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Few work experiences can feel more draining than dealing with the office chatterbox, whose lack of verbal restraint makes meetings unproductive, and steals time from pressing projects. For co-workers, the major goal is developing a verbal response that shuts such conversations down, without appearing impolite. For managers and supervisors, the challenge is to work out some guidelines before a major meeting comes up, and sticking by them whenever a participant's behavior threatens to disrupt the proceedings.
Analyze the Reasons
In responding to chatty co-workers, it's helpful to understand the reasons behind the behavior, psychologist Jennifer Newman advises, in a "Vancouver Sun" column. The chatty employee may want approval, feel uncomfortable in dealing with a quiet work environment, or wish to be seen as an expert. In other cases, the chatting is simply a compulsive behavior. Knowing the motivations will help in framing an appropriate response when you're cornered in the break room, or the office.
Close Conversations Quickly
The overriding rule in any encounter with a talkative co-worker is to be polite, but firm. As Newman notes, you don't want to allow an opening to continue unproductive chatter. For example, if you're approached in a break room, just say that you have an urgent deadline, and walk away. Follow the same verbal script when a co-worker stops in your office. Put your head down, and get back to work. Emphasize that you can talk later when your schedule allows.
Focus Your Meetings
Managers must be especially conscious of preventing meetings from turning into gabfests. A good way to accomplish this goal is outlining some ground rules at the start, according to an overview posted by Seahawk Associates. Let participants know that only one person may talk at a time, no sidebar conversations are allowed, and all discussions must follow a prearranged agenda. Post the rules in a visible area, and start on time, which reminds everyone involved that business is the top priority.
Keep Meetings On Track
Sometimes, it's necessary to gently, but forcefully, remind participants when their actions threaten to sidetrack a meeting. For example, when two people start a sidebar conversation, tell them to continue it during the break, suggest Seahawk's guidelines. If necessary, take disruptive employees aside, and ask them to follow the posted rules. If the boss is the chatterbox, Newman recommends setting cell phone alarms to ring at a prearranged point, such as 10 minutes before the meeting is supposed to end.
Sometimes, the boss has to act when he notices a chatty employee tying up his co-workers' time. The best response is to call a meeting, and let the worker know that his behavior is distracting everyone, according to the Boston.com website. A more forceful reminder is required for chattiness that persists or resurfaces. Limit non-work-related conversations to lunch hours and break periods, and remind the employee that lack of improvement could bring serious consequences, including dismissal.
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Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.