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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

How to Shut Down an Overly Chatty Co-worker

I’m all for chatting with your colleagues. It builds rapport, which in turn builds your relationship and can make you a better collaborator (and more comfortable asking for professional advice). It can make your office a warmer, friendlier place to work, and it might even save your job. Those who can “make conversation with a wall” often excel in networking situations and connecting with intimidating clients.

But to be honest, they can also annoy the heck out of their co-workers.

So, what are you to do when you have a colleague who just loves to dive right into a daily gabfest rather than inquiring if it’s a good time? (Spoiler alert: It’s not.)

Read on for three things you can say to an overly chatty co-worker who just can’t seem to catch a hint.

1. “I know!”

“Ignore her and she’ll go away,” is terrible advice. So is, “look busy.”

I understand the thinking behind it: You’re afraid if you engage, you’ll encourage your colleague to linger. Sure, if you ask tons of questions and beg your co-worker to elaborate, she’ll hang around and continue the conversation. But if she regularly stops by your desk to chat, odds are she’s trying to connect with you. And dismissing her will make her think she needs to try harder (read: stop back again after lunch).

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.) By occasionally listening to this colleague, you’ll show you’re interested in connecting—but can also pick and choose when you’ll make time to visit.

2. “Let’s discuss this another time.”

Sometimes you have a few minutes for a gabfest, but instead of your co-worker discussing the usual (Monday Night Football, vacation plans—whatever it may be), she starts telling you about her date last night. Yes, companies have sexual harassment trainings about what should and shouldn’t be a topic of discussion, but there’s always a gray area—think: you discussed Kim Kardashian’s Paper magazine cover yesterday but don’t necessarily want to hear a play-by-play of date night.

While you should communicate that this isn’t office conversation, there are ways to do it without coming off like a chaperone saying, “That’s not appropriate.”

If this is a colleague who is also your friend, you can correct her in an equally chatty way. Try this: “Jill, I totally want to hear this story—can we do it over cocktails instead of in earshot of the whole office?”

If you’re not close with this person, acknowledge the gray area as you set boundaries, and then quickly change the subject. “You know—I know we discussed celebrities and nudity the other day, but I’d rather not talk about romantic lives in the office. In other news, did you see Prince George’s Christmas photo?”

This way you can exchange a few pleasantries and move on.

3. “I’m not very chatty.”

The two phrases above stem from the same general advice that the best way to handle a chatty colleague is to chat with him a bit, and then go about your work. (Because the payoff you get by being friendly and building strong relationships can be worth a few minutes out of your day.)

But this advice doesn’t always work. Sometimes, once the floodgates have opened, it’s impossible to close them. So what you’re looking for is a kind, professional way to shut your co-worker down—to stop the conversation before it starts.

In this case, take the escape hatch approach and say something along the lines of, “You know—I’m not very chatty.” (It’s the office version of the classic, “It’s not you; it’s me.”) If he’s always talking about The Voice, tell him you’re not big on TV. Or tell her you have trouble refocusing if you step outside of a “work mindset,” so you’d prefer not to socialize in the office. It won’t win you any Miss Congeniality prizes, but it should get your colleague to stop bothering you.

Still can’t a catch a break? If your requests for less banter fall on deaf ears and your colleague is a constant distraction, it’s time to bring the matter to the attention of HR or your supervisor. If your co-worker is causing you this level of distress, odds are others find her to be a nuisance as well. Someone should talk to her about reining it in for the sake of her professional development.

Part of being successful is building relationships, balancing your needs with the needs of others, and navigating different personalities and work styles. You have to deal with all of these issues when working with an extra chatty colleague. So visit on occasion, and draw boundaries the rest of the time.

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