Coworker Talks Too Much


How can I respectfully talk to a coworker about her excessive talking to me during work?


Long for Silence


Dear Long for Silence:

I too have wondered how to say, “Hush” without hurting feelings. Probably there is no way to do that because individuals who are unaware that they talk too much have a need to be liked. However, I’m sure your coworker has not been hired to talk to you. She might need to communicate about certain assignments, and if she does, because her much talk bothers you, you need to firmly request that she limit her talk mainly to what needs to be said to accomplish assignments. Doing good work should be foremost in your talk with her about what is excessive.

My advice can’t be as explicit because I don’t know how close is the relationship you have with this woman, how long she and you have worked in the same area, and most of all I don’t know what if any need there is for you to communicate in order to accomplish the jobs for which you each were hired. Nor do I know if your job requires quiet and concentration. So please adapt these thoughts to your work assignment or rule them out because you don’t think they apply. Here are several approaches you might try: · Candid confrontation. Say in your own words something like, “Alice, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but I find it hard to concentrate and do my best work when you have so much to say to me. Could we try for a couple of days to only communicate when either you or I need to ask a question or make a comment about our specific assignment? During the break we can talk for a couple of minutes about non-work topics. Will you try that for the next couple of days?” You might also say that you understand that she apparently has some kind of emotional need to talk, if for nothing else because talk enables her to pass the time while doing boring work. And you don’t want to squelch her, but that you have an opposite need, a need to not be distracted by so much talk. Ask her to help you. Possibly tell her you will come to work 10 minutes early on Monday morning just to talk with her or meet her for lunch on Fridays. · Negotiate talk-rules: ask her for a time-out meeting. Tell her how sorry you are to bring this up, but say you need quiet in order to do your job. Ask her if she would look at a set of rules that you have made and if she would be willing to talk about talk. Then hammer out a set of communication do and don’t talk rules, such as Do say hello each morning and good-bye when leaving. Do speak briefly when needing information to do a specific task. Do return to your workstation once that information is obtained. Do save small talk for breaks. Don’t gossip. Don’t interrupt with non-work related chitchat. You each can list if and for what you want information for certain tasks and tasks that do not require talk. Once you come to an agreement, post it and set a time after a week to review if any of your rules need to be modified. · Posting signs: Tell Alice that you need quiet while you are at work on assignments and you’ve decided to post Quiet signs just as they do in a hospital and library. Say that you will try to remember to take them down when you don’t feel the stress of tending to business. If she ignores the sign, you can put your finger to your lips and point to the sign, nod that you expect her to understand and turn your back to her. · Seek supervisor help: share your frustration about excessive talk, particularly that not needed to do your work. Ask the supervisor what might be done to create a performance-focused environment. Perhaps, weekly meetings to talk about improving the quality of work; cutting wasted supplies, wasted time, wasted energy, and ways we might work more efficiently. That might include setting up communication rules such as Talk free areas, Conversation breaks, Weekly skull sessions to talk about how well we are working as a team and things of which we might do less or more. Are these enough ideas for you to consider? Working together with hands, head and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Whatever you choose to do, reflect on how you would like for someone to tell you if you did something that bothered them, and do your best to tell Ms. Alice that way. I hope these thoughts prompt you to find the courage and creativity to help your coworker to monitor and control her habit of much talk.

William Gorden