How to Handle a Talkative Coworker
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If the office chatterbox drives you crazy, you're not alone. Forty-five percent of 848 workers surveyed in April 2014 by the Lee Hecht Harrison consulting firm regarded talkative co-workers as the biggest workplace distraction. However, it's possible to quiet chatty colleagues and still spare their feelings. The best approaches combine subtle yet assertive reminders of your needs -- including timely completion of tasks -- without personalizing the behavior that you hope to curb.
Assess the Behavior
In dealing with talkative co-workers, it's important to understand why the situation is happening. According to "The Vancouver Sun," many office chatterers don't realize their negative effect on the work environment because they cannot read social cues. Other common causes include the desire for approval or greater recognition. If you're seeing this behavior for the first time, keep your initial response polite. Just say, "I'm sorry, but I need to get my work done, so let's talk later."
Exit the Situation
If a co-worker ignores the hints you're dropping, try using a little body language to reinforce your position. Continuing to work and avoiding eye contact are two obvious ways to signal it's time to stop talking, according to "Business Insider." If that response doesn't work, separate yourself from the situation by making a phone call or hitting the restroom. Otherwise, you risk dragging out a conversation that robs you of time to meet deadlines.
Follow Up Later
You don't have to talk right away when a co-worker expects it, but you need not ignore him, either. For best results, "Business Insider" recommends approaching chatty co-workers during breaks or downtime periods. Strike up brief conversations as you pause for coffee or snacks, which shows that you're not shunning the other person. This approach may satisfy the chatterbox who genuinely cares for others but oversteps his conversational bounds.
Redirect the Conversation
Talkative behavior often masks a desire to demonstrate self-importance, according to an October 2014 column by "The Washington Post" advice columnist Dr. Andrea Bonior. When a co-worker holds forth about himself in the middle of an important work conversation you are having with other colleagues, respond with a simple declarative statement explaining why the behavior isn't acceptable. Say something like, "When you interrupt with your stories, it shows disrespect for others -- but I'm not sure you realize it." To drive the point home, always return to the original topic you and your co-workers were discussing.
Speak Up When It's Necessary
Sometimes, a chatty co-worker insists on prolonging the conversation, no matter how many verbal or nonverbal cues you provide to the contrary. If that's the case, "U.S. News & World Report" career columnist Allison Green recommends that you respond in a professional yet firm manner. In these situations, it's enough to say, "I'm sorry, but I'm on deadline right now." If chatter continues, cut in with a simple assertive statement, such as, "I'm getting back to work now."
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.