How to Escape the Office Chatterbox
Is the office chatterbox monopolizing your time and keeping you from completing your work? This frustrating person has a habit of talking to everyone about everything, chatting the day away as a means to procrastinate and avoid doing his or her own work. He may interrupt you and your co-workers throughout the workday, diminishing your own productivity. When not paying attention to the interruption and dropping subtle hints don't seem to work, it may be time to employ some more aggressive methods to restore the peace and quiet in your workspace.
Excuse yourself from the conversation.Let the chatterbox know that you are busy and have work to do. While this should seem obvious to most people in a work environment, people who are constantly interrupting tend to be attention seekers and procrastinators. You will need to spell it out to the person that you are not available for a chat.
- Explain that you are preparing for an important meeting, waiting for a phone call or under deadline pressure. It may help to specify a time by saying, “I have to get this memo out by 10:00, let’s catch up another time.”
Call for help.If necessary, pick up the phone and start dialing. If your talkative co-worker attempts to start or continue a conversation, hold up your hand or point to the phone to make it clear that you are making an important call.
Set boundaries.When you feel discomfort, resentment, or guilt about something, it is a clear sign that it is time to set or enforce personal boundaries. There are only so many hours in the workday, and in order to be successful in your career and complete your work, you will need to be assertive in saying no to unnecessary interruptions.
- Set aside pleasantries, but make sure that you behave professionally. Do not encourage chatter by asking questions or showing interest in what the talkative individual is saying.
- Saying no to pushy and aggressive people can be difficult if you tend to be a people pleaser. Start by practicing setting boundaries with your friends and family, and you will gradually become more comfortable drawing a line in the sand with your coworkers.
Be vague.You can avoid a long, unwanted conversation with someone by being noncommittal and uninteresting. Don’t ask too many questions, and keep your responses short. Answer all work-related questions quickly, doing your best to stick to the topic.
Using Body Language Cues
Bury yourself in your work.By keeping piles of papers stacked on your desk, multiple spreadsheets and emails open on your computer, and a mile-long to-do list clearly visible in your workspace, you can create a aura of busyness that might help discourage would-be interruptions.
- Continue working and do not make eye contact. Keeping your eyes fixed on your computer monitor, continue to read, open mail, or type when the chatterbox approaches your desk. She may notice that you are busy working and quietly walk away.
Put a headset on.In modern offices that may no longer have doors or even cubical walls to give workers any sense of privacy, headphones may be the only remaining way to create any sense of solitude in the office.The chatterbox will not know whether you have the headphones turned on or off, and this may discourage visits and conversation.
- If you choose to turn the headphones on, listening to relaxing music may help you better concentrate in a noisy office as well as escape the unwanted exchange.
- If the chatterbox doesn’t take the hint and talks to you anyway, take off the headphones and act surprised at the interruption, as if you were actively listening to something important.
Glance at your watch frequently.The gesture should communicate that you have to somewhere important to be, or that you are acutely aware of the time. It may also help to set an alarm on your watch or phone at a time that the chatterbox usually interrupts you, such as right before lunch.
- If the person still doesn’t take the hint, you can say “I’m sorry, but I’m running late for an appointment.” or “Oh is it already 2:30? I need to catch up on some work.”
Stand up for yourself.If nothing else seems to be working, try standing up at your workstation, so that the person interrupting you is suddenly at eye level rather than standing above you. This sudden switch may make the person uncomfortable, and will send a signal to them that the conversation is over.
Having Someplace to Be
Walk quickly through the office.Most colleagues will not stop you if you appear to be on a mission or in a hurry to get somewhere. If you are intercepted, try saying; “do you know which conference room the meeting is in?”
Run to the restroom.Get out of chatting by saying that you are on your way for a quick bathroom break. Hopefully no one will be so rude as to question you on that!
Eat a snack.Let the chatterbox know that you are heading to the break room for a quick cup of coffee, tea or a snack anytime she catches you off guard in the hallway. If she insists on joining you in the break room, you can chat for as long as it takes to prepare your cup of coffee, and then say “I really must get back to it.”
Enlist help from another coworker.Look for a colleague and immediately tell the chatterer that you have to speak with that person about an urgent matter. If no one else is around, you can say “have you seen Jim? I need to meet with him about this project that’s due within the hour”, and then purposefully rush off toward Jim’s office.
Take a break.If the office magpie is keeping you from getting any work done, stop stressing out about it and give yourself a break. Tell your coworker that you have to be somewhere important at a certain time. There’s no need to explain that you are simply going for a walk, just hurry out the door, and don’t return to your desk until the coast is clear.
Being a Model Employee
Delegate a task to the chatterbox.Since the person seems to have so much extra time on their hands, take advantage of the situation, and request their expertise on a project that you’ve been putting off. Once the bothersome person realizes that you are going to assign extra responsibilities to him anytime he talks to you, he will more than likely find another person to pester. Or, you may be able to convince him to help you with a task. Either way, it’s a win for you!
Flatter the chatterer.It’s true that you can catch more flies with honey. Try telling the person interrupting you that you’re so glad they stopped by because you have a work problem for which you’re having trouble finding a solution. Tell them that you value their skills, and are confident that they can solve the problem for you. Then, hopefully they will hurry off to prove you right!
Discuss the problem with your manager.After doing your best to handle the matter yourself, be discreet and act professionally when speaking with your boss about the problem. You may not be the first to come to your boss about the person’s behavior, and he needs to know about anything that is negatively affecting your productivity.
- Consider mentioning to your boss that the chatty person seems to have some extra time on their hands, and recommending them for a specific project. That way, the next time the chatterbox bothers you, you can ask them how the project is going and emphasize that it must be keeping them very busy.
Arrive at work early.By being the first person to arrive in the morning, you can gain precious quiet time without any interruptions. Your boss might notice your commitment to your work, and reward your productivity with a raise or promotion. The office chatterbox won’t seem like as much of a bother when you know you are already on track to meet your deadline.
- Staying late at work after everyone else leaves might also be a good option to boost your productivity without being interrupted by coworkers.
- Handle the situation with the chatterbox early on before production suffers. It is difficult to concentrate and work when co-workers continually talk too much.
- Try "phone a friend". Ask friends to help you out, that when you email or text the word "help" to them, they are to call you on your phone with a fictitious work question. The chatterbox will assume when you type or text that you're multi-tasking. Alternate the friend you choose each time, or the chatterbox might catch on. When the phone rings, say "Oh I have to take this...". Hopefully that's enough for the chatterbox to leave. If not, pretend to have a long conversation or an urgent errand to end the chatting.
- Never respond in anger or be rude to the chatty person. Always take the high ground because your behavior will ultimately reflect on you, no matter how annoying or rude the person interrupting you may be. Try to remain professional at all times when dealing with a problem coworker.
- Avoid drama. Never discuss the chatterbox and her bad behavior with co-workers. This will not accomplish anything, and it will make you look bad.
- Be careful that you are not avoiding all conversations at work. In-person conversations with co-workers teach us patience and allow for collaboration on projects and sharing of ideas.
Sources and Citations
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