by Joe Serio, www.joeserio.com
“I have a coworker who’s always coming in to my office to talk. I have work to do, but it’s so hard for me to tell that person to go away. I don’t want to be mean and come across as rude. What can I do?”
This is a very common situation and a tough one to be in. Dealing with a heavy talker creates a lot of tension, frustration, and even fear. It can feel impossible to tell someone to leave you alone without hurting them, and you may fear the repercussion of a hostile working environment. At the same time, it’s not fair for you to be looked down on by your superiors for wasting time when you don’t want to.
Some talking in the office is good—that’s what break rooms and water coolers are for. But constant interruption and feeling stuck when you know you have other things to do is not OK.
A good place to start is to show all the signs of someone who’s not available.
•When people like this show up at your desk, turn your head to acknowledge them, but don’t swivel your chair around to face them.
•If you’re listening to music on headphones, pull just one earbud out when they start talking, but continue to hold it as though you’re waiting to put it back in.
•Walk with purpose around your office—if people approach you in the hall, tell them you’re headed somewhere and you’ll catch up later.
Next, be honest—gently.
Tell them you’re interested in what they have to say, but you don’t have time to talk right now, and offer to have lunch or meet after work. They don’t feel ignored or blown off, and you get your time back.
If it continues to happen, have a more direct conversation.
Say that you enjoy talking to this person, but you want to do a better job of staying focused at work, and it would be best for the two of you to schedule time away from work to catch up from here on out. If you go ahead and suggest a time, they’ll know you’re sincere.
Last but not least, ask your manager for help.
Just explain the situation and say that you’re simply looking for guidance on how to handle this without hurting feelings or creating an uncomfortable environment. That’s what managers are for—helping to navigate situations like this.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with setting boundaries and creating an environment that allows you to get your work done. It is your right—and probably your organization’s expectation—that you do so.