My Co-Worker Won't Stop Talking to Me!

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Ever had a co-worker who just won't stop talking to you while you're trying to work? She pops by to ask you a work-related question but is still there 20 minutes later, talking about her weekend. Or you're on deadline and she keeps interrupting you to gripe about the IT guy. Whatever the specifics, a co-worker who won't stop talking to you when you need to work is annoying and can harm your productivity.

But you don't need to sit by and watch as your work time gets sucked away. You can put a stop to it, if you're willing to be direct. Let's talk about the three avenues that can help solve the problem, in the order that it usually makes sense to try them.

1. Say something in the moment. Rather than let your co-worker ramble on while you look longingly toward your computer, be direct! Say something like, "I'm actually just in the middle of finishing something, so I should get back to it." Or try a white lie, like "I've got to get ready for a phone call that's about to come in" or "I'm on deadline."

2. Address the pattern. If addressing individual instances as they occur doesn't get the message across, then your next step is to address the larger pattern. You can do this politely, but it does require being direct. For instance, here are a few different ways you could say it, depending on the specifics of your situation and what you're comfortable with:

  • "Jane, I've noticed you like to drop by and chat! I enjoy talking with you, but it's hard for me to do much of that during the work day. I usually need to get back to work pretty quickly." If you do genuinely enjoy your co-worker's company, you could add something like, "I'd love to get coffee with you sometime, but I've got to do a better job of not letting us get into longer conversations when I should be working."
  • "I'm finding the amount that we talk during the day is preventing me from getting my work done, so I need to really cut down on how much chit chat we have during the day."
  • "I know we're both in the habit of chatting a lot, so going forward, I'm going to be really vigilant about not doing that. I'm mentioning it now, because when I tell you that I can't talk, I don't want you think I'm being rude."
  • When the problem is less about lengthy social conversations and more about multiple small interruptions: "It's hard for me to get my focus pulled away. What if we instead scheduled one or two meetings a week to talk about whatever items we need to discuss? That way you'd get the responses you need from me, but it would help keep me from breaking my concentration."

However you word it, this is about the larger pattern, not something you say in the moment about one particular instance. (In fact, this is the same step that managers should take when an employee continues to make the same type of error: Stop addressing it instance-by-instance and step back and have a bigger-picture conversation.)

Then, after that big-picture conversation, when she starts chatting with you, be direct and be firm. You'll need to be direct each time: "Working over here!" or "I'm on deadline, so let's talk later!"

3. Decide if it's worth taking to your (or your co-worker's) manager. If the two steps above don't work, at that point you'll need to decide if it's impeding your productivity to the point that it's worth asking your co-worker's manager to get involved. You might decide that you're not comfortable doing that, or that your manager doesn't handle things like this skillfully, but many managers would appreciate a heads-up that this is happening and would step in to resolve it.

Overall, the message here is that you shouldn't stew in frustration. If you want a co-worker's behavior to change, you have to be willing to speak up and address it directly.

> Or you can apply for a new job today!
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