Got an overly chatty boss or coworker? Here’s how to deal

High-performing workplaces tend to strike balances. When it comes to chatting, it’s best to fall somewhere between a social club and a library. Unfortunately, it only takes one bad apple to ruin the office’s bunch. What can you do in this situation before it’s too late?

The first step is to notice if there’s a problem. Ask yourself:

  • Do you see most of the office working with headphones on to block out noise?
  • Do you see one person doing most of the talking?
  • Do one or two voices stand out as a definitive, constant presence throughout the day?

If yes, now is the time to address the issue. That becomes a tricky subject as the source of the problem could be a friendly boss, a coworker, or even yourself. Here are a few dos and don’ts that help you navigate the chit-chat issue effectively.

Addressing an overly chatty coworker or boss

Dealing with a chatty work colleague is difficult for many. You don’t want to shut down the potential for team rapport building, but work must come first.

The first step can be direct or indirect, depending on your office layout. If your job allows, you can choose to take advantage of break rooms, couches, and other seating options that give you distance from the noise. In the case of a chatty supervisor, ask if there is a private area you can do work for a portion of the day to focus better if space isn’t provided.

Taking this course provides you a solution without addressing the issue—which could prove problematic over time. A failure to bring up the over-chatting may be taken as your approval of the current situation.

Alternatively, you can address the problem head-on. When a chatty boss or talkative coworker prevents you from being productive, politely interject that you need to get your work done at this time. Use clear communication to frame the issue. A friendly tone helps soften the blow.

Simply point out to your coworker that while you love speaking with them, you’d prefer it be contained to lunch or during slower periods in the day. If that doesn’t work, indicating that you need to be done with work on time today can do the trick. Be careful, though; you can only use this semi-indirect excuse so many times.

What if I’m the overly chatty coworker?

If you’ve analyzed the office and still can’t pinpoint what’s causing the chatting taking up so much of your day, you may be the cause. How do you address yourself? By recognizing the problem, whether on your own or with the help of a colleague, you’ve made the first step.

From there, become more self-aware—which isn’t all that easy—especially as bosses. Psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich explains that power decreases our self-awareness. “The power literally goes to our heads, and it makes it difficult for us to understand the impact we’re having on other people to take their perspectives.”

Improving self-awareness takes time and practice; start in small increments. Begin with these two approaches:

  1. List building. Make a to-do list of your work and the work of your team. Try to be aware of what every person has to do in the day. Discover where there is time to socialize and when everyone should focus solely on work.
  2. Mindfulness. Mindfulness allows you to stay in the moment. Even as a novice, a few breathing exercises can help you to recenter yourself to focus on what’s currently happening in your day. As you grow in experience, things like mindful meditation can help improve your self-awareness as well as your conscientiousness towards others.

Additionally, seek out feedback from your team. As a boss, you can ask for input in anonymous surveys or at one-on-ones. As a coworker, ask your trusted team members for unbiased feedback. From there, use their critiques to build your enhanced office presence.

How not to address the issue

Like indirect solutions, failing to address the issue only makes it worse. Your default response may be to ignore the problem or look busy. But you are bound to get distracted by the noise even when it’s not directed at you.

Most of us don’t speak up out of good intentions: we don’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings or embarrass them. But this line of reasoning leads to too many of us allowing the chatty trend to continue. As mentioned before, failing to speak up can be seen as an approval of the current situation.

Failing to address the issue usually means engaging in a lot more conversations throughout the day than you’d like to. Going along with these conversations might seem harmless, but they’re impacting your well-being and your work. While you are doing right by being friendly, you are stifling your productivity and increasing your stress with each and every encounter.

In Conclusion

Chatty bosses and coworkers are a difficult obstacle to address. While far from the worst problem to have, they can do significant damage to a team’s work.

When dealing with the problem, it’s best to face it head-on. Recognize that your chatty colleague has positive intentions, but define your need for quiet. Plan time to catch up with them at a later time, maybe after you’ve completed the bulk of your work.

It’s great to forge strong connections with your fellow co-workers—just be sure you’re doing so while respecting their needs for peace and quiet when it’s time to focus on work. With a few small modifications, your office can continue to talk while producing high-quality work.

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