my coworker never stops talking — and I mean NEVER

A reader writes:

I need some advice on how to deal with working with a coworker that drives me absolutely insane. This lady is by far the most annoying, rude, and unprofessional person I have ever had the displeasure of working with.

You know how they say if a shark stops moving they will die? Well that’s my coworker, but with talking. Our cubicles are right across from each other and every morning before I’ve even had a chance to put my bag down, she is in my cubicle bitching about her morning or telling me some story about her kid. I try to sneak in and avoid saying “good morning” because I don’t want to set her off, but it’s like she’s got Spidey senses. Whenever she starts with one of her stories, I just go on about my business and completely ignore her, or I give her a blank stare. I honestly think she doesn’t care that I have no interest in anything she has to say because I have tried everything to get her to leave me alone:

• There was a moment when we first started working when I completely lost my cool and told her to stop talking and get out of my cubicle. To which she responded, “Oh, okay. But I’ll be back later!”

• I specifically bought those giant Beats headphones in an effort to prevent her from talking to me. But that did not stop her. She still knocked on my cubicle wall or desk or waved her hand next to my face to get my attention. Once I took off my headphones she would start telling me a story about her cats or something equally as random!

• I will tell her if I’m not interested in a topic, but then she just starts her ramblings like, “I know you’re not interested in baseball, but let me tell you about the game last night.”

• If I tell her I’m really busy and keep my back towards her, she will not walk away until after she has finished telling her story.

To make matters worse, we sit near two supervisors’ offices. Not only does she talk a lot, but she is so loud and is constantly swearing. Our supervisory team has sent out emails about appropriate office conversations and language, but it just doesn’t get through to her. I have asked to move cubicles, citing the fact that I feel unproductive, but my requests have been denied, twice. (It’s a corporate thing, I guess. Others have asked to move and their requests have been denied as well.)

Aside from the non-stop talking and swearing, there are other things that bother me about her. For instance, she will straight up yell at anyone (coworkers, programmers, supervisors) if they point out a mistake she’s made. If I am asked to work on a special project she will stop by my cubicle several times a day to stare at my computer screen and go, “What’s this? What are you working on? Well, I’m sure glad I don’t have to do anything like this!” She also has a tendency to come into work sans bra (which she points out to everyone!) and wearing pajama pants and holey hoodies. We work in a government building, for crying out loud! This lady is in her thirties. Why can’t she act like an adult?

I really like my job and have no interest in leaving, but I just don’t know what to do anymore! The days she is not here are like a breath of fresh air. Please help me!

I wrote back and asked: Does she do this to everyone else too? Is there anyone who seems to have found a way to successfully fend her off?

She talks to me the most. I think it’s because we started on the same day, so we have that ~connection~. But she will find another target on days I’m not there. I can always tell who her victim for the day is because I will get a text from them that says, “Thanks for leaving me with crazypants.” Occasionally she will get to work early and bother whoever is there at that time.

The only person she completely ignores is the office grump. (This man will not acknowledge anyone, shuts the door on you even if you are two feet away, never attends an office party, etc.) But I could go an entire day without saying a word to her and she would still be in my cubicle.

I’m generally a nice person and my boss jokingly calls me “troublemaker” because it’s the complete opppsite of who I am. But I feel like this lady’s attitude is slowly changing my mentality and it’s killing me!

This sounds horrible.

You’re probably hoping for a way to get her to leave you alone that doesn’t (a) require you having to be rude or (b) end in her hating you. I don’t think there’s a realistic solution that will give you (a), and there might not be one that gives you (b) either.

If you want to get her to stop, you’re going to have to say and do things that are going to feel rude to you. That’s not your fault — it’s hers, for putting you in a position where that’s the only thing that will work.

There’s a glimmer of hope in this detail from your letter: “There was a moment when we first started working when I completely lost my cool and told her to stop talking and get out of my cubicle. To which she responded, ‘Oh, okay. But I’ll be back later!’” Her response there was obviously ridiculous, but if I’m reading this correctly, she did in fact leave.

You need to do much more of that and much less of this: “Whenever she starts with one of her stories, I just go on about my business and completely ignore her, or I give her a blank stare.” I totally get why you’ve resorted to those options, but they’re not effective in getting her to stop. (They should be! But they’re not.)

So, here are your strategies going forward:

* Be very, very blunt with like when you snapped at her. That doesn’t mean yelling at her — you still need to be reasonably professional — but you can absolutely say “I need you to stop talking and leave my cubicle.” Followed by, if necessary, “STOP TALKING. I’m working.” That is going to feel incredibly rude — because it would be with anyone else. But it’s not with her; it’s the only thing that gets through to her. (Frankly, I’d argue you’d even be doing her a favor by being so blunt, because she’s clearly not picking up softer signals that are in her best interest to pick up on.)

* Keep wearing your giant headphones. If she knocks on your desk or waves her in front of your face, say to her, “I’m working and cannot talk” and turn back to your work. If she keeps trying, say, “Please email me. I am busy right now.” Keep the headphones on. If there’s a fire, someone else will tell you.

* If she says something like “I know you’re not interested in baseball, but let me tell you about the game last night,” say this: “You’re right, I’m not, and I need to focus on work so I cannot have you talking to me right now” and then turn back to your work. If she continues anyway, use the “I need you to leave” advice above.

* If you do all this and she keeps talking, stand up, look her directly in the eye, and say, “I told you I am working and I need you to leave. Please go now.”

(This is the rudest advice I’ve ever given, and it’s making me uncomfortable! But you’ve tried everything else, and so your choices really are to take this approach or to live with what’s happening.)

You could also try a more big-picture conversation with her, although I don’t have any idea if it will work because she’s clearly not playing by rules any of us are familiar with. That would sound like this: “Jane, I’m really busy with work and I cannot get my job done when you keep coming over to talk to me. I need you to stop chatting with me during the day — not just sometimes, but completely. It’s interfering with my ability to do my work. So from now on, if you come over to chat, I’m going to cut you off and ask you to leave. I’m sorry if that feels rude, but it’s the only way I can get my job done.”

If you do that, though, you have to really commit to cutting her off every time after that, because otherwise you’ll be training her to believe that you don’t really mean it.

Also, this is bad enough that you should be talking to your boss about it. As in: “I’m having a real problem with Jane continually trying to socialize with me while I’m working. It’s multiple times a day, and I’ve told her directly many times that I can’t talk and she needs to leave, but she just keeps talking. It’s affecting my ability to focus on my work, and I’m at my wit’s end. Since I’ve been quite direct and she’s ignoring me, is it possible for you to intervene?”

You should encourage your coworkers to have this same conversation with their boss and/or Jane’s boss. Every time they vent to you about Jane, suggest they talk to the person who can actually help — their manager.

The venting, by the way, is probably making this worse, since it means that even more of your time and mental energy at work is taken up by thinking about Jane. If nothing else, you might be happier if everyone cut that out or at least pulled way back on it.

And speaking of your own mental health, stop caring about all the pieces of this that don’t directly impact you — like her yelling at other people and what she’s wearing. There’s enough of this that does affect you that you need to deal with that there’s no point in taking on the rest of it too.

Good luck, and I wish you much silence.

{ 513 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. JokeyJules

    self-proclaimed chatty cathy here.
    Just tell her it is distracting and disruptive when she does that, very seriously. She might try to joke her way out of it, but do what Alison says and be up front about how it is affecting your work.

    Also, why isn’t management telling HER she’s the issue if it really is mostly her being loud and inappropriate? Why keep sending office emails when it’s really only 1 person? I never understood that.

    Reply
    1. Future Homesteader

      Yup, that stood out to me as a potential sign that management isn’t very interested in dealing with this, at least so far. But maybe after a few direct conversations with other employees, they will be? Because they’ve obviously noticed.

      Reply
      1. Lil Fidget

        They are definitely failing in their job to let her keep nattering on distracting other employees in this way. There may be nothing OP can do about it but I would definitely try to let them “feel the pain” of keeping this person on and not correcting her a little more. Also, I would probably sit down with my manager to brief them of my plan to be a LOT more direct from now on, as some of these phrases truly are rude without the context – I wouldn’t want to get called to the carpet for yelling “leave me alone” or similar!

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    2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister

      Yeah, my concern would be that OP is getting marked as a chatty cathy/inappropriate conversationalist because every time the managers look up, they see (what they think is) a conversation between OP and Jane. I would actually advise the OP to go to their boss about it immediately, both so the boss can hopefully intervene and also to avoid or correct a mistaken impression.

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      1. JokeyJules

        I didn’t even think of that! Even though Jane is talking, it does look like they are both having a conversation.

        OP, get management in on this ASAP

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        1. Iris Eyes

          Yes and they are at least willing to address it even though its by the second most passive method. Your willingness to be assertive (not mean there is a lot of space between rude and mean) in addressing this plague of unrelenting chatter might help those around you follow suit including the supervisors.

          It might be worth also telling them what your action plan is for dealing with her going forward so that inevitably when she talks to them or others about it they will know what’s going on.

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            1. Wintermute

              I concur, because there’s a few, predictable things that will happen. There will probably be an extinction burst of attempts to FORCE you to converse with her or notice her, which may get to truly absurd levels. Second, sudden (from their perspective) attemps to enforce boundaries with someone who barrels over your boundaries freely often feel like a personal attack. She may well go to management feeling personally slighted by your efforts and you want your derriere well-defended. Third, she will not cast you as “the one that won’t listen to me” when describing you to others, she might go around telling people this, and airing her perceived grievance to all and sundry. and lastly, she might find a new host to graft herself onto and parasitize.

              Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I am baffled that they’ve said nothing to her, particularly about the pajamas and hole-y hoodies. This whole thing sounds so bizarre and so fascinating (but I am extremely sorry that OP is on the receiving end of this maelstrom of obnoxiousness).

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            1. AsItIs

              If they even vaguely think “mental illness” in passing, that worker becomes “untouchable” in some crappy managers’ minds. Those managers tell her it’s on her to work around it as she’s the “reasonable” one to deal with.

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        2. Laurelma__01!

          Don’t want Ms. Chatty’s image rubbing off on you. Didn’t think of that either. If employers are not willing to address this behavior; they might be the type to wait until you receive your written evaluation to state on it that you socializing at work is interfering with the quality or quantity of your work. It could cause you a raise. Depending on what field you are on, they may bypass you on prime projects because they see you socializing with her. Too busy talking to be productive.

          After those thought, I’m leaning towards you verbalizing the distraction she is being, etc. Than the next time she interrupts, send an email to her, that you feel the need to follow up on the conversation you had with her on Monday morning That you wish to restate the conversation you had, that you are not free to have conversations on non-work topics during the day. That the constant request for conversations are interrupting your train of thought, etc. And Bc your manager.

          This is such a pain. I have found that when forced to be rude, because someone has pushed into behaving in a way I do not want to, that I’m ruder than necessary. Some people need a smack up the head to see clearly. Not literally, but responses almost have to be over the top to get to hear and listen to what is being said. They can hear you, but until their actions show that they heard you, they didn’t listen.

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          1. OP_D

            I think that part of the problem is my overall performance doesn’t actually suffer from these constant interruptions (I never miss a deliverable & I complete projects way ahead of deadlines), but it does slow me down a bit. They probably don’t see my issue as a big deal, or at least the higher ups don’t care…

            I’m going to leave a sentence from the last “script” my supervisors were told to follow during our last quarterly evaluation: “If you’re hearing complaints about another [company] employee, listen to what’s said but then remind that the meeting is not about others.”

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            1. Autumnheart

              Maybe focus on how it’s a huge distraction to you and keeps you from performing your best work? Not to mention that even if you’re ahead in your projects and efficient as a rule, that doesn’t make you the default entertainment staff for Chatty McChatterbox. This is a burden on you that goes way beyond normal and appropriate coworker interaction. After all, when is Chatty actually doing her job if she’s blabbing in someone’s cube umpteen times a day?

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        3. SheLooksFamiliar

          Oh, yikes, that happened to me once. My boss made a pointed comment about ‘always seeing’ me ‘confabbing’ with my officemate, and I needed to stop it. I asked him to listen instead of watching, and he eventually heard a monologue – and it wasn’t coming from me. Dude never apologized and I don’t think he told my officemate to stop the chatter, either. At least he didn’t ding me in my annual review for it.

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      2. Not So Recently Diagnosed

        I mention this downthread, but on top of going to your bosses about it (which, yes), I also think OP should start telling Jane she’s being rude. “Jane, I just told you I don’t have time to talk. You’re being seriously rude right now.” Not only does it reinforce that this is BAD BEHAVIOR to Jane, but also reminds OP that THEY aren’t the one being rude, which may make future “confrontations” about it easier to stomach.

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        1. Queen of Cans & Jars

          I think this is a brilliant idea. This woman seems particularly clueless, but I’d bet money she absolutely doesn’t consider herself to be rude. That might actually shut her up.

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          1. Totally Minnie

            Or if Jane is anything like my rude former coworker, she’ll spend the next six years telling everyone in hearing distance about that one time her coworker said she was rude.

            OP, I absolutely think you should call out the behavior and tell her it’s rude to keep talking to someone who has asked you to stop, but she might not take it well. That’s not a you problem, that’s a her problem.

            I also support the idea of telling your boss about it *before* you start being more strict with Jane. That way, if she storms away from your desk and tries to tell your boss how rude you just were to her, they’ll have the context they need to respond appropriately.

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    3. machiamellie

      Yeah I think that before being super blunt/borderline rude as in Alison’s advice, the OP can try one more thing: “Chatty Cathy, I need to talk to you about something. I really need to be able to focus on my work but you keep interrupting and it’s really disruptive to me. I’ve asked to switch desks over it but for whatever reason I can’t. Can you please stop coming into my cubicle and talking to me about non-work-related things? I really need you to do that for me. If you can’t I’m afraid I’m going to have to start leaving my headphones on and not engaging with you when you come by. Thank you!”

      I have Aspergers and honestly if someone was just giving me a blank stare or whatnot, I’d assume what I was saying was ok. Saying something like the above would be doing me a favor and clueing me in.

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      1. TheOtherLiz

        This is great advice! I have a good friend with Asperger’s and with his help I’ve learned the art of direct, clear communication. It doesn’t have to be rude if it’s honest. Tell them what you want them to do, and why, and be clear, but please be kind. Chatty Cathy isn’t picking up on social cues – but that doesn’t mean you have to get rude. She may just need an honest helping hand. Some people just need someone to tell them the rules of engagement in an office! It’ll be easier and more pleasant for you than the “get out of my cubicle” route that Alison recommends.

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    4. Leela

      I can’t condone management giving a group chastising hoping that it will sink in for one person. It’s going to cause a lot of people who aren’t the problem wondering if it’s about them or if it’s about that thing they said last week, and it’s probably not going to sink in to the person it’s about (oh it’s EVERYONE if they sent an e-mail! So I don’t really need to modify my behavior).

      This is how problems are handled where I work and I hate it! There are so many warnings we get in all-staff meetings that leave me wondering if it’s something I’ve done (like we’ll get an all-staff warning that we need to increase productivity, not spend so much time on certain projects, do this, that, the other thing, etc) and I’ll talk to my manager later and find out that I’m not one of the people that the warning was about but if that’s the case why aren’t they administered individually to the people they’re about?

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      1. Artemesia

        Good insight — not only does the person who is the target not get the message BUT it seems to justify the behavior because ‘everyone does it.’ Good call. The group scolding thus increases the behavior.

        Group scoldings make everyone feel bad except the person they are for. I still remember the vice principal in junior hs giving my class a lecture on cheating because a cheat sheet had been discovered after an important exam. I felt awful and guilty; I was not even there the day of that test.

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      2. Kelsi

        Thankfully my workplace has fixed a lot of management issues in the last few years, but the group scoldings/passive aggressive amendments to the dress code used to be insane.

        One person would wear something inappropriate, so we’d all get a lecture about professional dress and an addendum would be slapped onto the dress code. That person would not stop dressing inappropriately, but instead of forcing their supervisor to deal with it, they’d just keep lecturing at staff meetings and adding increasingly specific rules until they’d literally done everything short of putting “WE’RE TAKING ABOUT YOU, SUSAN” in the handbook.

        Susan continues wearing leggings as pants with impunity, the rest of us obsess over whether our dress hemlines are low enough that our leggings won’t get us sent home, the problem never gets solved.

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        1. Safetykats

          I’m going to fix on a slightly different part is this letter. I don’t understand why a coworker habitually not wearing underwear – and telling you about it – isn’t harassment. I would register clearly to her my discomfort with this – and the take it to HR the next time it happens. My guess is once you’ve registered a formal complaint you will get a new office.

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      3. PlainJane

        I had a boss that would do the group scolding thing (also the leave-a-nasty-memo-in-staff-inboxes-at-4:55PM-on-Friday-afternoon thing – she was fun). Once we all got a lecture from her about how we were providing bad customer service and making library patrons angry. Turned out there had indeed been a complaint about the library’s customer service–due to her behavior.

