We have a co-worker that is constantly talking nonsense. Half the time we don’t know if she is even talking to us. When she does talk to us, it’s about her boring cats. We all talk to each other throughout the day, but we all get annoyed when she interrupts our conversation with her own boring life. She won’t join our conversation, and if we try to include her, she turns it around to be about her. She just rambles on and on. She is constantly asking questions, and she has been here longer than any of us. Are we being rude or is there something we can do to stop her?
Working With Nonstop
Dear Working With Nonstop:
Small talk while working can make the day go more quickly; even talk about nonsense or cats. Does this older co-worker need to be heard? Obviously, she does. Just hearing herself talk probably gives her a sense of being alive. She should know that others in the workgroup are annoyed with her chatter; however, admitting that to her self would be painful, so she ignores signs that others don’t want to listen. Should she be less self-centered in her talk and should she know how to join the rest of you in conversation? Yes, she should, but apparently that is a skill she lacks.You don’t say if you supervisor is aware of your annoyance with this longtime co-worker. Usually it is good to ask a supervisor’s advice. You also should state that you think it is important to find ways to cope and correct her endless talking. Possibly you can find a positive label for her, such as speak of her as the lady who loves cats (Ms. LWLC). You might want to share the suggestions below with your boss.Approach this whole matter from a professional, not just an irritation perspective. By professional, I mean, small talk should not interfere with getting one’s job done. Rather small talk should not be that talk that makes one’s own and other’s jobs ineffective or detracts from group harmony. You ask: Are we being rude? That depends on what you do when she talks nonsense, runs on and on or seems obsessed about her cats. If you had a video of how you and your co-workers react to Ms. LWLC, I’m sure you could answer your own question. You could then see if you were rude. Or reverse role-take; pretend you were she, would feel that you were treated rudely by others in the work group? Disrespect to your child, if you have one, would be ignoring, being too busy to listen, interrupting, shushing, yelling or swearing at, talking over, and not discussing with her/him conversational rules such as turn-taking, talking about other’s interests and not just your own, and not talking too much? By talking about the way she talks rather than to Ms. LWLC abut how she talks are you being disrespectful? Your last question is: Is there something we can do to stop her? I assume that your workgroup cannot avoid Ms. LWLC, so you either you and your co-workers must make your stop-talking signals more obvious or you must candidly confer with her about what bothers you about her talk. Stop-talking signals would be holding your hand up like a traffic cop and bluntly saying such things as, “Jane, you are repeating yourself. You are talking too much. We’ve heard too much about your cats. Join in our conversation. Don’t talk so much about yourself.” Of course you would not say all these things at once, but would use them when appropriate.Candidly and privately conferring with her would entail telling her what you have written us. Hopefully, you would be able to meet together without anger and with kindness. You or several of you would state how you do not want to hurt her, but you have called this meeting because apparently she does not realize that she does not join in the small talk or when she does she focuses on herself. You will add that you don’t want to ignore her, but you are frustrated by her one-way communication.You should not mince words. What you say to her must be honest and firm. And it would be best understood if you would have printed a list of do and don’t rules that would stop her talk that was bothersome to your workgroup and help her talk fit in. You should be prepared for tears and/or anger.That should not mean a confrontation meeting was a failure. Have tissues available. Do not ignore the hurt such a meeting can provoke, but continue or schedule a second meeting to complete your discussion. If you and co-workers have a confrontation meeting, take time to get Ms. LWLC’s input. Ask her if the do and don’t rules seem reasonable and if not how she would modify them. Schedule a follow-up meeting after a week or two to re-enforce what’s going well or needs more emphasis. Possibly a tape recording of the small talk could serve as an instructive aid to all of you. Finally, think about what your work group talks about. Do you small talk about each other’s lives or might you also talk about topics that might make your workplace more productive, might cut wasted time, supplies, money, and effort? In short, if you as a workgroup can focus on what might make your jobs more effective, innovative and productive, possibly Ms. LWLC could become a cheerleader and less of a pain in the neck. Will you let me know if all this makes sense? And what you do? Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS.