too.

You can do things in a number of ways:

Direct and straightforward
Generally, my approach in life is to be direct, but in an office, I suggest trying another way first and only if, after numerous attempts, you don't see a change, then you should be direct.

Office politics is alive and kicking, people, and if we spend 8 hours a day there, we don't want to make it worse than it has to be, right?!

Clear but subtle
This is my preferred method.

I would pick my battles and only do this in the mornings, when I had a big and looming deadline, or at peak productive time.

Option 1

As you're walking into the office, say good morning to everybody and then announce to Loud Colleague, "Okay, Jane, today I have LOTS of work to do so I'm going to sit here quietly and not move my butt until this is all done."

Notice you haven't said anything about how they are keeping you out of your work.

This works really well because...
  1. it's all about you so the other person won't get defensive
  2. they feel like they're partnering with you to keep you working
Option 2
I've also just ignored the person and worked furiously and then when they say, "Marcia, are you listening?", I can honestly say, "sorry, no, I really have to focus so I just blocked out all sounds".

After a couple of these sessions, they start getting the hint that you can't work and talk all the time.

Option 3
Use your iPod at work and pull your hair behind your ears so the earphones are clearly visible :)

This is actually more or less acceptable in offices these days. I personally don't like it because I love the team vibe but in open-plan offices, you've got to do what you need to get things done.

Hope this helped!

How would you deal with this situation? Please share in the comments. (Suzanne, I'm really keen to hear from you)

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Org Junkie said...

This question totally cracked me up. I'm usually the girl doing all the talking LOL so I'm no help on this one :)

Suzanne said...

Like so many other people, I can so relate to the pain of the person who asked the question! I used to live in a "coffice" in a previous life and my lady neighbors would talk OVER the "coffice" walls! Talk about distracting, annoying, and down right rip your hair out! I am totally into the direct yet funny approach. Because of my personality, I actually simply said, "Diane, if you don't shut your beak for the next two hours I am going to shove an entire bundt cake down your throat so I can have some peace and quiet."

Now bear in mind, I can get away with that! :o) Not everyone can. Diane laughed her fanny off and was quiet the entire two hours. Deathly afraid that I would actually shove a cake down her size 0 throat. It works!

When times get tough and a situation sticky, I throw on the ear phones and pretend I don't hear anyone. (Most of the time, I don't so it works!)

You can also use the approach that misery loves company. If you come in spouting about how you are up to your eyeballs in a deadline your neighboring partners will completely understand and will probably figure it out on their own without the confrontation.

I have suggested to clients who aren't as tactless as myself to use a visual "Please do not disrupt" sign of some sort. Whether it's a plant on the edge of a desk, a colored piece of paper, a pretty picture, or something visual that will alert the people around you that you are indeed working. As long as you let everyone know around you that this is what it is for, it can work.

There is my two or three cents worth! xxx

Mmm, now for the cake!

Marcia said...

LOL - Suzanne, I am ROFL over here!

That's exactly why I wanted to hear from you :)

Um, yes, not many people can get away with that! It takes someone with your unique personality.

Laura, ha! Is that you? Really?!

I say loud "good mornings" to everyone, then get my important stuff done, THEN I'm ready to talk. That's usually after lunch so everyone is chatty anyway :)