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      4. Gayle Davidson-Durst

        Ugh, yes. Now, if only every schoolteacher my (anxious, rule-aware) kids have ever had would get this message! Tired of my kids getting neurotic about a vague feeling they need to act better, when it’s really a handful of urchins who need more individual correction.

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    5. Sketchee

      In a way, I agree with this

      You might add the first time a slight “I’m sure you mean well, but this pattern of constant conversation really disturbs my work. I’m going to be more direct in asking you to stop going forward” or something similar.

      I don’t think she’ll get this at all.

      This is more for you to be comfortable with speaking so much more directly.

      You can now also refer to this statement “As I said before…”

      Thinking of the Awesome Etiquette podcast and how we’re trying to balance “respect, honesty, and, consideration”.

      You can make a case that it’s honest, considerate, and respectful to all involved to focus back onto work. It’s a shared purpose you all have.

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    6. TardyTardis

      If she’s talking all the time, she’s not getting any work done. Why is management not noticing this, and who is getting stuck with her work since it’s clearly not getting done?

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    7. Sandra Snot

      Why doesn’t everyone affected by this person print out the next email and leave it on her desk with a note “Have you seen this?” “Sounds like they’re talking to you!” “Hey – you got noticed!” etc?

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    8. Ann Nonymous

      Jokey, if you know you are a Chatty Cathy, why don’t you stop? Maybe OP is writing about you. I’m asking you this seriously because I am trying to understand the way you and Jane think/act. I am dealing with a similar situation with my mom. I know that if I realize or am pointed out something negative about myself, I do my best to change it. Do you try to reduce talking and just can’t? This is not meant to be an insult but a genuine inquiry.

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    9. Ace

      Your last point is spot on, but I can tell you that some managers are just completely conflict-resistant. My manager is useless for such issues. She will literally say “some people are…” in our huge group meeting and then be confused as to why no one feels addressed.

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    10. blondein_tokyo

      Maybe you should follow the tactics of the office grump. :) But in seriousness, she’s not going to stop until you’re mean to her. That’s probably hard for you to do, but it’s actually good practice for the future. There’s very likely going to be similar situations that come up, and learning to deal with people like her is a good skill to learn.

      If it were me (not saying you should do this; just that it’s an option) I’d tell her nicely one last time. Then I’d say “Jane, just stop. I do not have time for this.” If she continues, “I said STOP. What about “stop” is so hard to understand?”

      No mercy. :)

      Reply
      1. Another Person

        Hand out a hard copy old school memo like the crap management team at my old dysfunctional workplace did, of course.

        Reply
    1. Decima Dewey

      They probably think they have a chatty department, not that Crazypants is driving everyone insane with her chattering.

      Reply
    2. notanon

      OP, next time Crazypants is in your office and won’t stop talking, can you just dial up your supervisor, talking over Crazypants, and let your supervisor know you have a very pressing, real, live problem in your office with someone who won’t leave you alone? Ask them to come help, ASAP!

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      1. SusanIvanova

        I had an officemate who’d occasionally decide he needed to get chatty, so I had an arrangement with a co-worker in another building – I’d send a “Help!” text and then get a phone call that I just *had* to take. Sorry!

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        1. Corky's Wife Bonnie

          You’re lucky that works. I’m occasionally asked to be the “helper” and believe it or not, the chatties will sit there and wait until their call is through. Even when the victim has said (I’ll be a while, pop-up conference call).

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      2. SarcasticFringehead

        Or dial your supervisor, put it on speaker so they can hear her, and “forget” to hang up. (Don’t do that.)

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        1. 2horseygirls

          Actually, I really like this. Similar to the reader above who asked her boss to actually listen to what was being said, and who was saying it, this is an opportunity for them to hear what Crazypants is doing, but more importantly, the tone in which OP is responding. Hard to complain to the boss when boss was on the speakerphone and could hear the entire tone and vocabulary of the exchange.

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        2. AKchic

          I actually like this idea. It also makes the boss(es) actually deal with the issue if they are being interrupted too.

          Reply
  2. Aphrodite

    Alison, my advice to the OP would be to keeping repeating one phrase every single time: Leave me alone! It can be said politely but if the OP says nothing else it is more likely, I think, to eventually get through. In other words, bore her to death with that one phrase.

    Reply
    1. whistle

      Agree completely. I would stick with Alison’s script of “I need you to stop talking and leave my cubicle.” Just keep saying it in a calm tone of voice until she leaves.

      I have had to do this before for a different reason – there was an EA who felt like she could tell people what to do because her executive could tell people what to do. She would show up in my office and start giving orders. I used this approach, she refused to leave my office anyway, and then took the issue to HR herself because she thought she was in the right. HR told her to never interrupt me again and to leave my office anytime she was requested to do so. (That was a good day!)

      Reply
      1. a1

        Exactly. The one time you were direct, she left. Even if it wasn’t permanently, it worked. So it seems pretty simple to me – keep being direct, in every converstaion and interaction.

        (As a side note, direct is not the same as rude. Rude people can be rude in all sorts of methods including being passive or being direct. But for some reason a lot of people associate direct with rude. No. Rude is rude. )

        Reply
          1. Spinellie

            Yeah, she’s a human being and it’s hard when you what you say will likely hurt someone. Some of these are making me feel a bit sick about saying anything and I’m so not involved! But I’m SUCH a sucker for privately fuming and putting up with stuff for ages.

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    2. Hills to Die on

      I have found that repeating one line works well. I like ‘leave me alone’ because it’s nicer than ‘shut the f$@k up’. You usually have to say it a few times. Also, let her knock or wave her hand all she wants. For 90 minutes or whatever it takes. Ignore, leave me alone, leave me alone, repeat. She will find another target.

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      1. Hills to Die on

        You actually probably have to say it closer to a dozen times per incident but the incidents will diminish quickly.

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    3. Anon Pixie

      This is an actual technique called ‘Gray Rocking’– where you make it so boring for someone that they don’t receive the emotional stimulus they need from you, and you train them to leave you alone.

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      1. Perse's Mom

        But it sounds like OP has already tried this (not responding, blank stares) to no effect. Some people really don’t need a reaction, they just want a sounding board.

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        1. Aphrodite

          I believe the OP has tried different words, phrases and techniques. The idea here is to choose one phrase and use that exclusively. That will create the boredom factor.

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            1. pebbles

              Yup! They’re looking for a response of any kind. Doesn’t matter what the response consists of, so not responding is an invitation to continue trying to get a response, and then it’s an endurance test. (Which is not fun for anyone but the boundary-breaker.) Giving a response, but the same response, shows them that this person will react, but not in a way that’s interesting.
              It also helps the person who’s cornered disassociate emotionally, and saves their energy from trying to figure out how to enforce boundaries over and over.

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        2. Rennie

          Any variation at all is a spark of hope to these types. Literally you need to become a broken record repeating the same exact same words with the same disinterested tone as much as necessary. Don’t let her talk, and by that I mean don’t stop talking yourself. Keep repeating your chosen phrase. You can increase the volume/firmness until she finally leaves, but be aware that your are going to be completely retraining her. Bad behavior is far easier to prevent than it is to fix, for example look at the office Grump. How long did it take for him to shut her down? Seconds, most likely. Since she’s learned you will put up with her, she’s going to persist.

          There may even be a “flare out” where she REALLY bothers you in an attempt to break through your newfound resolve and return things to where SHE is comfortable. This is about making her uncomfortable, and she will fret and fuss. Be prepared and don’t yield an inch. Repeat repeat repeat.

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        1. Dorothy Zbornak

          I’ve been the office grump in a similar situation (entirely too talkative sales reps). You have to be rude. Read the description of the grump – Grump is Rude. Not absuively so, but still rude. I’m not the office grump to everyone, but I wear my non-abusive rudeness badge proudly regarding the reps because they are so awful (coworkers call me the Rep Whisperer since I got them in line).

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  3. Mustache Cat

    You know how they say if a shark stops moving they will die? Well that’s my coworker, but with talking.

    This is the funniest thing I’ve read today. I hope your shark stops swimming eventually.

    Reply
    1. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night

      This is a great analogy!

      I have a co-worker with a similar non-stop talking problem, but only 50% talking to others and 50% talking to herself (reading emails out loud, complaining about customers and/or her workload, etc.) I honestly feel like it’s some sort of self soothing habit to combat anxiety, which would be fine except it’s incredibly distracting to everyone else in our bullpen. Our boss has addressed it with her multiple times and it gets better for a little while and then comes right back. She’s in her mid-60’s and I think it’s just a part of her personality that’s deeply ingrained and will never go away. The only thing to do is get rid of her, and management here won’t let anyone go for anything less that outright fraud or failing a drug test.

      Reply
      1. Free Meerkats

        My former boss’s wife is a self talker. She essentially tells herself what to do as she’s doing it; almost as if she’s instructing someone who’s never done the thing.

        I know this because I used to work with her, I’ve been long-distance bicycling with them, and she’s a member of the dive club I’m in. There are people in the club who refuse to dive with her as a dive partner because of the nonstop muttering.

        Reply
        1. embertine

          Does she at least stop when she dives, or is there a string of bubbles and some whale noises as she just keeps going?

          Reply
          1. Free Meerkats

            Nope, there’s a constant low level muttering going on. She can actually make intelligible noises with a regulator in her face. And then she got an OTS full-face mask and that sealed it, now it’s not mumbling. I haven’t been diving with her since.

            And yes to the string of bubbles. She also complains that her air consumption is so high compared to others.

            Reply
            1. Hills to Die on

              Did anyone ever tell her that it’s because she doesn’t shut up? Or that nobody will dive with her for the same reason?

              Reply
              1. Free Meerkats

                I’ve told her, her husband has told her, when I worked with her almost 30 years ago, her boss told her that it was a problem. I doubt she’s going to change.

                Reply
            1. Rainy

              If it’s a group dive, when one person is done everyone is done, so she may be cutting everyone else’s dive short! D: D: D:

              Reply
        2. No Green No Haze

          …scuba diving?

          Has she got the full-face mask that lets you talk underwater? Because otherwise I’d feel that’d be the *only* activity where constant muttering isn’t annoying.

          Reply
        3. GlitsyGus

          I tend to do this. I have mostly stopped when other people are around, but sometimes if I’m working on something I really have to concentrate on, or if I have to do a lot of problem solving I will slip into it. It can be really embarrassing when you’re talking yourself through a complicated spreadsheet and not realizing the words are actually being said out loud (even though it usually is mumbling).

          I let myself go all out at home, it helps to have one place I can not think about it. At one point as I was talking thought he chores I needed to do my roommate, who had thought I was talking to him said, “do you do this when I’m not here too?” “Oh, honey, I do this WAY more when you aren’t here!”

          Reply
    2. Phoenix Programmer

      This is actually not true. Nurse sharks even hang out on the floor for hours a day. Many other sharks also hang on the sea bed for a quick parasote cleanse – reef and hammer head probably most famously.

      It’s true that many sharks will sink if not actively swimming. This is since they don’t have swimming bladders and rely on the lift from their fins to help maintain bouyancy.

      Fish nerdom off. /Derail.end

      Reply
      1. Amaryllis

        If that’s the case, they are poorly named. None of the nurses I know have a spare moment to hold still at work!

        Reply
        1. Jennifer Thneed

          I believe they’re called that because they actually parent their young, unlike most sharks (and other fish).

          Reply
      2. poolgirl

        Nurse sharks are using ‘buccal pumping’ to breathe while on the bottom. The swimmers use ram ventilation, and a few species are able to use both. Loved the reference she used, my best friend is a talker almost as bad.

        Reply
        1. embertine

          I was flabbergasted but also, kind of admiring? at the easel and canvas story. I mean, there’s goofing off a bit at work, and then there’s flipping the bird at management and daring them to fire you.

          Reply
          1. Hope

            For real. If I ever decide I want to get fired, I might try to see how long I can get away with crazy antics like that before someone does something about it.

            Reply
    1. Steve

      That was my question. I’m not sure this is the best approach, but you might mention this when talking with your boss (if you and the talking shark have the same boss). I would frame it as “This behavior is affecting the productivity of the whole team.”

      Reply
    2. WS

      In this case I suspect not, but I had a coworker who could somehow chat all day (on the phone, in the office, to herself if no-one else was available) and yet was the most productive person in the department. It probably helped that she could type at 150wpm but even so it wasn’t just typing and she still got everything done and more. But she was also a genuinely kind person and the one to go to for help, so nobody minded all the chatting.

      Reply
  4. JacqueOfAllTrades

    “Our supervisory team has sent out emails about appropriate office conversations and language, but it just doesn’t get through to her.”

    This does not call for a group email reminder. This calls for direct, face-to-face intervention with the offender. Why are the supervisors ignoring this?

    Reply
    1. Rebecca

      I had a manager who did this – the whole ‘address the group instead of the offender’ deal. She didn’t want to offend anyone or make anyone feel badly. I totally agree here, this is a one on one conversation that needs to be undertaken.

      Reply
      1. Ennigaldi

        Funny, all that approach ever did to me was make me paranoid so that I’d second guess everything I did.

        Reply
        1. Mathilde

          Yes, me too. But I am also pretty sure that I would tell myself “Oh, that’s probably not for me”. Which would be a problem if… you know… I was the problem !

          Reply
          1. The Dread Pirate Buttercup

            My work used to do this. I understand it’s not only to cushion the blow for offenders, it’s “so that others know that it’s a problem recognized by management.” I guess I get it, but I’ve never seen this happen in a functional workplace.

            Reply
            1. LSP

              I actually think it’s okay to do this with so that others can see it’s being addressed, with one pretty big condition: The offender or offenders are also brought in for a one-on-one conversation as well. They need to be told “That memo was about you!”

              Reply
        2. SavannahMiranda

          This is crappy and perverse of me but all it ever did was make me want to start engaging in whatever behavior the vagueposting was supposed to address.

          “Please remember although it is summer we do not relax our dress code and jeans are only allowed on Fridays.”
          (Break out the jeans on Monday morning!)

          “All food needs to be taken home at the end of the week and not left in the refrigerator.”
          (Fish a can a tuna out of my bottom desk drawer and put it in the fridge to stay.)

          Of course if the vauguemailing was about something actually egregious, then no. But if it was nannying us, then a perverse part of my personality actually wanted to start engaging in the bad behavior.

          Not the model employee.

          Reply
          1. AKchic

            But you are modeling… you are modeling the *bad* behavior.

            If you can’t be a good example, be the best bad example you can be!

            Reply
        3. SarcasticFringehead

          I’m IT-adjacent, so I sometimes have to send out chastising emails (they’re low-level, widespread issues, so mass email is the appropriate venue), and it’s always the most conscientious, rule-following people who are like “it’s me, isn’t it? I’m so sorry!” while the most clueless ones assume it’s someone else (if they read it at all).

          Reply
      2. Massmatt

        Ugh, I had a manager like this too, we had monthly team meetings where a good chunk was always devoted to scolding about schedule adherence. This was in a call center where everyone’s login time etc was tracked. Yet the manager felt it was appropriate to spend about a quarter of our meeting time on this. It was like being in grammar school.

        Terrible managers do this (and send vaguely worded emails to the entire staff) instead of dealing with problems (and problem employees) directly.

        Clueless people are never going to think blanket emails or lectures to an entire team are about THEM, this is what being clueless means!

        Reply
      3. Jennifer

        I loved when that used to happen here: “I have to tell all three of you to stop insulting the assistants, except I know that you and X aren’t actually doing it.”

        Reply
      4. Someone else

        I had a boss who did this but their framing of it (when asked and found out later) was that the 1-2 people who had been doing The Thing had being doing so without consequence for so long, they thought it necessary to tell everyone to not only get the message to the actual offenders, but also to anyone else who might have concluded in the meantime that it was OK because So-and-So did it all the time. And I was like….ok but why not just nip it with the actual wrongdoers sooner which would’ve put the kibosh on the whole thing?

        Reply
    2. Let's Talk About Splett

      Perhaps there were other people besides this employee who were talking too much or using appropriate language to a lesser degree – in that case sometimes *one* email makes sense, but otherwise I am with you, you need to address it directly with the offender.

      Because the offenders ignore the instruction and assume you don’t mean *them*, and the conscientious people freak out that they are in trouble for saying, “Crap” at normal volume once when they spilled coffee all over their desk.

      Reply
      1. A Nickname for AAM

        Also, people who are offenders tend to blame other people for their behavior and claim they are being victimized. So then you have to start policing other people’s behavior while you’re writing them up, so you don’t look like you’re playing favorites.

        “Yeah I was rude, but you were rude to me back! You should be in trouble too.”

        “Yeah I said [tirade of profanities every day] but on March 7 Joe screamed “ow holy s–t” when he dropped his hot coffee in his lap!”

        Reply
      2. Lil Fidget

        A manager may also just figure it takes two people to have a noisy disruptive conversation (although in this case, in point of fact, it does not).

