Are there times you wish a coworker would just leave you alone so you could get some work done? Do you feel you’ll be old and gray before they stop gabbing?
We all have those moments where we want to shut our office doors, or hang a “Do Not Disturb” sign around our cubicle.
Here are some ideas to address this issue (and not only at the office!).
First, figure out what the intentions are – is your coworker under a lot of stress and just needs to vent? Is he or she the office gossip who loves to talk about others? Or someone who just goes on and on and doesn’t know when to stop?
Obviously, if someone just needs to vent, you can offer a sympathetic ear from time to time, and it will likely come to pass that at some point you’ll need the same.
But assuming you’re dealing with someone who just doesn’t have any verbal boundaries, try the following.
Head it off at the pass. If they come to you, start the conversation with, “Gosh, I’d love to chat but I’m working on XXX right now.” Alternatively, if you’re going to him or her to ask for information – say, to ask if a coworker is back from a meeting – you can use a variation of the above, such as, “Just checking in to see if XXX is around; I’m under a deadline for a project and really need to get back to it.”
Allow it for a while, then leave. Know that there are important reasons to be in the know, and that the “office chit-chat” that seems to keep you from more important items might also be part of what lets you know about shuffling department heads, budget concerns, and so on. So you don’t want to be totally out of the loop.
Deflect. “Oh, that’s really interesting about your kids/travel/boss. I just remembered, do you know anything about…" and then segue to an appropriate topic, such as “what Juana was talking about at the staff meeting”? You need to get good at changing the topic in a subtle way. One of the most important reasons is because you must…
Be careful with gossip! It may seem harmless to complain about one coworker or another and, as mentioned above, sometimes we all just need to vent. However, you want to be careful with someone who is always talking about others.
Inevitably, that talk will come back to you. And you do not want to say something you don’t want blabbed all around the office. The same goes for email: One boss told me, “Don’t put anything in an email you wouldn’t want on the front page of the New York Times.” This is good to remember not just in writing but verbally too. A snarky, clever comment today might sound vicious and unsportsmanlike tomorrow.
Remember: You always want to be part of the team. So don’t be so close-mouthed that you’re not friendly, but learn how to gently deal with so much gab that keeps you from the reason you’re at the office in the first place!
Aurelia Flores is Senior Counsel at a Fortune 500 company and former Fulbright Fellow who graduated from Stanford Law School. Her website, PowerfulLatinas.com, offers stories of success, along with resources and programs focused on Latino empowerment.