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Career Monday: A Fool-Proof Formula for Dealing with Coworkers Who Talk Too Much

Seven out the top 10 productivity killers involve too much socializing, according to a workplace survey by CareerBuilder. Maybe it’s the receptionist who describes her new diet each time you pass through the lobby, the manager who dominates weekly staff meetings, or the sales rep who stops by your cubicle for an hour at a time.

All that chatting can pose a threat to your performance and peace of mind. How can you be direct enough to set boundaries, and tactful enough to avoid hurt feelings? Try these tips for balancing socializing and productivity.

Dealing with Talkative Coworkers in General

Sometimes you need to focus on the bottom line. As much as you like your coworkers, you have the right to set appropriate boundaries when your performance is affected or you’re taking work home because it’s the only place you can avoid interruptions.

1. Focus on business. Let others know that you’re busy. Explain that you’re concerned about missing goals or deadlines. Be clear about how your work is being impacted.

2. Learn to compromise. You can make it easier to raise the subject by keeping in mind that you too probably have habits that distract your neighbors. They might be more willing to limit their small talk if you agree to stop putting your calls on speakerphone.

3. Pick a time. Maybe your coworkers have something valuable to say, but the timing could be more efficient. Ask them if they want to sit down together after you complete your calls.

4. Wear headphones. If it suits your corporate culture, try blocking out background noise with earbuds. Even soft voices can carry far in an open-plan office.

5. Repeat the message. Communication patterns tend to be persistent. It may take a while before a well-meaning chatterbox manages to adjust their style. Notice when they make an effort and tell them you appreciate it.

Dealing with Talkative Coworkers in Specific Situations

On the other hand, the reason behind someone’s behavior sometimes suggests a different course of action. Once you understand what your office mate wants, you may be able to satisfy their needs and enjoy more quiet time.

1. Listen actively. Your first reaction may be to tune out a gabby colleague. However, paying attention can help you spot clues so you can figure out an effective response.

2. Prevent oversharing. Are you uncomfortable with hearing explicit details about others’ romantic escapades and political opinions? Express your feelings and ask to keep office conversations professional. If you fail to show much interest, most employees will look for a new audience.

3. Be a friend. Rattling on can sometimes mean that someone is lonely. If you’re willing and able to extend yourself, invite them out to lunch or spend your break time together.

4. Guide the discussion. Use your skills to help an employee who has trouble being concise. Tactful interruptions and questions can lead them to closure. Try summarizing their remarks or asking what they would propose to do next.

5. Create an outlet. Most workplaces have a combination of personality types including extroverts and introverts. For those employees who like to think out loud, encourage them to take on responsibilities like greeting visitors or briefing other departments.

6. Reduce stress. Anxiety may be one of the most common reasons for talking too much. Encourage each other to slow down, and breathe deeply.

You can create the conditions you need to work without straining your relationships with your colleagues. Helping a long-winded coworker to talk less gives them a chance to enhance their professional image while you carry on with your responsibilities.

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