- Could you not? What to do when chatty coworkers won’t leave you alone.
- We’re not saying ignore the chatty people — because a little bit of friendly collaboration makes for a more positive and constructive workplace environment.
- But, there’s only so much you can handle before you need to get back to work. So here are five ways to deal with chatty coworkers without harming workplace dynamics or relationships.
Whether you work from your company’s office, a coffee shop, or a coworking space, chances are you have had to deal with a chatty coworker at some point during your career. Chatty coworkers are everywhere, and while there’s nothing wrong with a bit of chit chat here and there, there are times during the work day that you just want to be left alone to focus.
While you may be tempted to completely ignore chatty coworkers, this strategy is generally not recommended for a few reasons. For starters, it’s important for coworkers to bond and mingle with one another; it can improve workplace relationships and enhance company culture, which leads to an overall more positive workplace experience.
Also, you don’t want to be that person. You know — the unapproachable coworker who’s grumpy or standoff-ish. Last but not least, having a good relationship with coworkers means you will be better able to collaborate with one another, which can improve your job skills, and lead to better work outcomes.
But, there’s only so much workplace chit chat you can handle on a daily or weekly basis. Besides (and surprisingly) people are often oblivious to the fact that it’s not a good time to interrupt you and chat.
So, what can you do? Below are five effective strategies you can use to deal with chatty coworkers without harming workplace dynamics or your relationships.
1. Wear headphones
Cubicles went down, but only to give way to open offices that can be distracting and disrupting. On the bright side, open offices normalized the use of headphones in the workplace and became the universal symbol for “don’t bother me, I’m busy.”
Headphones are a great way to prevent people from reaching out and interrupting you while you’re working, but if you work in open environments that tend to be on the noisy side, they are great for blocking out noise, which can better help you concentrate.
Speaking to Allwork.Space, Lucas Seyhun, co-founder of The Farm in New York, said that “it [wearing headphones] acts as a layer of protection. People often wear headphones to say ‘don’t interact with me for the time being’. In open coworking spaces you are vulnerable to distraction, it can come from anywhere. Headphones facilitate focus work.”
However, you must be mindful not to wear headphones all day, every day. Today’s workplaces and work itself are about information and research exchange, as well as idea generation.
In Anne Kreamer’s words, former Executive Vice President, Worldwide Creative Director, for Nickelodeon and Nick at Nite, wearing headphones might lead to you missing out on important details and the “collective high” of office life. She argues that the more one participates in the ambient, informal life of the office, the more committed one becomes to the work of the company.
2. If coworkers want to talk about work-related issues, schedule a meeting
We know everyone hates meetings, but they are a necessary evil. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long meeting, but consider scheduling a 20-30 minute meeting with your coworker. Whether they want to just go over the details of a project or review a presentation, by scheduling a meeting with them you can prevent future “drop-ins” in your work area and avoid conversations that can easily get off-topic.
Depending on the topic your coworker wants to discuss, consider renting out a meeting room or simply using a huddle space or break room area within your workplace. If they need help brainstorming ideas, you could even suggest a walking meeting. Even if they say that they just need to discuss a quick matter that doesn’t warrant a meeting, insist that you set apart some time for it, otherwise they will be encouraged to reach out whenever it is convenient for them (and not necessarily for you).
3. If it’s not work-related, propose grabbing lunch or coffee to chat
This is an effective strategy especially if you have a close relationship with your chatty coworker. In the hopes of bonding with you, coworkers may want to share details of their kid’s birthday, the date they had last night, or to discuss ideas for family activities.
Either way, if you’re not free to talk when they reach out, you should suggest grabbing lunch or coffee that day or some other day that week. This strategy sends out the message that you are interested in what they have to say, but that you’re busy with work. If it’s a common issue with this particular coworker and you feel inclined to, you could even suggest a weekly or monthly lunch with them to “catch up”.
4. Use an innocent white lie
Sometimes you’re not free to chat and sometimes you don’t feel like it. Both are acceptable and understandable. There are instances when it’s best to tell a white lie.
For example, if someone catches you while you’re getting coffee or water and they seem to be in a chatty mood, simply say “I have a call in five minutes” or “I have to finish a report I just started and I don’t want to lose the flow I’ve had.”
Bear in mind that if you tell a white lie, you need to make sure that it is something that you can easily do (if you say you have a call, put on some headphones or head into the phone booth), otherwise your coworkers will notice that you were just trying to ‘get rid of them.’
Also, don’t use white lies all the time as people will easily catch on. These should be reserved for times when it’s harder for you to get out of a chit chat situation (when the lunch break is over and people keep talking, or when you’re grabbing your morning coffee).
5. Be honest (but be polite)
If all things fail and the chatty coworker continues to interrupt your day in and day out, then the best possible strategy is for you to be honest with them. But keep it nice and friendly.
Sometimes people need more direct cues to understand what you’re trying to convey. If someone keeps dropping by or reaching out to you when you are clearly busy, then all you need to do is say something along the lines of “this is not the best time for me to chat” or “I don’t feel particularly chatty today.”
The key here is to use a friendly tone, even if you are being stern. You could also suggest that you will reach out to them when you have more time.