        Reply
    3. Alternative Person

      Management used to do group e-mails with reminders about various processes on me and the other staff at a previous workplace.

      Fortunately, most of talked to each other so we could have the problem traced within about the span of one coffee break, usually getting the whole story from the person who made the complaint and who the complaint was about. It was usually the same two or three people.

      Reply
    4. Another Person

      She works in a government building. Crappy managers in dysfunctional government offices I have worked in sent staffwide emails and memos instead of addressing issues with individual offenders all the time. Fairness and equity and covering their asses and junk. It’s misguided but it allowed them to document they “did something” without actually having to do something.

      Don’t know if that’s the case here but if it is they probably all get dress code reminders too.

      Reply
  5. Specialk9

    Wow this is a tough one. Alison gave good advice! You’re going to have to use very blunt words, very often, and it’s going to feel hard.

    I do actually think it’s relevant that she also dresses inappropriately, because it paints the picture that she just doesn’t GAF, about any sort of professionalism.

    Sorry, OP, that you’re dealing with this!

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      Yeah this was helpful for us and Alison, to understand the type of person we’re dealing with, but I agree it doesn’t require any action on OP’s part and that OP should black it out from now on.

      Reply
      1. OP_D

        Hi, OP here. I really wish I could just black it out. But… there was an instance where she was in her cubicle yelling at a programmer. Although I could clearly hear everything that was going on, she still came into my cubicle minutes after the whole ordeal to give me a play by play. Last time when she yelled at a coworker (& I was at lunch), she went to the break room to tell me about the whole situation. I could literally tell her “I do not care!” and walk away, but she will just follow me to wherever it is that I am trying to escape to.

        Reply
        1. MrsCHX

          If she follows you, walk for a little bit, stop very abruptly and turn around quickly. Then tell her very firmly, “STOP following me.”

          Reply
        2. Not So Recently Diagnosed

          As an option, it may also make you feel better about being “rude” to her if you remind her that SHE’S being rude. “Jane, I asked you to stop talking and you’ve continued. You are being incredibly rude right now.” Or “Jane, I have told you repeatedly that I’m not interested and that I need to work. You’re being very rude by not listening to my requests.” Sometimes speaking the words helps make them true in your head and remind you that you’re in the right here, and she’s the one that’s crazypants.

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Oooo, I like this. It makes it harder for her to try to joke or rebut the request by naming what everyone’s noticed but not saying.

            Reply
        3. Ennigaldi

          Hi OP! At my job I was given a cubicle in between two people who, put together, sound a lot like your coworker: once they start talking, they won’t stop, but they also hate each other and constantly argue over the tops of the cubicles. I ended up filing an ADA request with HR to move to a different desk, because the constant noises were so distracting I couldn’t get work done and the tension was making me so anxious (I was having a lot of executive functioning/sensory processing issues and worked with my psychiatrist on this, so it was a real problem). That was the ONLY way management would approve moving since cubicles are in high demand. As I type, I can still hear one of them ranting from 40 feet away…

          Reply
          1. Polaris

            I’m in a very similar position right now! I sit directly across from one person and his secretary’s cubicle is next to mine, and they shout back and forth at each other in and old-married-couple way all day, and even if they’re not talking to each other he conducts all his phone calls in a shout and leaves the office door open. As I’m at the lowest end of the food chain and he’s at the highest, I don’t feel comfortable addressing him directly about it. I’ve talked to my boss and am hoping for results, but I’m also going to get a note from my doctor about the effect it’s having on my anxiety and executive function issues.

            Reply
        4. Rey

          I don’t think my coworker was this extreme, but she loved telling everyone the latest dramatic story from her personal life. This meant that I got to hear the same story 7-8 times per day. I was never a fan of using headphones at work, but she officially converted me.

          Reply
        5. Mel

          You have my sympathy. She sounds like an ex-college roommate of mine who loved to talk and didn’t care if I was listening or not. In one memorable instance, I told her I had to read a book for class, laid down on my bed facing the wall and began to read. She proceeded to talk to my back for the next 17 minutes; I know because I could see my alarm clock and chose to time her rather than start screaming.

          Reply
        6. Admin2

          OP you’ve gotten great advice but do realize everything you have said to her except that one instance has been about you and what you want- which any REASONABLE person would listen and adjust appropriately.

          But this is someone you have to tell her what SHE needs to do “You need to go away. You need to stop being rude. You need to stop yelling. You need to stop talking.”

          She doesn’t care that you don’t care- she likely will care about being told to go away.

          Reply
          1. Rennie

            Yup. She obviously only cares about herself and based on your descriptions of her behavior the only thing that has a chance of working is to tell her what to do. Go away. Stop talking. Stop following me. Go away. Repeat repeat repeat. It’s not rude, she has forced the situation to this point by being rude.

            Reply
        7. And So it Goes

          Greetings. This is a tough one given the disposition of the offender. I concur with the suggestion of when she steps into your cube or engages you you then call your supervisor at that moment and state very clearly that you are unable to get your work done, can she/he come over now and rectify this situation. Document the date & time. Do this every time.

          However, before that go to your supervisor and tell them you intend to do this, again follow up with an email to all appropriate supervisors/managers with your concern and intended actions moving forward. You have to make it their problem, not yours. Just calmly state you are unable to get your work done, not that she is bothering you – just you cannot get your work done due to the constant interruptions.

          Last but not least – document everything, date, time duration of interruption. I am sure no one is aware of just how constant this flow is. Once you see it down on paper it may make a difference. I wish you luck and peace.

          Reply
        8. Artemesia

          This is why you need unfortunately to escalate to a few very blunt phrases. ‘Do not follow me’; Stop talking and leave my cubicle, I need to work. etc and then use them consistently and not tolerate her staying and blathering at you.

          And you need a real CTJ meeting with your supervisor about the problem this is causing. Start with reference to the memo and note that when she is talking to you, you are not having a conversation — she is talking at you and you have been unable to get her to stop. Please intervene and do something to protect you and co-workers from this constant disruption.

          Reply
        9. Cacwgrl

          PLEASE GIVE US AN UPDATE AFTER YOU LAY DOWN THE LAW! Yes, that was yelling. Because I am super committed to knowing how this goes down!

          Reply
    2. Detective Amy Santiago

      That’s a good point. Clearly she struggles with all kinds of appropriate workplace norms.

      Reply
    3. Falling Diphthong

      Or just doesn’t pick up on social cues at all. In which case, repeatedly spelling out the boundary every time she warbles across it is the only thing that might work.

      Reply
      1. Lil Fidget

        The weird thing is, based on OP’s description I’d say they have done quite a decent job at making it clear. It seems like Jane doesn’t really care what OP wants, which is why Alison’s suggestion to go nuclear is unfortunately necessary.

        Reply
      2. Nasturtium

        Yes, I had a coworker who drove us all crazy with her talking and interruptions, and she was completely oblivious to social cues. We had to learn to be extremely blunt with her in ways that felt uncomfortably rude, but it was the only thing that worked. She seemed to be drawn to social interactions like a moth to flame, and unable to resist the pull for any long periods of time (by which I mean more than about 20 minutes).

        Reply
  6. Jonathan Swift

    Whenever she starts talking to you, I think the best course of action would be to say, “Sorry, I don’t speak English.” Then when she laughs it off and keeps talking, just pretend you really REALLY don’t understand what she’s trying to say – make very confused hand gestures – and continue doing until you reach retirement.

    Reply
    1. Not So Recently Diagnosed

      I thought this was a funny comment, then I saw your username and full guffawed at my desk. Well played.

      Reply
  7. I Wear My Sunglasses at Night

    Since you’re in a cubicle and can’t close a door, maybe you can get a folding screen to put up. She sounds like the type of person that would just come in anyway, but maybe the extra buffer would help.

    Reply
    1. Jules the 3rd

      No, if the headphones don’t work, a screen will not work either. She’s ignoring multiple soft signals, it’s time to graduate to explicit statements. No more signals, just say, “I have to work, I can’t work when you’re talking to me, go away and don’t come back.”

      Reply
      1. Corky's Wife Bonnie

        Right, I could just see this chick move the screen off to the side to get into the cube to bother her.

        Reply
      2. Kheldarson

        No, no, I could see an adjustment working.

        Get a GM screen. And on the back (the side for the players) you tape a note that says “Go away, Jane!” Then put it up every time she approaches. And just point to it if she tries waving her hand in your face.

        But I’m PA like that.

        Reply
    2. Kathy

      This probably isn’t what you meant but I’m just picturing someone frantically putting up a screen whenever they see Coworker coming towards them and holding onto it as a buffer with all the desperation of a person holding an umbrella during a monsoon while Coworker tries to barge past it.

      Reply
    3. Jady

      Unfortunately, a lot of offices would not allow such a thing, and some cubes are structured where you only have somewhere between 0 to 3 “walls”.

      Reply
    4. Admin of Sys

      We had a very ‘interactive’ office at one point (though legitimately, a lot of it was work projects), and a coworker who needed far more heads-down time used to hang a do-not-disturb sign on a chain blocking his cube. It didn’t block access, and so wasn’t a fire hazard, but it meant that no one interrupted him unless it was very important ™. I’d say mention some system like this to your boss, and if you get approval, set it up. If ChattyCathy comes along and starts talking about anything not very important ™ say “I don’t have time to talk right now, which is why I have the sign up.” And then any other attempts to talk get summarily gets ignored.

      Reply
      1. Jadelyn

        Our IT helpdesk guys use LED light strips on their cubicles for the same purpose, since they sit facing away from the open side of the cube and it can be hard to tell when they’re on the phone because they use headsets. Green means they’re approachable, red means on the phone or working on a ticket. We’ve started using them on our team as well – we have offices with doors, but when the door is closed, sometimes it’s just a soft request to please not bug if you don’t need to/to block out sound while working on something, and sometimes it’s closed because we’re on a confidential call or in a meeting – but because we’re HR, employees would be really intimidated about even knocking when the door was closed. So when the door is closed, we have a stick-on LED light next to it that we turn to either red or green – if it’s green, feel free to knock or come in anyway, but if it’s red, seriously, that means go away and send an email instead.

        Reply
    5. JerryLarryTerryGary

      I was thinking one of those rolling carts that have locking wheels- just to keep her out of your space. And when she waves at you when you’re wearing headphones, wave back and then ignore.
      If you have to work together, tell her you’ll only do it at her desk, and then leave when needed.

      Reply
  8. help...

    What makes this whole thing even worse is that she is aware that everything she is doing is inappropriate! If she lacked the ability to pick up on social cues to get it, I could at least have some sympathy. I would probably inappropriately suggest she get a therapist and schedule extended sessions with him or her, so she can talk all day for free. (Don’t actually do that!)

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      True, the way OP describes this person it does sound like she’s completely aware of the norms and that she’s being annoying on purpose. However, I think it probably doesn’t help OP to focus on that part – it might be better to think of this person as someone who Can’t Help Themselves because otherwise it’s harder to be firm and consistent without crossing into unnecessary cruelty.

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        I suspect it’s closer to she views norms as this social veneer people occasionally throw on, when secretly they all agree with her but don’t have the sheer guts/confidence/joie de vivre to act on it.

        Reply
        1. Lil Fidget

          Hehehehe this is a good insight into the mind of someone like this … chuckled at joie de vivre particularly.

          Reply
    2. Phoenix Programmer

      Honestly the more I read the OP the more I came away thinking there is something wrong with this woman.

      Reply
  9. Lil Fidget

    Oh dear, I really feel for you, OP. I think we can affirm your feeling that this doesn’t sound normal. I sometimes have to remind myself that reasonable norms are for reasonable people. When you’re dealing with someone who, for whatever reason (the reason doesn’t matter) Just Doesn’t Get It, I think you have to adapt your behavior to a level that may feel uncomfortable, and I sympathize that this sucks and is unfair. I second all of Alison’s advice: give her one last big-picture conversation that you’re not going to be able to listen to chat, and then cut her off every time. You don’t need to be cruel, just very blunt and direct.

    Reply
    1. Wannabe UX Designer

      Keep repeating, “I am not rude, I am being blunt.” Normal rules do not apply to this woman.

      Reply
  10. Amber Rose

    Someone needs a time out in the cone of silence. The passive aggressive side of me wants you to start leaving various types of gags on her desk.

    Or how about, “sorry I wasn’t listening, could you repeat that?” every three words until she gets so fed up she never wants to see you again? (May not be worth the possible backfire.)

    I’m not being serious of course. Alison already basically covered the most professional thing you can do, so this is all I got left. My sympathies.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      Hahahha I remember that letter! (It was a child’s dummy, right?) Wow good tie in :) Not the right approach to dealing with it but it’s like we’re seeing the situation from the other side!

      Reply
    2. Curious Cat

      Or hey, even instead of “sorry I wasn’t listening,” when wearing the headphones OP could say, “I can’t hear you” repeatedly.

      Reply
    3. Classic Rando

      Just keep repeating “leave now and never come back!” in the Smeagol voice until she leaves you alone

      Reply
    4. Alternative Person

      Maybe it’s time to get an airhorn app.

      Everytime she talks, sound the horn.

      /This is not good advice.

      Reply
    5. Steve

      Or interrupt with “I’m sorry, I thought were paid to work during this time and not gossip. Should we email [Manager/Boss] to clarify?” Then turn back to your work. Repeat as necessary.

      Reply
  11. 5 Leaf Clover

    Oh, this is awful – I have people who are like a tiny 100th of this chatty and they STILL drive me nuts. Please send us an update with tons of details about exactly what you said and what happened! I want to know everything.

    Reply
  12. Wannabe Disney Princess

    I work with a guy similar to this.

    I am the ONLY ONE in the building who can get him to stop. I’ve used a number of the blunter pieces of advice here and I can say 1) he doesn’t hate me and 2) once you get used to it you don’t feel rude.

    I also trained him by only discussing things I was interested in. For instance, when he waxed poetic on the trials of getting a new sump pump, I would walk away if I could or just immediately go back to working and totally ignore him. If it was a topic I was interested in, I’d indulge in a few minutes of chit chat before merrily chirping that I had to get back to work.

    Good luck LW!

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      Do you really turn your back and walk away soundlessly? I think that might work, but it feels SO rude to me that I would really have to work up that technique. Ironically I do think it is part of dog training though.

      Reply
      1. Wannabe Disney Princess

        I do. If he corners me in the lunchroom while I’m getting coffee, as soon as I’m done with sugar/cream I just leave.

        He still comes around and shows me pictures of when his son got married or his daughter had her first child. Before he leaves for his annual Christmas trip, he always tracks me down to make sure to wish me a Merry Christmas. We actually have a very friendly relationship. And I think it’s because I don’t give off murdery vibes.

        Reply
      2. MrsCHX

        I just posted downthread that this is what I do! I literally walk out of my office, WALK PAST chatty cathy and close my door and go about my business.

        Reply
      3. Flinty

        I have worked with someone sort of like this, and I didn’t walk away completely silently, I would just say the normal wrapping up things “ok, have a good day! bye!” over their talking and walk away as they continued to talk. That also feels a bit rude, but I was able to tell myself that I had ended the conversation and it was their choice to continue talking to themselves.

        Reply
    2. Bertha

      Based on the following:

      There was a moment when we first started working when I completely lost my cool and told her to stop talking and get out of my cubicle. To which she responded, “Oh, okay. But I’ll be back later!”

      I think this is the exact same situation! This is someone that you can, and should, just be blunt to.. and it won’t offend them. I’ve known a few people like that. It doesn’t feel right at first, but really, this woman has shown she doesn’t care and you need to REALLY spell it out for her.

      Reply
      1. Wendy Darling

        Also… if she got offended and refused to ever speak to LW again that would probably be an improvement.

        Reply
        1. Jadelyn

          Honestly, if the options are “she thinks we’re buddies and talks to me all the time” or “she hates me and never speaks to me”…I’m cool with Option B there, myself.

          Reply
    3. Hills to Die on

      I’ve had to do that, except you get in your can drive away. Just talk over then and say, ‘okay thanks bye!’ And leave them chatting in the parking lot by themselves. They will literally do that.

      Reply
    4. Chalupa Batman

      I don’t think Chatty Cathy will hate OP either, as long as she stays direct instead of mean (notice I didn’t say rude-there’s no need for namecalling or insults, but excessive bluntness is fair game). People who are this self absorbed often legitimately think that other people are the same way. She says whatever she’s thinking about, and if other people aren’t talking, then they must not be thinking about anything important. Saying otherwise is appropriate and normal in her mind (“if they wanted me to stop talking, why didn’t they just say so?”). In fact, if she’s like some other Cathy types I know, she’ll like OP better, because verbal directness is a virtue to them. They just don’t take things personally the way some other people do, because their overall perception of cues is flawed-basically, she doesn’t understand that you’re technically being rude. Wannabe Disney Princess’ example shows clearly that not picking up on cues can work for you just as well as it works against you.

