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How to Deal With a Talkative Coworker

Talkative person distracts their coworker at the office
Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

We’ve all been there before: you’re on a tight deadline, staring down a mountain of work, and your chatty officemate won’t leave you alone. What do you do? Here’s how to get back to work without ruffling any feathers.

Sure it’s fun to take a break now and then to chat about stuff with your coworkers, but we’ve all had a coworker (or three) that spends way too much time talking you up and way too little time letting you focus and get work done. Here’s how to manage that.

Let Them Know You Need to Get Back to Work

The first way to stop a chatty coworker is to politely, but firmly, tell them that you need to get back to work.

Wait for a lull in the conversation and then say, “I’d love to continue this conversation, but I’ve got to get back to work.” Adding in something about a deadline or a deliverable that you’re working towards will help add credence to your excuse. Everybody understands the pressure of work and deadline and the idea that you’d love to chat some more, but you also don’t want to get in trouble for slacking off is very relatable.

If they show no signs of slowing down in the conversation, it’s okay to interrupt them politely. Try something like, “I’m so sorry for interrupting, but I have to get back to work. Can we finish this conversation at lunch?” Setting a specific time to talk again will help ease the sting of your conversation shut down.

Wear Headphones

If you’re looking to get some solid, focused work time without interruption, wearing headphones is a visible sign that you’re not open for engagement. If you have long hair, make sure your headphones are easy to spot, so people don’t think you’re simply ignoring them.

You don’t even necessarily need to listen to anything. Even just a big pair of over-the-ear headphones will dampen office noise a bit and make it look like you’re not readily available.

Turn On Your “Do Not Disturb”

Talkative coworkers don’t just show up in person! If you work remotely and use an office communication tool like Slack, you might get trapped into talking with a chatty peer, too.

If you’re working in Slack (or something like that), you can use statuses or emojis to indicate that you’re not open for conversation. Try putting up a stop sign emoji or writing an away message. If your communication tool doesn’t allow status, like Basecamp, you can let the main work channel know that you’re going into focus mode and would appreciate people limiting their interruptions. If all else fails, turn off your notifications.

Are you working in a traditional office setup? Put up a whiteboard or sign that says you’re busy working on a project. The visual cue will help stop conversations before they start.

Schedule a Meeting

If your coworkers tend to start talking about work topics in the break room or around the water cooler, ask if you can schedule a meeting to finish the conversation. Planning a meeting will allow you to prepare for the discussion, as well as make it more likely that you’ll be able to create actionable items and to-dos to move the project forward.

Speak to a Supervisor

If all else fails, you can speak to a supervisor about your chatty coworker. This should only be done as a last resort and only if your best efforts at dissuading them from socializing with you all day have failed.

If the problem is simply that the person talks too much, not something more severe like sexual harassment, definitely try to resolve it by yourself before involving HR.

Remember, Not All Small Talk Is Bad

Finally, remember that not all small talk is bad! Chatting with your coworkers can improve your relationships and make you more excited to go to work. There are a time and a place for talking with people at work (some people need a little nudge to let you get down to the real business of working now and then).

Hayley Milliman Hayley Milliman
Hayley is a former Teach for America teacher turned curriculum developer and writer. Over the past five years, she's written hundreds of articles on everything from education to personal finance to history. She's co-author of the book Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females. Read Full Bio »

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