How to Deal With Talkers in the Workplace

They don’t come with “off” switches, so talkers must be trained.

They don’t come with “off” switches, so talkers must be trained.

Many workplace surveys report that talkative coworkers pose the greatest human challenge of all, creating an even bigger annoyance than lazy or boot-licking coworkers. Talkers come in many garden varieties: some can’t tear themselves away from your office or cubicle, some ramble incessantly on their cell phones and others drown out others by monopolizing conversations. While nobody wants to alienate a coworker, it pays to learn some coping skills until you land upon the technique that works best for your particular Gabby Tabby.

Try the direct approach first, and interrupt politely if you have to. You might say, for example: “Look, now is really a bad time for me to talk. I’m on deadline and must get back to work.”

Drown out a talkative coworker by playing soft music from a radio or streaming it from your computer. Focus on this background noise rather than the talkative coworker.

Make a polite excuse to break away from the talker under the guise of having to make a phone call, going to the restroom or taking a quick power walk. This ruse works especially well in a group, where your absence will not be as noticeable.

Take a page out of the playbook of kindergarten teachers and hang a “Quiet Zone” sign on the entrance to your office or cubicle. More tactful than a “Do not disturb" sign, this sign may not deter a coworker who is hell-bent on talking. In this case, point to the sign and say, sincerely, “You know, I put that sign there for a reason; I really need quiet time to do my job as well as I possibly can.”

Assimilate the talker to the notion that while socializing at work can help strengthen relationships, certain times are more appropriate than others. Suggest that you meet the talker at lunchtime, after work or “for five or 10 minutes” during an afternoon eye strain break.

Make a special effort to engage the chatty co-worker in brief exchanges, such as when you enter or leave the building, at lunch or at the vending machine. Chances are, your chatty coworker likes you and, if the feeling is mutual, you can “train” her over time to your style of workplace relations.

Tip

  • Prepare yourself for the possibility that the talkative coworker may get the hint and confront you at some point with a direct question, such as, “Do you think I talk too much?” With tact, acknowledge that some times are better than others for you to talk during the day. People schedule meetings; learn to schedule your socializing time, too.
 

About the Author

With education, health care and small business marketing as her core interests, M.T. Wroblewski has penned pieces for Woman's Day, Family Circle, Ladies Home Journal and many newspapers and magazines. She holds a master's degree in journalism from Northern Illinois University.

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