      Reply
  13. Lch

    If she waves in your face, push her hand away! Do not look at her! Keep those headphones on. Say, “I am working. Go away.” Keep typing. Headphones all day, every day!

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      That is where it would really cross the line for me. Her waving her hand, I would respond in an ice-cold tone – “Don’t do that. You’re distracting me and I’m trying to work.” And I’m painfully nice in real life.

      Reply
      1. AKchic

        I’ve had people I’m ignoring wave their hands in my face. The only response they got was “are you a child? You see I am busy and I am not here to chat about personal stuff. Go away. Do not do that ever again, to anyone. The next person may not be as restrained as I am right now.”

        Working with the clientele I did made it very easy for me to restrain myself and model “right living”, but there were days where my PTSD made it difficult not to react to random hands in my face.

        Reply
      2. Mickey Q

        I’ve let everyone in the office know not to startle me because they may get a knife hand to the throat. Reasonable people leave me alone.
        Here’s what I would say:
        -I can’t talk right now.
        -Please stop talking.
        – You need to get back to work.
        -Why are you telling me this? Please leave.
        -Stop interrupting me with non-work issues.
        -Don’t you have work to do?
        Get real loud so the managers can hear.
        After I’ve said all that I would have no problem screaming “GO AWAY.” I would follow the same script every time. If the managers don’t do anything I would file a complaint with HR for harassment.

        Reply
    2. fposte

      I wouldn’t actually push her hand, though. You really don’t want to put your hands on somebody aggressively in the office when they haven’t done that to you, and you especially don’t want to do it with somebody who demonstrably gives less of a shit than you do.

      Reply
      1. rldk

        But Jane is already invading her personal space by waving her hand in her face – it’s not aggressive to push that hand out of her personal space. Especially if she punctuates with “Please leave me alone, I am working”

        Reply
        1. fposte

          It’s absolutely aggressive to make first physical contact. Don’t be the one escalating to physical contact. It’s a bad plan, and if then she pushes you back, you’re still the instigator from a legal perspective.

          No shoving, not of hands, not of anything.

          Reply
          1. Judy (since 2010)

            I was a witness in an investigation at work. They mostly wanted to know if I had seen the person touch anyone else during the multiple episodes. A touch was considered so much worse than yelling obscenities 2 inches from someone’s face.

            Reply
        2. Phoenix Programmer

          No it really is aggressive.

          A hand wave in front of someone with headphones is a common enough gesture in office settings. Dont escalate to touching with this person. There is no need.

          Reply
        3. SavannahMiranda

          Touching someone else though, even if they are waving their hand in your face, can be legally actionable.

          Whether that’s fair or not. Whether it’s right or not. Whether it’s infuriating or not.

          It’s why people will square up and glare at each other, and maybe even hold their chests in the other person’s personal space. Daring the other person to touch first. But not touch.

          Touching, even just to remove someone’s hand from in front of your face, can be actionable. Whether it would be in this situation, in this jurisdiction, whether it’s arguable, defensible, etc. All of that is beside the point and the energy to exhaust them is avoidable by simply not touching her.

          OP in no uncertain terms should not touch crazypants.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            Yes.

            It sucks to deal with somebody in the wrong who won’t respond to perfectly reasonable professional pushback. But one of the risks of people like that is they turn you into them–your anger at being trampled leads you to find something that will finally have an effect on her, but you lose sight of reasons why you still shouldn’t do it. This is where you can start sliding down that hill toward biting your co-worker if you’re not careful.

            Reply
          2. tangerineRose

            If someone put their hand in my face suddenly, I’d probably recoil away from the hand while putting my hands up to protect my face (sort of a reflex thing). I agree that touching her is probably not a good idea.

            Reply
    3. Perse's Mom

      Do the thing with the headphones where you lift them off your ears just enough to hear her (or make this a one-time serious conversation). When she starts rambling about [random non-work topic], “I need you to only interrupt me if it’s work-related and time sensitive. If it’s NOT time sensitive, email me about it and I’ll look at it when I can. I need to focus right now.” Put the headphones back down, turn back to work and ignore her.

      Reply
  14. CatCat

    “You’re probably hoping for a way to get her to leave you alone that doesn’t (a) require you having to be rude or (b) end in her hating you.”

    (b) actually sounds like it could be desirable to me in this scenario. Maybe that will get her to leave you alone.

    Reply
      1. Rebecca in Dallas

        Haha, one of my uncles thinks he’s punishing me by giving me the silent treatment after he didn’t get invited to my wedding. Little does he know, it was the best gift he could have given me!

        Reply
    1. Youth Services Librarian

      we had a really awful patron at the library who would refuse to work with certain staff. They were so lucky…

      Reply
  15. Glomarization, Esq.

    It’s a shame that people are calling her “crazypants” instead of communicating clearly to her that they need her to stop talking. Headphones, silent staring, keeping one’s back to her — that’s not clearly stating, “I need to get my work done and I can’t when you are talking to me. Please stop and leave me alone so I can work.”

    I think the LW and co-workers would also benefit from scaling up with supervisors. “I can’t work when she’s talking to me. She needs more than generalized e-mails to make her stop, and I need your help so that I can meet my work goals.”

    Finally, her attire or perceived childish behavior about her attire is not LW’s problem and should be left out of discussions with supervisors (and co-workers) about the talking issue.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      I dunno, OP says: “There was a moment when we first started working when I completely lost my cool and told her to stop talking and get out of my cubicle. To which she responded, “Oh, okay. But I’ll be back later!” This is master level WTF-ery here.

      Reply
      1. Archie Goodwin

        Massive self-centeredness, is how it comes across to me. “I love to talk, and I want to talk, so I’m going to talk! Yay!”

        You have my sympathies, OP – I have known a couple of people like this socially, and it’s difficult to remain cool sometimes. Sometimes a bit of rudeness is the only way to go…and even THAT doesn’t always work as well as I’d like, alas.

        Reply
        1. Beanie

          I think I sometimes confuse assertiveness as rudeness.

          There’s still a mindset in the South (to some) that women should always be gracious and demur. I work in a school with bells that signal the start of class and I’ve got coworkers that will prattle on for 10 more minutes in front of my students like they’re not even there. Unless I shut them down – which I do! Allison’s advice is helpful for me to release the anxiety I get when I have to speak up :)

          Reply
      2. Glomarization, Esq.

        LW needs to lose their cool again. If there was only “a moment” it doesn’t appear to have taken and LW should repeat as necessary until the chatty cathy stops.

        Reply
    2. pleaset

      “She also has a tendency to come into work sans bra (which she points out to everyone!)”

      Her pointing it out is a problem. I’m a guy and I’d find that extremely inappropriate for a woman to tell me this in the workplace.

      Reply
      1. Glomarization, Esq.

        I agree it’s a problem. However, the inappropriate attire itself is a separate problem from LW being unable to work effectively because chatty cathy won’t leave her alone. For sure, chatty cathy shouldn’t be talking about her attire, and she should dress professionally. But LW should focus on how the talking alone prevents her from working.

        Reply
        1. Lil Fidget

          Yeah, to me OP has the most purview over things that specifically interrupt OP’s own ability to work and cannot be ignored – like someone literally coming over and waving their hand in OP’s face only to start nattering on about something meaningless. Everything else is also inappropriate but technically OP should be able to tune it out.

          Reply
          1. pleaset

            “She’s tells me when she’s not wearing a bra” is important to mention. Even if it is just a minor part. Even if it wasn’t interrupting. You can’t go around the office saying stuff like that.

            Reply
            1. Observer

              No, you shouldn’t. But I don’t see why the OP needs to mention it. Not that she needs to pretend that it’s not happening. But bringing it to management comes of as policing something that really is not her concern.

              Reply
              1. Someone else

                I thought OP was just providing context for the completely absurd nature of the interruptions and additional unprofessionalness beyond the constant talking. It didn’t seem to me like OP was overly focused on the attire issues, just that it adds an additional layer of this person behaving inappropriately at work.

                Reply
      2. RVA Cat

        Her pointing it out is some serious TMI even for women.
        Let me guess, the day they take employee pictures she will miss a button?

        Reply
      3. Fiennes

        Agreed. Unlike some posters here, I think this woman really doesn’t connect to social norms—and this detail is the tell. Like, she knows what social rules *are,* but thinks of them as obscure etiquette rules, obeyed as often as Emily Post dictums on oyster fork placement for your fine silverware. She doesn’t get that most people *actually follow* these rules—at least, most of them, most of the time.

        In my experience, most people who jabber on uncontrollably are really very lonely. It’s doubly sad because the behavior drives others away and makes the loneliness worse. But this is a problem beyond OP’s ability to solve. Alison’s advice is really the only way to go.

        Reply
      4. Free Meerkats

        Cheerily, “You’re not wearing a bra today? That’s a real coincidence, I’m not wearing underwear! Isn’t it great to just let things swing around like nature intended?!?”

        Don’t do this. Just think it.

        Reply
        1. AKchic

          *snicker* bonus points if it is an extremely matronly woman who says this. I’m envisioning the rocking-chair granny.

          Reply
      5. aebhel

        Yeah, that’s… I don’t always wear one (they drive me up a wall), but (a) only when the rest of my clothes give sufficient coverage that no one can tell and (b) I certainly don’t point it out to people!

        Reply
      6. AKchic

        As a woman, I don’t find it appropriate either. And I’m a busty woman that routinely draws attention to my own chest in certain situations.

        The workplace (especially a government setting!) is not appropriate for that. Going sans bra is perfectly fine. Commenting on it and/or drawing attention to it is where it crosses all sorts of lines. Nobody needs to know about what’s going on underneath your clothes Conversational Catherine! (yes, I’m using her given name, because this is serious and I’m using MomVoice)

        Reply
        1. Observer

          Yes. Pretty much this. I don’t care what you do (or don’t) wear. But I don’t want the details.

          Reply
        2. OP_D

          Lol @ “Conversational Catherine!” I never heard that before…

          Yes, my problem isn’t that she doesn’t wear a bra, per say. But there is absolutely no reason for her to interrupt me while I’m working to tell me that she just took off her bra! I do not need to know these things. Also, her horrible appearance doesn’t bother me so much as the attitude behind it, “I like my holey hoodie, so I don’t care if they have a problem with it. And if they do have a problem they can say something. But just let them say something!” I just don’t understand how someone could be so unprofessional.

          And no, her attire wouldn’t be something I would personally bring up to management. Judging by the dress code emails they send out, they are aware of how she dresses but aren’t willing to deal with it directly.

          Reply
          1. AKchic

            Ugh. It sounds like she *wants* them to challenge her, and she is purposely going without a bra so she can try to get them to say something about that as well so she can try to say something about them looking.
            Perhaps her mentioning the bra is on purpose so someone will mention it to management (if they haven’t already) and she wants that confrontation for an ulterior motive?

            Maybe her whole personality is to engender drama and conflict. After your comment here, that’s what I’m picking up on.

            If you haven’t already, check out “Grey Rock” techniques. You’re doing them already, but really read in to what they are. Then – go forward with Alison’s plan while continuing with the Grey Rock techniques and escalate with HR for harassment if she doesn’t stop bothering you. Document everything because even if your managers are inept and (seemingly) spineless, it doesn’t mean HR will be once they get wind of all of this.

            Reply
          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            They seem to be doing a whole lot of “managing by announcement,” which is to say that they aren’t managing at all. One of them needs to human-up and have some direct conversations with the only person egregiously violating all basic norms of human interaction and workplace conduct.

            I agree with Artemesia, up-thread (that it’s time for a CTJ talk), and I also agree with the advice to document the frequency and length of the interruptions. Normally I don’t think documentation is necessary, but in this case I think having concrete data will help you make the case to your managers so that they can get up the spine to do something.

            Reply
    3. eplawyer

      I agree. Not only blunt and clear with the Chatty Cathy, but also with supervisors. Saying “I’m unproductive” does not really convey the problem. You need to flat out state to supervisors “I cannot work with her constantly talking to me. Even with headphones on, she comes in and interrupts me. Ignoring her does not work.” If management STILL does nothing, HR is always an option. Because as noted above, the supervisors see two people in the conversation, they don’t see your blank stare. You cannot let this incredibly rude person affect your career.

      Reply
      1. Kess

        Yes, I agree – OP needs to be clear to their boss that they are unable to work because this coworker won’t leave them alone (along with being blunt with Chatty Cathy that she needs to leave OP alone to work). I’d be worried that management might see the two of them in a conversation and think OP is also part of the problem, and “I’m unproductive” could sound like “I’m easily distracted here” rather than “I can’t make her go away”

        Reply
  16. Curious Cat

    Definitely speak directly to your supervisor about this to make them aware of what’s happening, and ask them, “What should we do about this?” If you haven’t already, I would also make a note of every time she comes over to you during a day so that you have some sort of track record of truly how often she’s interrupting your work & won’t leave you alone. It’s also implied, but be sure to be saying all this deadpan and with a straight-face (I know when I’m uncomfortable or feel rude, I’ll unconsciously smile to soften what I’m saying, but this situation calls for zero smiles).

    Reply
    1. Perse's Mom

      If OP sits near the supervisors and Chatty likes to follow her around to talk, perhaps OP should start walking over to the supe’s offices every time the chatting starts. If they’re getting interrupted as well (and often!), perhaps they’ll feel the need to act.

      Reply
  17. Afiendishthingy

    I shared in last week’s open thread one of the many stories of my Fired Coworker from my last job. She had All The Questions. On one particularly memorable day, after another coworker had already told Fired Coworker multiple times to stop asking questions so she could do her work, FC attempted to follow the other coworker INTO THE BATHROOM, saying “Do you mind if I talk to you while I pee?”

    She was awful. OP, you have my sympathies.

    Reply
  18. MrsCHX

    So much is so often chalked up to poor management. When someone is a problem employee, reiterating general policy to everyone isn’t the answer. Doh. But OPs boss didn’t write in :/

    Definitely be direct. “Jane, I don’t have time for this right now / I’m not interested / I have work to do, please leave my cube.” and repeat. And repeat.

    I have an office neighbor that is bad but not this bad. I will get up and leave my office, closing the door behind me, while she is on minute 15+ of talking. It’s funny how “we” (people on the receiving end) worry about being rude when trying to stop rude behavior!

    Reply
      1. froodle

        Please tell me you come back and listen at the door to you own office to see if it’s safe to return of it she’s still in there wittering. Possibly with a glass pressed against the door?

        Reply
  19. bopper

    “I need you to be quiet, I am on a call.” …and be “on a call” all day long with your headphones on.

    Reply
    1. Tex

      I like to go with “I’m just not interested” and walk away.

      I’ve actually done it to two people, but they were friendly coworkers I had a great relationship with but were a bit too rambly. So all was forgiven even though they were slack jawed at the time and it took years before they stopped talking about that one time I said it, but dear lord….I am not interested in the inner workings of an IT problem from two jobs ago or how you think the magician did his trick.

      Reply
  20. beanie beans

    This sounds like an ideal time to request to move desks, if that’s possible. It would also give you the opportunity to talk to your supervisor about how desperate the situation has gotten.

    Reply
    1. beanie beans

      And sorry, I see now that you’ve already requested it and been denied. But if you haven’t tied it directly to her and your own productivity, try again! And possibly put this on your supervisor since they have been so terrible about dealing with her. Ask “How would you prefer me to handle my situation with coworker? She continues to disrupt my work all day despite me trying to be polite and I need some better options.”

      Reply
      1. Jennifer

        Sounds like nobody is allowed to move there.

        I would be curious to hear how the supervisor would advise OP here. I would be afraid that I might get in trouble for telling Jane to shut up, but my office is like that.

        I’m pondering OP getting some kind of loud horn to honk at her :P

        Reply
  21. Rebecca

    This stuck out to me: ” I have asked to move cubicles, citing the fact that I feel unproductive, but my requests have been denied, twice. (It’s a corporate thing, I guess. Others have asked to move and their requests have been denied as well.)”

    I think the OP should cite the real reason: that this employee basically ambushes her every day when she comes to work, blathers on constantly, will not take a hint, and if they won’t move the OP, can they at least move the offending party? Like, far away, as in the roof or basement? Only half kidding here.

    I’ve been watching Doc Martin on Netflix. He has the “go away and don’t talk to me” vibe perfected. He just says “no” or “go away” and goes about his business.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      To be fair, some offices are insane about cube placement. I suppose they think if they open the floodgates of allowing people to move around (what with windows being assigned politically, etc), they’d be getting a request every five minutes – but it’s a stupid and feels petty when you’re the person who would like to move for business reasons and are told it’s not possible.

      Reply
      1. OP_D

        Hello. OP here. When I told my supervisor about the real reason why I wanted to move, he said he’d take the issue to a higher up. I guess other people had also asked to move due to their own Chatty Cathys. Some time later everyone got an email basically saying that no changes to cubicle seating would be made because they didn’t want people shouting “favoritism” & something about “seniority” when it comes to window seats. So we all just have to deal, is basically what mgmt. is saying.

