Dealing with the office chatterbox

office chatterboxPicture the scene – you’re sitting there, head down, ploughing through your work to meet a tight deadline, completely engrossed in your work.  As is everyone around you.  Silence, progress being made, deadlines looking achievable.  Suddenly someone pipes up with a loud exclamation, and launches into a monologue.  You make the mistake of looking up and catch their eye, which only encourages them.  Now they think they’re in a conversation.  Before you know it, everyone is half looking up, half-nodding, half ignoring the monologue machine.  Finally, ten minutes later, they wind down.  Work resumes.   Until twenty minutes later, they do it all again.  Yep.  You’re working with the office chatterbox!

So how do you deal with the office chatterbox in a way that won’t upset them but will allow you and the rest of the team to work without disruptions every half hour?

One thing you could do, if it’s possible, is try and work out why the guilty party feels the need to talk constantly.  In one of my contracts a while ago, the most senior member of my team was known to be a serial chatterbox.  I used to dread him coming over to my desk to ask a question.  One question could knock my schedule out by half an hour!  But after listening to him I realised that he was very insecure and his chatter was always related to showing how much he knew, how long he’d been there, how many contacts he had.  So I decided the easiest way was just to acknowledge that up front, with the hope that he would feel less insecure, and less likely to want to give me his whole CV again.  And it worked, to an extent.  I got less CV and more work information.  He didn’t change completely though.  And that’s where trick number two comes in handy…

If you have someone who is being a chatterbox just because they like being the centre of attention (something I came across at a recent contract, with a very junior team member, who constantly behaved as if we were all at a social event together) then you need a different tactic.  And this is where your computer screen and Outlook come in very very handy.  Once you realise you have a social butterfly type office chatterbox on your hands, you need to take away the thing that feeds the chatter – your attention.  So when you hear that exclamation, don’t look up, don’t make eye contact, don’t engage at all.  Keep your eyes glued on your computer sheet as if your life depends on that spreadsheet you’re working on.  If the chatterbox tries to engage you directly, use Outlook and set yourself a little alarm, to go off in a minute or two.  You can then exclaim that you need to get something urgent done and stop the conversation.

And finally, if all else fails, there is still one trick in the book – excuse yourself to go to the loo!  Obviously you can’t do this every time you need them to stop talking, but it’s a useful last resort!


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