        Reply
        1. SoCalHR

          Too bad they can’t make a “quite zone” of cubes and allow people to volunteer to sit there…which would put all the chatty cathys in one area…and presto, I’m sure they would how much more productive the quite zone is.

          Reply
        2. SavannahMiranda

          For what it’s worth, hard HARD eye roll on management dealing with your specific request from a private conversation by sending out a blanket public announcement.

          You requested specifically and privately. You deserved a specific and private response. The way adults have conversations. Wow.

          Reply
      2. Let's Talk About Splett

        Well, and 1) *somebody* has to sit by her and 2) she seems like the type of person who would think nothing of walking across the floor or wherever you are to chat if that’s what she wants to do.

        Reply
    2. Rey

      The longer I read AAM, the more mad I get about managers who won’t manage. Chatty Cathy has exhibited so much unprofessional behavior, OP specifically said that they are close to two supervisor’s offices, and yet they can’t be bothered to have the direct (and uncomfortable) conversations to put their employee on a PIP and hopefully coach her towards more professional behavior. I’m pulling my hair out on OP’s behalf.

      Reply
      1. Muriel Heslop

        I’m teacher and I feel the same way about “parents who won’t parent” – your remark gives me a lot of insight into how annoying they may be to work with as well!

        Reply
  22. ThursdaysGeek

    Someone who talks constantly often doesn’t appear to stop to breathe. That means you’ll also need to interrupt her to tell her, which also seems rude. But if you wait for a break, you will end up listening for a long time first. So interrupt her to say what you need to say. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Yup. Flash a hand in the “stop” gesture, too. Use every tool available.

      I know somebody like this, and she doesn’t do it to be annoying; it’s just a communication style born of neediness. She’s kind of the human equivalent of a “velcro dog.” So I don’t think the co-worker is necessarily entitled or bullying to do this, but that doesn’t mean the OP has to accept the burden of it.

      Reply
    2. It's Friday!

      I’m picturing one of those folding fans that when she opens it up it says “GO AWAY” in big letters on it.

      Reply
  23. Snark

    I’m an environmental scientist, but I took a forensic pathology class once. I’m pretty sure I remember enough to successfully hide a body.

    *mouths “call me” holding pinkie and thumb up to ear like a phone, nodding significantly*

    Reply
    1. anon for this one

      I was told by an FBI forensics expert that you should always hide a body in water. It destroys so much evidence. Just putting that out there.

      Reply
        1. Free Meerkats

          Wrap the body in chain link fencing with a few cinder blocks. Make sure to remove all clothing, especially buoyant shoes (google “bc foot washes ashore”.) Drop it in deep salt water. The crabs will destroy all the evidence.

          Not that I’ve thought about this or anything.

          Reply
        1. IsbenTakesTea

          It only qualifies as gallows humor if it comes from the person on the gallows.

          It definitely deviates from the commenting policy of being kind, and is derailing a conversation from how to deal with obnoxious office behavior into a conversation on how to kill a specific person–who could conceivably scroll through these very comments–without being caught, regardless of how “in jest” it is meant.

          “A little humor never hurt anything” is a very weak defense, because to find something funny, you have to believe, at some level, that it’s true. It’s the same defense that is used to tell racist/sexist/bigoted jokes.

          Reply
            1. Detective Amy Santiago

              So basically, in a post about someone who doesn’t stop talking even when directly asked… people didn’t stop talking when you directly asked. That’s… something.

              Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        People will have different standards on this sort of thing. Personally I think it’s fine and is obviously intended as a joke, but I realize not everyone will agree. But let’s leave this here before it derails.

        Reply
    2. Tricksy Hobbit

      This reminds me of a James Thurber short story called The Catbird Seat. The mild manner main character, Mr. Martin wants to do away with his boss’s new secretary because she’s so rude loud and crude. He wants to kill her but when he goes to her house he acts so out of character that she thinks he crazy. The next day at work he acts like nothing happen. She reports it to the boss, but no one believes her. She stays away from him after that. (Link to the short story is in the username.)

      Reply
  24. Mom MD

    I dealt with a jabber mouth by saying “I can’t talk. I’m working.” Everytime she came up to me. After a few times, she stopped. No smiling. No talk to you later.

    Don’t be afraid to be direct. She’s the rude one, not you. Don’t let her invade your space. “I’ve got work to do. Your talking is distracting”.

    Reply
  25. Bea

    What is this BS where standing around swearing just gets an all office “watch your mouths!” email? That’s proof that she’ll never be held accountable or disciplined. I know government jobs are hard to get fired from but for heavens sake.

    Either be rude to her or get another job. She’s never ever going to leave you alone, she’s imprinted on you at this stage.

    Reply
  26. Denise Feinstein

    It always baffles me when people don’t understand the “headphones on means I’m busy” rule.

    Reply
    1. I'll come up with a clever name later.

      I once had a co-worker who reached over and pulled my earbuds out so she could tell me about her weekend. I may have mildly freaked out on her. It’s all good…she doesn’t want to tell me about her weekend anymore. :)

      Reply
      1. Lil Fidget

        Yeah, one coworker tapped me on the shoulder (to bug me about something nonwork related) and I completely freaked out – jumped up out of my seat and gasped, “WHAT?!?” quite loudly. Everybody looked over and she had to sheepishly admit she “just wanted to chat.” I admit, I didn’t restrain my reaction as much as I could have in the moment because I wanted to send the clear signal that I didn’t want to be disturbed. That person has never done that to me again.

        Reply
        1. 5 Leaf Clover

          I’m a huge fan of acting more startled than you are to discourage over-familiarity, especially with touching.

          Reply
          1. froodle

            A co-worker once did that “electrocution tickle” (where you squiggle your index fingers into someone’s waist) thing to me when I was washing out my coffee mug in the break room. My hammer house of horror shriek, spinning round and splashing him with a mug of not soap suds was 100% genuinely an accident, as was the fact that it brought a supervisor from her office because she thought someone had really been hurt, but he never did it again and because it was spontaneous i didn’t have to awkwardly spell out “don’t tickle me in the workplace WHAT THE HELL PERV.”

            Reply
      2. Lucille 2

        Oh my. If someone did this to me, I think my method would be to physically jump or jerk backwards from them, look at them like they were absolutely insane, and yell WOAH!
        Maybe they would think twice next time.

        Reply
    2. pleaset

      It’s not a rule, at least in some places. It often means “I’d like it quiet” – in my office, people wear them for that, but are happy to talk if they are not super-busy.

      Reply
      1. bonkerballs

        Agreed – it’s far more of a hard and fast rule on public transportation. Not at all in an office setting. Most people I know (myself included) wear them because they just want to listen to their own music as they work. Feel free to interrupt me as much as you normally would.

        Reply
    3. AvonLady Barksdale

      A former boss once argued with me that his headphones meant that it was ok to disturb him and I was wrong for thinking otherwise. I said that I wore my headphones when I wanted to work uninterrupted and I was upset that people kept interrupting me, and while he apologized, he thought I should go to another room if I didn’t want to be disturbed. I still shake my head at that one.

      Reply
      1. pleaset

        There is not a right or wrong here – it depends on office norms and how clearly people have stated their desires.

        In an open plan office, with noise, headphones are typically used to block general noise and not to signal “do not disturb at all.”

        In my open plan office, with plenty of quiet rooms, it is fine to see if someone can talk even if they are wearing headphones. If they cannot, they’ll gesture to leave them alone. And when people really want to not be disturbed at all, they go to a private room.

        I’m not saying our way is “right” but it is reasonable if that’s what people think in the space. I will say that if says someone says can disturb them when they has headphones on, you should feel free to disturb them when they have headphones on. They’ve told you so.

        Reply
    4. Bagpuss

      I think it is worth saying this to her.
      “If I have my headphones on, that means I am busy and not available to talk.
      Don’t interrupt me. If you have an urgent, work related question, e-mail me”

      (then keep your headphones on!)

      The first time after that she interrupts you, e-mail her, cc-ing your manager and HR saiyng
      ,
      “Dear XXXX,

      I am mailing to remind you not to interrupt me when I am working. I don’t have time to chat. I told you that when I have my headphones on, or if I tell you I am working, that you need to leave me alone.
      Please respect this and do not come into my cubicle or interrupt me at my desk unless you have a work-related question (in which case it is generally best to e-mail me)”

      Then escalate. Go to your supervisor, explain that you have spoken to her directly, spelled things out, e-mailed her and she is still harassing you, and ask them to address it with her directly.

      Meanwhile, I would do as Alison suggests and be blunt, tell her she needs to leave, every single time that she approaches you.

      Have a conversation with your manager about the fact that you have repeatedly told her not to interrupt you or to talk to you about things that are not work-related, and she has ignored them.

      Reply
    5. Liane

      Common in personal life as well. One of the Mysteries of Life to me is “Why are [immediate family members] surprised I don’t realize they’re wearing earbuds when they never notice I’m using a bright blue headset?”

      Reply
    6. fieldpoppy

      I have had two different people on planes and trains sitting next to me literally PULL MY LARGE HEADPHONE off an ear to speak to me about things that I have no interest in and have indicated no interest in.

      It baffles me.

      Reply
    7. Perse's Mom

      Part of my job is getting interrupted a lot to field questions. I don’t mind this at all when it’s people I’m training who have a question about how to do X.

      What annoys the ever loving crap out of me are the people who skype call with no notice (I ignore these) and the one person who hovers, waits until I disengage from whatever I’m doing, spends two minutes hemming and hawing while organizing his thoughts, and then asks me about crap that a) he should know, he’s worked in the same dept as me for years and has all the same resources or b) has nothing to do with me or my projects and I’m not going to have an answer for him anyway but I’m conveniently located and he’s lazy (not in the efficient way like I am, but in the wants-to-waste-as-much-time-as-possible way) so he’d rather ask half a dozen people who *might* know rather than emailing the one person who DOES know. It got to the point with him that I would simply not make eye contact if he was headed in my direction and if he hovered, “it’s gonna be awhile” and continue working, and he’d go pester someone else. /rant

      Reply
  27. animaniactoo

    “Jane, I have been trying to manage this for awhile now and make it clear that I just don’t have the time to listen for so long or so often during the day. I get that you don’t see it as disruptive as it is for me, but I just work differently than you do and when you come by it really throws me off and it takes me time to get back in the groove again. To be honest, it drives me kind of batty to have to keep doing it several times a day. The only thing that’s ever seemed to work one time way back in the beginning when I told you to shut up and get out of my cubicle, but that feels horribly rude to me. Can I ask you to limit your visits as an overall thing and take it as read for the rest of them that I told you I need you to not come talk/chat/whatever right now?”

    Obviously you won’t get it all out at once, but it’s the gist of what you want to cover.

    In the interests of managing her specifically, in terms of what’s realistically achievable, perhaps offer her 10 minutes once a day in the morning. And then for the rest of the day the answer is “Nope, you had your 10 minutes. Come back tomorrow.” with a smile and a laugh. If she stays and tries to talk anyway then you get to frown and say “Hey, I’m serious about this. I need you to stop and go away.” But at that point it won’t feel as “rude” and it will be easier to enforce as your agreement that she’s now violating.

    Reply
    1. LKW

      Too many words! The OP needs to be more direct. “Jane, I need you to stop interrupting my work for stories and chit chat. Please go back to your desk.”

      You are going to have to do this until she finally is retrained.

      Reply
      1. animaniactoo

        For an in the moment convo, yes, it’s too many words. For a big picture convo, it’s a bunch of words that might have some effect on overall thinking vs one-time thinking.

        Reply
  28. I'll come up with a clever name later.

    A former co-worker of mine would work on really intense, time-sensitive projects that required his full attention. He’d put a strip of masking tape across the entry of his cubicle and attach a note:

    DO NOT BOTHER ME. I AM WORKING!
    I do not want to hear about that cool show you watched last night
    I do not want to listen to a funny story about your kids.
    I do not want to see your vacation photos.
    I DO NOT WANT TO BE BOTHERED!
    I AM WORKING!
    If you’d like to do any of the above, head to the break room and
    find someone there who does want to do those things. Today, that
    person is not me!

    It worked. He’d stick up the tape, put on his headphones, and keep his back turned away from conversation.

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      It’s so shameful that this is what we’ve come to in our cubefarm lives. Someone shouldn’t need to go to these lengths to concentrate on work! If we had offices with doors that closed or even locked, it would go a long way for some of us who legitimately need peace and quiet.

      Reply
    2. Environmental Compliance

      When I was TAing we had a guy who was a roaming chatty Cathy. Someone found a roll of caution tape and we all would put up a strip of caution tape when we were busy. It confused him long enough to get through the rest of semester without too much of him rambling away at the back of your head. Worked nicely enough that we’d also caution tape off study tables to show we needed a quiet zone, and maybe those that wanted to talk about the handle of vodka they drank last night should go to someone else’s cube.

      Reply
    3. Aphrodite

      Ha! When I was in a cubicle and on deadline I’d put up a note that said “ON DEADLINE: Please disturb if . . . the building is on fire or Bob is on the phone.”

      I also had, appropriately placed a picture of a burning building and a picture of Robert Redford in his heyday.

      Reply
      1. A.N. O'Nyme

        “Is it not urgent? Then please wait, I’m busy.
        Are you on fire? Put yourself out and please wait, I’m still busy.”

        Reply
      2. LizB

        Someone on a nonprofit facebook group I’m a part of just recently posted a sign they put on the back of their computer:
        “Grant writing in progress! Before you disturb me, consider:
        Are you [supervisor’s name]?
        Are you bleeding?
        Is the building about to explode?
        Are you bringing me kittens or vodka?
        If none of these things are true, please go away!”

        Reply
    4. Jo

      I’m having an image in my head of a very Fight Club-esque scenario:

      Rule One is, do not bother me, I am working.
      Rule Two is, DO NOT BOTHER ME. I AM WORKING.
      Rule Three: If someone says “stop/I’m busy,” ignores you, or puts on headphones, the conversation is over.
      Rule Four: Only 8 hours in a work day to get this shit done.
      Rule Five: Only one personal conversation per day, fellas.
      Rule Six: I will work undisturbed as long as I have to.
      Rule Seven: If you’re here at work today…you have to work.

      Reply
    5. MLB

      In my first job out of college, I would usually eat lunch at my desk so I could surf the internet (this was WAY before smart phones). Our help desk people sat across the aisle from me and would often walk over and ask me questions. I had to put up a “I’m at lunch, don’t bug me” sign so they would stop coming over while I was on break.

      Reply
  29. MechanicalPencil

    How would this advice change for a coworker leading conference calls? That’s my current situation, and it’s hard to get a word in edgewise. So I just interrupt, which feels incredibly rude.

    Reply
    1. irene adler

      Sometimes you just have to interrupt such people.
      While it feels rude to you, it may not even be registering with the person you need to interrupt (other than you are now getting the chance to speak).

      Reply
    2. Double A

      For a lot of people interrupting is a normal part of conversation; it’s a cultural thing (and by that I mean it can be regional or even just a family culture). I hate being interrupted because I am pretty mindful about not rambling on, so if I’m not done…I’m not done! But I have a co-worker who’s an interrupter/over talker so I’ve just tried to adapt and do the same to her. It feels really rude to me but she doesn’t seem to mind much.

      Reply
  30. irene adler

    This lady doesn’t recognize social cues. My boss is like that. He’ll talk and talk at you- long after it’s time to go home. He keeps folks on the phone long after any need to talk. Five minute meetings can go for an hour with him yammering on.

    Those who fear being rude to him just suffer. I got proactive and would head out the door at quitting time, with a “Hey, we’ll pick this up tomorrow. See ya!” And out the door I would scoot. There were also times when I practically hung up the phone on him. I’d end meetings with “I’ll go do X and we’ll discuss after X is complete. Thanks for the chat!”

    And you know what? He was not the least bit offended. My actions didn’t bother him at all. As he doesn’t heed social cues to stop talking when most other folks would, my actions don’t register with him as anything offensive. In fact, he’s never brought up my actions to discuss. Nor has he complained to anyone about them. Hence, I would encourage you to employ Allison’s suggestions- and not feel the least twinge of guilt that you might be offending her. You’re not.

    Another suggestion would be to hold up your hand as soon as she starts in, and state, “Not now. I’m on deadline. Cannot talk. I need quiet. Understand? Please, go away. Thank you.”

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      It’s true, the people in my life who completely miss social norms are rarely the ones who are quick to get huffy and offended when I cut them off. Although there are people who are oddly both insensitive and over-sensitive. Hopefully this lady is not one of them.

      Reply
      1. Bagpuss

        At this point, it might be helpful if she is. – if she’s offended maybe she won’t want to talk to OP so much!

        Reply
    2. Massmatt

      In the movie 22 short films about Glenn Gould someone who knew him well said that Gould was such a nonstop talker that he once fell asleep while on the phone with him, only to wake up hours later with Gould still talking. He seemed to think it was amusing, I thought “how could you possibly stand to be around this guy?”

      Reply
    1. Greg M.

      speaking as another grump. it’s why we’re the grump honestly. some people just feel entitled to every spoon you have. make it not worth the effort to take.

      Reply
  31. AdAgencyChick

    Ugh, management won’t manage.

    Sending out an email to the entire office never stops actual troublemakers. The talker clearly assumes the email doesn’t apply to her or she doesn’t care, and if her manager isn’t willing to address it specifically with her as a performance issue, nothing will change.

    Good luck, OP. If being direct works, I’d share your tips with your coworkers. Perhaps if blabbermouth has no one to go to for chats except her manager, her manager will have to manage the problem!

    Reply
  32. essEss

    I would track how long she keeps talking and then take THAT to your boss and say you lose X hours of productivity this week because of your coworker interruptions.

    Another option is to schedule her ‘talk time’. Let her know that you will ONLY talk non-work items with her from 9:10-9:20 each morning (or whatever you think appropriate). She can blather about whatever but ONLY during those times. She is not allowed to interrupt you outside of those times unless it is for specific work questions (with no chit-chat addendums in those interruptions). If she tries to chat outside of those times, hold up your hand and tell her that she needs to table this until the ‘free chat time’.

    Reply
    1. eplawyer

      I wouldn’t give her specific times to let her chitchat. The LW is NOT interested in hearing about her cat, or whatever. Just because someone else wants to talk to you does not mean you are obligated to lend them your ears.

      The ONLY way to shut this down is complete. Go away I am busy. Repeat as necessary. If you give even a tiny crack of an opening, you will be saying all day “this is not free chat time” instead of working.

      Reply
  33. Anonforthis

    I worked with a woman briefly (retail job) that was like this – if she was breathing, her mouth was moving and sounds were coming out. It was like she wasn’t even aware she was talking and she was unable to stop. I think she may have legit had some sort of mental wiring issue – this was beyond being chatty, it was like it was compulsive.

    I honestly don’t remember how it resolved itself – either I left around that same time or she quit, but everyone HATED working with her.

    Reply
  34. ProgrammerDude

    I would actually take a smaller step up and get a spray bottle with water on my desk.
    Any time she started going off, I’d just spray her and start shouting “Bad cat! You know better than that!” or something along those lines.

    I also have a bit less shame and would be perfectly willing to bring a referee whistle to the situation and using that to try to call attention to the bad behavior.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      In real life, though, you really can’t disrupt the whole office with a referee’s whistle without becoming the problem yourself. What’s entertaining is unfortunately not always what’s viable.

      Reply
      1. ProgrammerDude

        Honestly, I could see myself doing it. But only after other options have been exhausted, especially talking to managers on multiple occasions.

        Reply
  35. Observer

    From what you say, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone thinks that she is protected by ADA and they “can’t” do anything about her behavior.

    Nevertheless, Alison’s advice is good. Have that conversation with your boss. Document the situations where she didn’t just come by buy made it difficult for you to work. Document occasions where she stands over your shoulder looking at work that is confidential.

    When others vent to you, tell them that you sympathize, but can’t talk about her for you own sanity – she’s already taking up too much of your head-space – and that you strongly suggest that they have the same conversation with their / Jane’s boss.

    And, yes, ignore all the other stuff. Discussing her underwear (or lack thereof) is gross, but what she wears is really not your issue. “Not my monkeys, not my circus” should be a new mantra for you.

    Reply
    1. Vicky Austin

      Allowing an employee to disturb and pester other employees to the point where it interferes with said employees’ ability to get their work done is NOT a reasonable accomodation under the ADA.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        Of course it’s not. I did NOT say that they cannot deal with it. I said that they probably THINK that they can’t deal with it. That’s why I put the “can’t” in quotes – this is not reality but (possible) perception.

        Reply
    2. Lil Fidget

      True, it’s possible that this coworker is protected by some kind of mental condition. Of course that doesn’t mean OP has to just let her work be disrupted forever – this is like the panic attack letter earlier in the week. Even if management doesn’t step up (they should, but sometimes we have to accept that they won’t) Alison’s suggestions should help OP help herself here.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        I agree. All I was trying to get at is that this kind of incorrect perception may be part of the reason why no one is handling the matter well.

        Reply
  36. lallyb

    “If there’s a fire, someone else will tell you.” Allison, I love you.

    Also, solidarity, letter writer – I have a (very nice!) coworker who will just come post up in my office. He came in last week while I was eating, and I moved my lunch out from in front of me because I’m uncomfortable sitting and eating in front of someone who’s just sitting there watching me. He asked why, I explained my discomfort, and he said “oh no, I didn’t mean to interrupt your lunch!” and then sat there for 20 more minutes. He’s come in and interrupted my lunch 4 more times, each time apologizing and saying “don’t let me stop you from eating!” but not…leaving…….when my door is closed and I’m clearly eating while working because I’m swamped and I don’t have time to have a lunch break. Sigh.

    Reply
      1. The Dread Pirate Buttercup

        Trampling boundaries, acting unprofessional, and ignoring signals are how to show you’re an AMAZING mate prospect, according to the evo-psych crowd. Why wouldn’t Lallyb be just THRILLED to be kept away from her food by such a catch? Sigh. Not cool, in case you were (somehow) wondering.

        Reply
      1. The New Wanderer

        This was a thing in college. The resident dorm pest would hang around the girls who would still be polite to him, despite being clearly uncomfortable and later say that they didn’t like him or his behavior. He gave up on me really quick after I told him flat out to back off (he tried to half-cuddle with me, wtf). I really don’t care if a boundary crosser has a bad experience with me, or at least I care far more about getting out of a creepy uncomfortable situation and preventing future situations.

        I would say it’s a bit harder in a professional environment because of the expectation of polite professional interactions that’s ingrained in every good worker. But, directly telling someone to back off is still effective and appropriate to use on boundary-crossers, because they really won’t stop otherwise.

        Reply
      2. MLB

        I will never understand why people can’t just tell someone to stop what they’re doing. Just because you’re at work, doesn’t mean you have to put up with nonsense. “Is there something you needed from me?” When he says no, “I’m at lunch right now, please excuse me.” and then escort him out of your office if he can’t take a hint.

        Reply
    1. tangerineRose

      I’ve found that if I read a book while I eat, I can explain to an interrupter that I really want to read this book quietly during lunch (and if the person just sits there staring at me, maybe say “I can’t focus while you’re staring at me”).

      Reply
  37. Dino

    Hi, this woman sounds a lot like my mother. My mom knows she’s being rude, but she just doesn’t give a fuck. Her GAF-meter is always negative-100 and she goes about life how she wants to. It is miserable to be around.

    My advice: Be blunt, be rude, and take your victories where you can. The only times I’ve gotten her to successfully stop doing something rude and messed up was to be rude and blunt consistently and repeatedly until she learned that bringing up X would always result in me doing Y. Don’t feel bad about it. You wouldn’t have to do this if your coworker had one iota of GAF, and you’re doing what you have to to deal with a person who won’t be cowed any other way. Reclaim your time, OP!

    Reply
    1. Lil Fidget

      This is how they say to train a cat. You can’t make the cat GAF about your needs or wants, but you can adjust the rewards of certain behaviors so that the cat will opt voluntarily to make other choices. I adore my cat but I have found this to be correct.

      Reply
      1. Michaela Westen

        I’ve had cats who made it clear they did care about my needs and wants. I was able to train them to stay off the kitchen table (at least when I was around), out of my purse, and my male cat to go only 5 feet down the hall in either direction from my apt.
        As far as I remember I used a combination of gentle “no”‘s and gently moving them to where they were supposed to be, with praise and hugs when they did right. It worked well. :)

        Reply
        1. Lil Fidget

          I have only been able to train the cat to get down when she sees me coming (because she does not want to be shooed off) – but when I’m not around, she’s up on that table all the time. From what I understand, dogs are better able to generalize a rule to other circumstances. But I’m sure its not universal! Just a helpful behavioral technique to keep in mind when dealing with difficult people sometimes :D

          Reply
          1. Michaela Westen

            I might have used a water bottle to spray them to keep them off the table.
            One time I brought home some flowers and put them on the table. My female cat jumped right up and walked across the table to sniff them like she did it all the time… then she went oops! I did that in front of Mommy!
            I had always suspected, so I always wiped the table before I used it. :)

            Reply
          2. Jennifer Thneed

            Yeah, I had a cat who clearly had the rule memorized: if someone sees you on the table, you get off the table right then. You don’t need to run, but you need to be prompt. There was another cat in the house who did not understand the rule, and would stay on the table until removed, and we could clearly see her thinking, “But OtherCat gets on the table!”

            Current cat understands perfectly well to not get on the eating table… which means that food on my desk is fair game, right?

            Reply
  38. Master Bean Counter

    I’d play a game of pass the talker. We did this with an old boss on the days he felt particularly chatty. I’d say, “Hey boss that’s interesting, have you told Greg yet?” In this case I’d send her to the supervisor. Or, “Hey crazypants, I think the supervisor was looking for you.”

    Otherwise I’d probably resort to saying “go away” over and over.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I was thinking of this, but send her to the supervisor. Or just go to the supervisor yourself and she’ll follow you there, and then leave her. Management might do a little more of their job if they were more directly impacted by this.

      Reply
      1. Lil Fidget

        Ooh, master level! I wonder if Jane is savvy enough to know they can only bother lower level workers.

        Reply
      2. Detective Amy Santiago

        Ooh, I like this.

        Really, if someone was following me, I’d be tempted to be like “We are not on the West Wing. Stop following me.”

        Reply
    2. froodle

      I 100% did this to a co-worker the other day.

      It was five o’clock, quitting time, and Garrulous Gabby came over to our desk to talk. And talk. And taaaaallllk.

      My co-worker had stood up to leave, bag and flat in hamd, but made the mistake of freezing when confronted with the yammering maw of inanities.

      She’d left just enough space between her and our desks for me to slip by with a cheery howdy-do and escape down the back stairs, leaving her trapped in a sticky web of monologue on a bright summer’s eve.

      I could end this story with “and for all I know, she’s still there to this day” but she got out about quarter to six.

      I apologised the next day and explained that while I was sorry, I was not sorry enough to sacrifice myself to the Chatterbeast in her place.

      She stole my post-its in revenge. They were blue and pretty, but it was worth it.

      Reply
        1. froodle

          They have silvery patterned butterflies on them. I’m sad to go back to using plain old yellow ones but I am happy to have saved myself 45 minutes of after-work blithering

          Reply
      1. tangerineRose

        Maybe at some point the co-worker will try something like “I need to go home now/go get groceries/whatever. Bye” and leave, possibly doing all of this while the person is talking.

        Reply
        1. froodle

          Or skip the “I have to” and just walk out with a “bye.” But Nattering Ninnie is a grade-A passive aggressive victim-playing moaner, so I wouldn’t dare do it without a distraction in the form of a human shield. I can’t blame co-worker for not wanting to chance it.

          Sigh. The more I think about it,the more I think I’m going to have to go to my manager and give them a heads up that I’m about to get rude. I mean, brusque, but Yammering Yelena will paint it as rude.

          Reply
  39. Vicky Austin

    I would not hesitate to be rude with this woman. When a person monopolizes your time like this and ignores multiple requests to leave you alone and otherwise crosses clear boundaries you are setting; then she forfeits the right to be spoken to politely.

    Reply
    1. Decima Dewey

      At one library where I worked, a coworker exploded at our Chatty McChatterson. Chatty reacted by not speaking to him for a week. Meanwhile, everyone else wondered how they could get Chatty mad enough not to speak to them.

      Reply
  40. Bea

    I’m also livid that they allow her to yell at anyone. I would file a grievance every time she swore and screamed. Nothing she does is acceptable office behavior and is all a fireable offence.

    This story is making me rage the more I stew over it.

    Reply
  41. Shrek says 0

    I had a chatty cubicle neighbor, who like the LW’s coworker, was often loud and sometimes used faintly blue language (PG13, not R). I was too polite to ask her to tone it down. Then I was called into my manager’s office because the VP who sat nearby the cubicles complained about ME. He couldn’t see who was making the noise, just assumed it was ME because it was my name he kept hearing. (If only chatty had spoken of herself in the 3rd person, then she would’ve been written up).

    Reply
    1. SoCalHR

      That’s a good point. If management is sending out general emails, maybe they don’t know for sure who the yeller/swearer is, and OP may be on the ‘suspects’ list. It adds an extra level of suck to this situation if her reputation is potentially at risk because of crazypants’ behavior.

      Reply
    2. Lexi

      Management may also not know that everyone is annoyed and effected by this co-worker. If no one is complaining to them they may not know who it is but also think the employees don’t mind the loudness.

      Reply
  42. Lucille 2

    This is awful.
    Because of the part about being near the supervisors’ office, I would do something ASAP because it’s possible that they think YOU’RE a big talker time waster, even if you’re just sitting there!
    If you’re worried about being rude, remember that she is actually the one that’s being rude. You’re allowed to give a little bit right back. You’ve tried a LOT of options so far, but what about this: put your big headphones on, and if she comes up, do not react in any way at all until she waves or taps your shoulder. Then, DO NOT remove them, just hold up a finger and mouth “one second”. Then turn back to your desk and continue working. If she taps your shoulder or waves, put up the finger again. Repeat.
    Good luck!

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      it’s possible that they think YOU’RE a big talker time waster, even if you’re just sitting there!

      I saw with my own kid, when she was in elementary school, and the kid who says, “Shh, no talking” is the one who has the teacher on their back for making noise during chapel.

      My kid asked for me help in how not to sit next to Tiffany, because she loved Tiffany and didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but Tiffany kept talking to her in chapel, and then when my kid would finally say, “Shh,” by that time the noise from Tiffany had drawn the attention from the teacher, and the first thing the teacher would see, once she focused, as MY kids saying, “we’re not supposed to talk in chapel.” (We ended up writing a letter to the teacher, asking her to help avoid the seating arrangements.

      Reply
  43. wannabeknope

    Op – I understand completely. I have a similar story with a co-worker in the same position in a unionized workplace. She complained and gossiped constantly, was extremely competitive and felt like I had stolen her seniority (long, complicated union case where I was in no way at fault); however, she seemed to think that despite all her complaining about this to my face that we were friends. We went out for drinks before all this happened and I had had her over once, thinking that maybe both she and I would relax a bit and we could actually be work friends.

    She would spend hours in my office, just complaining and laughing about how she didn’t want to get any work done. Meanwhile, I would be attempting to mark, organize class lists and create worksheets, hinting multiple times that I really needed her to leave so I could get work done. Sometimes I’d ask her for help, hoping that I could utilize her, but she always made jokes out of everything. She once suggested that one of my vocabulary questions be: “[wannabeknope] is not very pretty. [wannabeknope] is ______” –> answer: ugly.

    I’ll admit – I went home and cried.

    I believe in having a cordial workplace and get along well with most people, and I kept trying to change my attitude, thinking that I was somehow causing the problem, so I tried to allow her to vent for a few minutes and then draw the line, saying that I had to work. Sometimes, I would say that I had ten minutes and then had to go. She would push and push and tease me, refusing to leave. My friends and family suggested that she was maybe on the spectrum or perhaps had lousy social skills, so I tried to be compassionate and kept stuffing my frustration down.

    If I saw her heading to my office, I would pretend to have to use the bathroom or go down to the store. She actually followed me into the bathroom once, to make sure that I actually had to pee (in her own words).

    When I finally did stand up to her once or twice, she started talking about my temper and my red hair. I felt badly, like I had been rude in some way, so made some jokes about my temper as well. In hindsight, I should have remained firm, but I was just so horrified by what I had said to her. Now that I’m out of there, I can see that nothing I said was rude; it was basically what Alison has said here. But, god, it was so awful. That combined with other mental health issues, really put me in a tailspin about my life and my career.

    She told people close to retirement that they should retire so that she could have their offices. I was there for one of them, and I just felt so badly even being in the same room as the conversation. She rarely got her marking in on time because she was so busy talking to everyone, but no one did anything because she was unionized and our department was small. It would cause a massive war if anyone filed a grievance, and I believe that it would solve very little. On top of that, our department was not very cohesive and no one ever wanted to band together to solve problems. There are so many issues there, and she is just the cherry on top.

    OP – please talk to a supervisor. I’d start there and that way when you do have to stand up to her, you’ll be repeating what a supervisor said, hopefully reminding her that she has already been warned about her behavior.

    Best of luck.

    Reply
    1. Bea

      Omgggggg I want to fight all these asinine grade school level bullies who make their coworkers cry. What a nightmare.

      I’d lose my mind dealing with inept management and an coworker who is allowed such freedom to make others miserable.

      Reply
    2. OP_D

      Hi wannabeknope, OP here. I’m sorry you had to deal with that! Some people are the worst.

      And I too get told by my mom that maybe this lady is just lonely and needs a friend and that I should just be nice to her… But it is honestly so difficult.

      I’m going to take Alison’s advice & hopefully something good will come of it!

      Reply
      1. Michaela Westen

        This is way beyond lonely. This is glaring, obvious narcissism. She wants to talk and doesn’t care what you want. She wants to talk and yell and doesn’t care if she’s hurting people. I don’t know what the clothing/braless thing is – exhibitionism? dementia? – but the rest of it sounds like a perfect storm of narcissism.
        My mother is a narcissist. She treated me in some of these same ways – talking at me without caring how I felt about it, following me after I told her I didn’t want to hear. One time I even screamed and covered my ears to prevent her telling me about a depressing movie, and she *still* kept talking and smiling like we were having a pleasant conversation. That’s what she wanted, so she pretended we were doing that.
        I doubt if any of Alison’s scripts would offend her. You could probably blow a bomb in front of her and it would barely get her attention. I think you should talk with your manager first though, just in case she tries to say you’re the problem.
        Good luck!

        Reply
      2. AKchic

        You don’t owe anyone friendship. Period.

        Friendship is something that requires compromise and common ground. I don’t see this coworker meeting you anywhere close to the middle, otherwise you wouldn’t be so frustrated with her now.

        Reply
        1. Gazebo Slayer

          +10000

          I used to attract people like that. I used to let them monopolize my time because I felt sorry for them.

          After numerous such “friends,” including the one who whacked off in front of my mom and the one who’d call me at 2 am repeatedly to cry about how he’d be Forever Alone because I wouldn’t marry him (we weren’t even dating) I am DONE with them. Sorry not sorry.

          Also, speaking as someone “on the spectrum” myself – some of us are assholes, just like some of everyone else.

          Reply
          1. tangerineRose

            Also, from what I’ve learned on this blog, people on the spectrum tend to appreciate it when others are upfront with them.

            Reply
      3. GlitsyGus

        Oh man, OP, I hate to say it, but your mom is totally wrong on this one.

        There is no need to be cruel, but honestly, if she’s lonely that isn’t your problem. In the words of a thousand reality show contestants, “you are not there to make friends.” You’re there to get a job done and she’s stopping you from doing it. Everything everyone has suggested here isn’t rude or mean, just direct, so pick the one you like best and use it early and often.

        Also, just as a counter to that, by completely ignoring your cues as well as droning on about things you don’t even want to hear about and possibly even causing you to not look great in front of your boss, well, Cathy really isn’t being all that nice to YOU so again, you don’t need to be mean back, but she hasn’t exactly earned nice at this point.

        Reply
    3. froodle

      Dang, wannabenope, that was just a horrible thing for her to say and I am so sorry you encountered such an unkind person!

      Reply
  44. ENFP in Texas

    Ugh. As someone whose cube mate can start going on and on about completely inane stuff forever, I can empathize.

    The problem is you don’t want to be rude, but in order to get through to her, you’re going to have to be. Alison’s recommendations are a great start, hopefully they will work. If not, you may have to resort to telling her flat-out “I don’t care. Go away and leave me alone.” and turning your back on her.

    Good luck!!

    Reply
  45. ArieltheDefaultFont

    Her behavior is not yours to manage. That means you shouldn’t try to come up with coping skills or ways to make her chattiness tolerable. Or run inadvertent interference between her and your coworkers. You must ensure that you are getting what you need to work. The whole reason why she continues in her chatty ways is because there is no ‘hard stop’ for her. She keeps chatting, people demur – but do not insist that she stop. Indirect methods will not work. You will have to repeat yourself to her, but be absolute in your “NO”. If she has a problem with it, she can take it to her manager, whose job it is to manage her.

    Reply
  46. Michaela Westen

    “I know you’re not interested in baseball, but let me tell you about the game last night.”
    This is the hallmark of a narcissist. She wants to talk and doesn’t care what you want. My mother did this. :(

    Reply
  47. Lexi

    I know your supervisors are not really helping at this point, and maybe I missed this piece but have you and the other co-workers formally let them know bluntly that she is driving you all insane and it is affecting your work and your sanity at this point? I have found it’s always easier for management to ignore a problem they don’t want to deal with (i.e. loud & annoying employee that will most likely go bananas when confronted) when no one is complaining at least formally. To be absolutely clear I mean you and several other co-workers need to set up a private meeting with your management (without annoying co-worker) and specifically provide details that your co-worker will not leave you all alone, that she will not leave your workspace and she is halting productivity. I’m not positive that this will help and honestly it depends on how good of a supervisor you have as well as how much authority they have, the later is not usually there in a supervisor role. However this way you are definitely putting it in their court, and creating a trail if needed later and letting them know that collectively everyone is being burdened by one employee. If that doesn’t work this is also gives you a great reason to leave the department, and not have any guilt for leaving sooner than you wanted. Aside from management getting involved or your annoying coworker leaving the position, this behavior is likely not going to stop, people who can’t see social cues cant act on them either.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      I sometimes wonder what they’d do if everybody went in and said, “I don’t want to have to look for a new job, I like it here, but this is making me crazy.”

      Reply
  48. Granny K

    Where’s her manager in all of this? At the very least I’m surprised no body sent her home to change when she showed up in pajama’s.
    If her manager won’t do anything, ask your manager if you can telecommute at least a few days a week to be more productive. Also assuming you have a laptop, you could also book conference rooms and go hide there for a few hours.

    Reply
  49. Lady Phoenix

    Be very blunt about how much she is distracting you and how much you DON’T want to talk to her.

    And then start bringing headphones (and I mean HEADPHONES, not ear buds). When she wants to talk, ask her if it is business related. If it isn’t, tell her good bye and put on the headphones. If she keeps talking, turn up the volume JUST enough that she hears it without damaging your ears.

    That gets to message across perfectly clear.

    Reply
      1. Lady Phoenix

        Than I would make it a point to put the headphones back on the moment she goes on a tangent. Treat her as coldly as possible

        Reply
        1. Someone else

          The letter read to me like that’s pretty much exactly what she’s already doing and CW just keeps on yapping.

          Reply
  50. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

    Oh man, do I wish there was a simple solution for my co-worker. Sadly, as I am currently training Nosy McNoneOfYourBusinessFace, simply telling him to shut up isn’t really an option. Telling him to butt out of staring at my screens sends mixed messages when I need him to watch what I’m doing SOME of the time.
    I can no longer make any visual or audible response to an email or phone call because it takes ALL of his attention and he NEEDS to know what it’s about.

    Plus, he actually has almost the opposite volume problem – he mumbles. Incessantly. To the point where it could almost become white noise, but it’s clear he’s talking to me because he’s attempting to make eye contact. And I HAVE TO RESPOND because it might be a legitimate training question. (To be fair, about 50-60% of the time it is something that he needs genuine help with, but the other 40-50% means that I’m usually not in the best temperament to give him the feedback he needs).

    And he is on the desk NEXT to me – I don’t even have the luxury of a privacy screen (gotta love open plan offices) – there is NO physical barrier between him and me – he even reaches over to take MY HANDSET to cover MY CALLS when I’m taking a face to face query (the policy is we have a group pick up option, so you use your own handset, but nooooooo……)

    Sorry OP – this doesn’t help you at all. This should have waited until Friday, but it’s been an exceptionally frustrating day. He’s not the only violator of the “headphones on means do not disturb” rule and I’m running out of ways to be professionally rude without crossing the line to offensively rude.

    Reply
    1. Annie Moose

      When he reaches for your handset, is it possible to, like, forcibly put your hand on it and tell him to use his own or something?? It’s all so frustrating, but that completely unnecessary invasion of your personal space is just… ugh!

      Reply
    2. A.N. O'Nyme

      Yeah, insert “use your own handset” into whatever query you’re responding to and continue answering the query. That way you draw the other person’s attention to his behaviour which might cause him to back down (or he might not), but right now it sounds like you don’t want to seem rude in front of someone else when in reality, he is being rude.

      Reply
    3. Observer

      Two things.

      Firstly, stop him from using your handset. It’s totally inappropriate.

      Secondly, this person is an adult, no? So there is no reason you cannot tell him not to look at your screen UNLESS YOU TELL HIM OTHERWISE. One of the hallmarks of being an adult is understanding that there is a time and a place for things. Sometime you have to spell it out, but the concept should be one that he can grasp once you do spell it out.

      Reply
      1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis

        I’ve put in a request for a desk move – there’s no reason for him to be next to me just because I’m training him. In the meantime, I’m moving my phone handset to the other side of my desk – it’s a little bit more awkward because I’m left handed, but I have also requested a headset (I’m pulling in a LOT of favours with the facilities team! :-)), so that should make it easier.

        This co-worker is almost 15 years my senior, but he has very, very poor social and interpersonal skills. I have to tell him multiple times a day to speak up when he wants to speak to me (it’s a blunt “I can’t hear you, Fergus, are you talking to me?”), and he will, for that ONE question, but then straight back to just-over-the-threshold-of-hearing within the next ten minutes. Even more frustrating is he DOES listen and DOES learn – when it’s specifically related to the task I am training him on. Personal space and appropriate volume? I’m just screaming into the void with those two…

        Reply
  51. Akcipitrokulo

    maybe as well as headphones, put up a note saying “I am working. Leave me alone.” and point at it, without turning round, if she starts trying to get your attention?

    Reply
  52. Former HR person

    So, this could be my daughter one day. I’m working with her, but sometimes it seems she is just talking for the sake of talking (and sometimes she’ll even admit it when I call her out on it). I’ve been told she’s better during class, so I have some hope for her professional future.

    I also had a coworker like this (he just left and someone even commented that I’ll be able to get more done because he won’t be here to talk at me). I’d ignore him when I could; sometimes I’d tell him that I was busy so not now; sometimes I’d bluntly tell him to stop talking to me, I didn’t care about the subject, and then completely ignore him. I can’t wear headphones for a long time with my position, though occasionally, I would slip them on, but he would at least leave me alone when they were on. Good luck, OP!

    Reply
    1. Bea

      In children it’s often nervous excitement that they haven’t harnessed yet. It’s good to be aware of the behavior and work with her. But do keep in mind my family as a “seen and not heard” mentality that crushed my young spirit in gradeschool. It ended up stunting my communication skills because you only have to tell me once that I’m too loud or annoying and In won’t speak again. Many of my extended family wondered if I were even able to talk.

      Reply
  53. Shiny Door Knob

    My father worked with a woman just like OP’s talker. She loved the sound of her own voice and would drone on and on, endlessly, everyday. One day, my father, fed up with it, looked her in the eye and made a really loud, exaggerated inhaling sound/gesture, to signal her to take a breath. She stopped and looked shocked and asked him if he was ok. My dad said, “Wow, so you CAN shut up! That one second where you stopped talking was like music to my ears!” She turned beet red and walked away, but immediately continued yapping to someone else a few minutes later. She never really talked to my dad again after that. lol

    Reply
    1. CM

      That reminds me of my and my very chatty kid… obviously I would never tell him to “shut up” and I love to talk to him when he’s participating in an actual conversation with me, but on a pretty regular basis I say things to him like, “I need you to be silent for the next five minutes,” or “I need you to stop talking until we get back home.” Actually, that’s pretty similar to Alison’s first script: “I need you to stop talking and leave my cubicle.”

      Reply
      1. Just Me

        Yup. Same with my kiddo. Sometimes he just needs to tell someone his ideas… but it doesn’t have to be a *real* someone, it can be an imaginary friend. So if I’m direct with him and say, “Sorry, bud, I really can’t listen to any more facts about plate tectonics right now [true story!], can it wait until dinner?” half the time he goes in his room and tells… an imaginary someone. Out loud. Very loudly. At least it’s usually with the door closed…

        Reply
  54. Raina

    “If there is a fire, someone else will tell you.”
    LoL – thank you for the laugh

    ” … stop caring about all the pieces of this that don’t directly impact you — like her yelling at other people and what she’s wearing. ”
    ^THIS^
    When I’m annoyed, everything becomes annoying, even the things that don’t directly affect me; this is very good advice that I need to remind myself of regularly.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      “If there is a fire, someone else will tell you.”

      I read that and almost came to the comments to say: “I’m on that team–believe me, we will tell you.”

      Reply
  55. Higher Ed Database Dork

    I had to be this level of rude with a former coworker (known as the Office Creeper, for various reasons). He would NOT leave me alone, and I finally got to near-shouting at him to leave my office and only talk to me about work stuff. If he started talking to me, I’d interrupt and say, “Is this work related?” and repeat until he admitted it was not, then I’d kick him out of my office. I was bare minimum civil with him. But it worked. When my manager commented on it, I laid out the facts – Office Creeper kept talking to me about non-work topics, interrupting me, and doing various other things, and it was hurting my focus and productivity. My boss couldn’t argue with that and left me alone.

    Office Creeper got really pouty but it didn’t matter, because he needed to leave me alone. Do the same with your Office Talker. Her feelings can be hurt. Make it awkward. Be blunt!

    Reply
    1. AKchic

      This is excellent advice.

      You are there to work and so is she. If it’s not work-related, she can stuff it.

      Reply
  56. Narise

    This is harrassment. Explain to both manager and HR that you are being harassed by a coworker who won’t leave you alone, follows you around, speaks to you hours each day, and announces when she’s not wearing underwear. This is after you have asked and told her to leave you alone. This is harassment and if she were a man they would have a lawsuit. State clearly you cannot continue to be treated this way and you need them to resolve the issue immediately.

    Reply
  57. NaoNao

    What frustrates me so much about these type of letters is that so many people are in agony trying to find a good job–almost any job! and they’re hard workers who have been through tough times in life and just want a chance.

    HOW do/did such glaringly incompetent people get hired in the first place? How did they pass the probation phase? How are they allowed to break rules repeatedly and not do good/any real work?

    I just…it makes me crazy.

    I don’t mean someone whose a bit of a slacker and a little annoying, I mean like this:

    “She would spend hours in my office, just complaining and laughing about how she didn’t want to get any work done. Meanwhile, I would be attempting to mark, organize class lists and create worksheets, hinting multiple times that I really needed her to leave so I could get work done. Sometimes I’d ask her for help, hoping that I could utilize her, but she always made jokes out of everything. She once suggested that one of my vocabulary questions be: “[wannabeknope] is not very pretty. [wannabeknope] is ______” –> answer: ugly.”

    W.T.F.

    God.

    Reply
  58. TootsNYC

    There’s power, I think, in a “cut and paste” approach.

    say exactly the same thing every time: “Please go away and be quiet, I am working.”
    Never vary it. Don’t change a single word. Don’t engage; if she says, “but I just want to tell you…,” then interrupt her and say, again, “Please go away and be quiet, I am working.”
    She says “why are you so mean?” and you say, “Please go away and be quiet, I am working.”
    She says, “I’m going to tell the boss on you,” and you say, “Please go away and be quiet, I am working.”
    She says, “I just need to tell you something for work,” and you say, “Please go away and be quiet, I am working.” (You don’t need to tell her to email you instead–tell her that early on, and anyway she knows).

    She says, “You stopped and talked to Shirley! You should talk to me,” and you say, “Please go away and be quiet, I am working.”

    You can do a set-up conversation: “Chatty, I am going to start sending you away when I’m working–I just can’t talk, and I can’t listen; the interruptions are hard for me, and I don’t have time to talk. If ever there’s a work thing you need to tell me, you will need to send it by email.”

    You never, ever let yourself get knocked off the point you are making. Your point is that you want to to go away and be quiet because you are working. You aren’t willing to talk about whether you’re being rude.

    Use it every day, and never, ever give in. Just hold very, very steady.

    Reply
      1. Jennifer Thneed

        Only if it’s added every. single. time. A big part of this technique is never varying the response. If you change anything up, it gives the other person something to grab onto. Think of them as ivy, and yourself as a very boring ice cube. You’re so very smooth, with nothing for that ivy to cling to.

        Reply
  59. Queen of Cans & Jars

    It just baffles me that a person is even capable of making that much noise. I get tired of talking after about 20 minutes, maybe a little longer after a couple of glasses of wine. But seriously, doesn’t her mouth get tired?

    This woman’s behavior is so over the top, if I was OP, I’d start wondering if it was some kind of practical joke. Like she’s a blogger doing some obnoxious social experiment.

    Reply
    1. London Calling

      What do they find to talk about all the time? my neighbours in the office one day talked pretty solidly for seven hours until I turned round and told them to put a sock in it and then went to my manager’s manager about it, which seemed to do the trick – not 100%, but enough – and I can guarantee that 99% of it was NOT work.

      That was their personal best, a couple of hours was not unusual.

      Reply
  60. Folklorist

    I thought that one of my coworkers wrote this at first! I share an office with a woman exactly like this, except she’s in her 60’s and losing her hearing, so SHE TALKS EVEN LOUDER. Seriously, I came back from lunch the other day and she was talking on the phone, non-stop, incredibly loudly. I clocked it, and she didn’t stop talking for TWO HOURS. No letting the person on the other end say anything; nothing. We’re journalists, and we have to do a lot of phone interviews for stories, and when she’s interviewing people, she talks more than they do. She talks AT everyone who happens by, and if you try to talk, she’ll cut you off mid-sentence like you weren’t even saying anything.

    I hide from her if I see her out of the office. At the end of our company’s annual conference last year, I was unfortunate enough to be on the same flight as her, so she waited with me at the hotel for the shuttle bus, then at the airport, then at baggage claim, and then on the train home from the airport–I tried to hide from her, but she staked me out each time and kept talking at me. I told her I was really tired from the conference and just wanted some quiet time alone, but she still kept talking at me. I completely ignored her as if she was not there (rudest thing I’ve ever done intentionally), and she still kept talking at me. Finally, later that night, she sent me a text that said, “just a little bit of unsolicited advice–if you’re that out of it after the conference, you really shouldn’t be taking public transportation home alone. You should really just order a cab at that point.” I WASN’T THAT OUT OF IT! I’M A GROWN-ASSED WOMAN WHO CAN GET HERSELF HOME; I JUST NEEDED YOU TO STFU AND LEAVE ME ALONE!!!!

    Aggghh. Sorry, just needed to rant. I’ve obviously not found a way to get out of this, so I don’t have any suggestions. Really good (Bose) noise-cancelling headphones work to some extent and are worth the investment, but some people are beyond help.

    Reply
    1. Environmental Compliance

      Did you text back: “just a little bit of unsolicited advice for you – if you have someone tell you that they’re not interested in talking, you really should just leave them alone and not harass them.”?

      I once had a classmate in undergrad that I was forced to work with in a group setting who interrupted *everyone*. Constantly. Never shut up. I started with “Hey, we need to hear everyone’s opinions on this”, and progressed to “You are monopolizing the conversation. Stop interrupting and let others speak.” It finally ended on me saying “Quit.” in the same voice I use for my horse when he’s acting up. Shocked him into silence a couple times before he finally stopped interrupting everyone to blather on, and we finally got the stupid project done. Had to work with him later in the semester, and he was so much easier to work with.

      Reply
      1. Folklorist

        That is genius (the text suggestion). Our annual conference is this week again, so I’m dreading a repeat of last year. Pulling a George Constanza-like “jerk-store” situation (link in my name for those unfamiliar) is ALLLMOST tempting!

        Otherwise, I like your idea of the trigger noise. I coach axe-throwing on the side for some extra cash, and I have a policy of making a loud, rude “eeeehhhhh!” buzzer noise at people if they’re about to do something stupid, like running in front of someone who is about to throw an axe. I should just start using that on my co-worker when she interrupts me!

        Reply
      2. ENFP in Texas

        I love the mental image of looking at the offender and just saying “Quit.” And having worked with horses (and dogs), I know exactly the tone of voice that goes with it. Not surprised he looked shocked… and not surprised it worked!

        Reply
  61. RoadsGirl

    I have a friend who is close to my heart, thought we don’t see each other as often these days. With her own propensity for talking, this is just as well. She is a fascinating person, a kind soul, etc. I met my husband through her. We met when we were roommates in college, and there were nights I didn’t sleep, not because of wild college parties (this was a conservative religious school and we are boring like that) but because she would talk literally all night. She has trapped people in various places with her talking. I had no idea back then how to shut her up.
    Eventually, I learned to just walk away. She got it.

    Turns out the talking was part of a disorder for her.

    Reply
    1. Folklorist

      Serious question–what type of disorder? My crazy co-worker (see comment above yours for description) is in and out of the doctor’s office for a bunch of stuff lately and I’d be curious if she has something like that. Especially with her advancing age and the fact that it seems to be getting worse than it was a couple of years ago!

      Reply
      1. Amaryllis

        Not diagnosing, just sharing: constant talking is part of my husband’s severe ADD. Unfortunately, severe ADD is linked to early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s.

        Reply
        1. Folklorist

          Thanks for this! Since there doesn’t seem to be any solution in sight for my co-worker’s blathering (our boss/manager also shares an office with us and does nothing about her constant talking, so there’s not going to be any support from him), I’m trying to find compassionate ways to re-frame it in my mind so that I don’t lose my shit at her constantly.

          Reply
        2. Neuropsychiatrist

          ADHD, regardless of severity, is NOT a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease or dementia of any other kind. I treat both conditions and there has never been a study showing that; and based on how they affect the brain there is not even a theoretical reason to think they would be related. (Older people with inattention may be misdiagnosed with ADHD when they actually have the early stages of dementia, but that would be like someone with a cough being misdiagnosed with a cold when actually they had lung cancer–one still isn’t a risk factor for the other). Just putting that out there because I don’t want anyone with ADHD to worry!

          Reply
          1. Neuropsychiatrist

            I should clarify: no WELL-DESIGNED studies that adequately address the above issue of diagnostic confounding; or of other things which may be common to both conditions (i.e., heavy alcohol and head trauma both increase risk for dementia and both are more common in people with ADHD than the general population). I know there was a study that got attention in the popular press but it didn’t address these issues and most experts in the field think it’s more likely the people with dementia had been showing inattention/other symptoms as early findings of dementia rather than as an independent ADHD.

            Reply
          2. Folklorist

            :-) Thanks for that! I took the “linked to” comment as “symptomatic of,” not “cause of” (especially if it gets quickly worse as someone gets older!) But you make a great point about the misdiagnosis.

            Reply
      2. RoadsGirl

        Amazingly enough, it was connected to a heart problem that affected her body and the talking actually seemed to help keep her body in rhythm. She recently had heart surgery and apparently that helped things a ton.

        Reply
  62. AKchic

    Having dealt with a Chatty Cathy who glommed on to me, having had departmental emails sent out that all-but-named me as the one who *encouraged* the Chatty Cathy to continue talking (dude, seriously, how is back-turned, saying “I’m busy” and then ignoring her actually encouraging her?!) I would be up in arms at the passive-aggressive emails. I would reply back to one and outline exactly the problems and ask exactly how management plans on taking care of the chattiness from the culprit because you are being bombarded and cannot get work done and nothing you have done is effective and you are now going to be stepping up your game, so management should be prepared for some whining from the Chatty Cathy’s area and it won’t be your fault because this is a management issue, not a you issue.

    You are being harassed, to a certain extent. This person will not leave you alone, simply because she cannot follow social cues and keep her verbal diarrhea to herself. How she manages to get her workload done is a mystery.
    Follow Alison’s wonderful advice. Be blunt. Be short. Be matter-of-fact. Don’t worry about her feelings because she certainly doesn’t care about yours. All she cares about is getting her words in and getting her own gratification (being able to hold you hostage while she assaults you with sound).

    Reply
    1. jo

      With people like these Chatty Cathys, it seems “I” statements, especially of the “informational” variety, do not work. I’m busy, I can’t talk right now, I need to concentrate. All of those are clear, blunt dismissals to those of us who can read social cues, but to those who can’t (or pretend they can’t), it’s just random information and completely irrelevant for their purposes.

      What’s needed are imperative “you” statements, or “I want you to X” directives that are about the other person’s behavior. Go away, leave me alone, stop talking. I want you to leave now, I want you to stop talking.

      Reply
  63. TootsNYC

    I once was choosing between two very evenly matched candidates. And I called their references.

    One of them said, “She’s good, yes.” But then called me back a couple of hours later to say, “Would you give me your home number? I want to talk to you tonight about her.”

    She called me at home to say, “she talks a lot.” I said, “Well, so do I.”
    She said, “No, there’s no possible way you could talk as much as she does. It doesn’t stop. Ever. She -is- good at what she does, and she -does- get work done. But she talks constantly.”
    The reference said, “I just couldn’t let you go into that hire without that heads-up from me.”

    I hired the other person.

    I mean, I can chat. But I also shut up and go away.

    I will say, it made me much more sensitive to signals about whether I’m too chatty, and I also just don’t even start much anymore.

    Reply
  64. Lizabeth

    Sometimes you have to be what feels like “very mean and nasty” to you to get the point across to someone that can’t or won’t listen. The office squawker and I got into it one day, told her in blunt terms to “leave me alone that I wasn’t discussing it with her”. She told me I was being mean to her. My reply? “How much meaner do I need to be for you to leave me alone?” She just looked at me and didn’t say another word.

    Sometimes they are so caught up in their own narrative(sp?) that they don’t hear anything else. Being extremely blunt is the corrections that I see used on the Dog Whisperer to snap dogs out of bad behavior.

    Reply
  65. A.N. O'Nyme

    OP, if NONE of the above suggestions, including those in the comments (most, if not all, of which are much more professional than what I’m about to say) there is also the completely unprofessional method:
    Stand up abruptly, slam your hand on your desk, and shout at her to shut up. If this startles her into silence, you can go back to being professional and explaining that you are disrupting her and it needs to stop. Say this loud enough for the manager to hear you.
    Of course this assumes you’ve tried everything above, including talking to whoever is in charge of you and/or chatty coworker. This is a last resort and could SERIOUSLY backfire.
    Also, you have my sympathy. I can think of few things more annoying than your coworker.

    Reply
    1. A.N. O'Nyme

      Also if she keeps waving her hand in front of your face when you have your headphones on just brush it aside like you would an annoying fly or a mosquito, make an annoyed noise and just continue working.

      Reply
  66. ValkyrAmy

    I’d think you were talking about my mother, but she would never swear or yell. She is much too passive aggressive for the latter and much too “good minister’s wife” for the former.

    YOU GUYS, WHEN SHE VISITS SHE NARRATES HER CANDY CRUSH GAMES TO WHICH SHE IS ADDICTED!

    She & my (then) five year old played the quiet game, and my mom lost. To a five year old. (Who also never shuts up.) When my mom visits, I need a week in a quiet room to recuperate.

    Anyway, best of luck!

    Reply
  67. Llama Grooming Coordinator

    She also has a tendency to come into work sans bra

    …it sounds like your problem is that Fergusina is overly perky (or not perky enough).

    Stupid question – how good is Fergusina at her job, though? It sounds like your job isn’t client facing and her professional behavior (or lack thereof) doesn’t concern your supervisors that much. That said, it would take a lot for me to overlook an employee that consistently came in wearing sleepwear, seemed to be talking with other coworkers for what might be hours at a time, and regularly used profanity in a job where that wasn’t generally accepted. And that’s not even getting into her inability to handle criticism. She must either be a total rockstar in terms of performance (in which case, get out while you can), your bosses are oblivious to her behavior, or they’re afraid of confrontation because of Reasons.

    Reply
  68. Solidus Pilcrow

    Now I know where the Cow-Orker ended up! (see username for link)
    Loud voice – check
    Swearing – check
    Inappropriate topics – check
    Non-stop talking morning to night – check
    Management can’t stop her – check
    Won’t take a clue – check

    Reply
  69. LeisureSuitLarry

    That office grump? I’m willing to bet that he get shit DONE. If I were OP I might look at him and see what strategies he employs to get out of conversation after conversation. There’s a certain segment of people out there for which the only way to shut them up is to just turn around and walk away mid-sentence. That’s a lot harder when they’re at your desk, but it’s certainly possible. You just have to accept that you’re going to have to be a bit blunt about it.

    For instance… Chatty Kathy/Matty starts talking baseball, something you’re not interested in and has no relevance to what you’re working on. After a few seconds of polite disinterest, get into the mindset of impolite disinterest. She might be in mid-sentence, but you just put on your headphones and say “Well, I need to get back to this.” Then be obvious about turning up your music or whatever. If she comes back later and waves to get your attention, don’t take off your headphones or do anything else to invite her in. Just say “sorry, can’t chat. I’m on a time crunch” and keep doing what you’re doing. Eventually, she should get the hint. A conversation requires at least two participants. Refuse to be one of them.

    Reply
    1. OP_D

      Hello. OP here… The office grump is actually one of my favorite coworkers *because* he doesn’t talk to me. But he is also one of our worst performers. I’m talking messed up so big that he had a very stern talking to from the BIG BOSS. But I work in a government job & the ONLY way you’ll get fired is if you get caught leaking confidential information (which has only happened once that I’m aware of).

      Anyway, I have tried the walking away mid-sentence bit, but it’s just like pressing the pause button. She will just pick up right where she left off as soon as I come back. I have also put my headphones back in while she is still talking & turned around, but as I mentioned in my letter, she will just continue until she is done with her story.

      I’m going to have to go “nuclear”, as someone above has suggest.

      Reply
      1. President Porpoise

        Hmmm, sounds like you need to leak confidential information from her email account…

        Not really. Don’t do that.

        Reply
      2. GlitsyGus

        You probably are. All the more reason, as many have suggested, to give your boss the heads up, just in case. Especially so if they do happen to see Cathy chatting to your headphoned self they know you are ignoring her, not taking part in a conversation rather than working.

        At least with the headphones if you turn the music up enough you can just pretend she isn’t there while she prattles on to the back of your shirt? I mean, it isn’t great, but hey, until you get her off your back completely use that one as much as possible.

        Reply
  70. Hiring Mgr

    It sounds like she’s just lonely and wants a friend…I know that’s not OP’s problem but it never hurts to have compassion for others

    Reply
    1. 5 Leaf Clover

      It seems to me that the OP has tried many compassionate responses, but none of them have worked.

      Reply
    2. Kella

      Crossing boundaries and yelling at folks and distracting your coworkers from work are… not indicators of friendship nor are they good ways to make friends. OP isn’t being paid to spend her day listening to her coworker and be her friend, she’s being paid to do her job. If she were just a little chatty then sure, maybe see if you have energy to listen to her a little longer than you want to because it’s a nice thing to do. But it’s very hard to offer compassion to someone who’s actively ignoring your clearly stated boundaries.

      Reply
    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      Not if showing the level of compassion the coworker is expecting could make OP lose their own job. The coworker is parked in OP’s cube all day, talking at OP all day, while OP is supposed to be working. No one is able to meet that kind of needs. Plus, showing compassion is one thing, enabling is another. What good will it do to teach Coworker that it is normal to sit near someone else’s desk and talk at them all day, when it is not and no one else will let Coworker do it, at this job or any job?

      Reply
    4. Saskia

      Hiring Mgr, OP’s working life is severely affected by a person who seems extremely self-centred and uninterested in following social norms.

      It doesn’t matter if this awful coworker is lonely and wants a friend! WTF!

      OP is at work to work, not to be some kind of therapeutic social worker. OP is the one who needs compassion here.

      Reply
  71. batshytecrazy

    This was my mother (minus the loud, sweary part) until her dying day. Even with emphysema she couldn’t stop. These people can’t help themselves; silence is the enemy because then they’re alone with their own thoughts. At least you can get away from her when you leave work!

    Reply
    1. London Calling

      I have a friend like that ( although not in this league, thank goodness). It’s as if she feels that she has to entertain you and fill the silence. I guess some people just can’t bear being alone with themselves, and they don’t have the self-awareness to realise that if they find themselves unbearable, how do they think the rest of us feel?

      Reply
      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

        It’s as if she feels that she has to entertain you and fill the silence. This! My mom, who was never in her life a chatty Cathy, does this on car rides. Someone told her years ago that, when you are getting a ride, it’s your responsibility to entertain the driver with small talk, and no one can convince her otherwise. It’s usually a running commentary “oh, a stop sign. oh, a car” (wow why would there be a car on a freeway?) “look, an exit” and so on for hours. But yes, this habit did start out of a misguided sense of duty and of what she’d been old was a polite thing to do.

        Reply
    2. KH

      I once stayed at my friend’s house for about 10 days. His mother was exactly like this. I was exhausted by the end of the visit. She said every single thought that came into her mind.
      The sad part is, the entire family was exhausted as well. The dad, my friend, his sisters… They would just snap at her and it wouldn’t phase her. At the time it seemed incredibly rude. After reading these comments, it seems you have to be!

      Reply
  72. Let's Bagel

    I used to work with a woman exactly like this. (In fact, until the last paragraph I was actually wondering if this was in fact the same woman! But it’s not.) I found I had to be so direct with her to get her to leave me alone, it made me uncomfortable. Funny thing is, it never made her uncomfortable! Sounds like it’s the same thing here. What will feel SO rude to you will barely register with her. Hope that helps make it easier.

    Reply
    1. froodle

      I breathed a sign of relief when OP mentioned Monolgue Matilda had kids, because otherwise other people from my quite small team are reading AAM..

      Reply
    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      Is there one in every office? Hope not. But we do have a Monologue Mathilda too. Ours is a guy. I know people who have changed their entire work schedules to minimize the time spent around Mathildus. Mathildus does not do this to me, because I cut him off impolitely a couple of times (literally walked past him once, holding a hand up and saying “no”, as he continued to talk at me) and I think he does not like me as his audience. (knock on wood)

      Reply
      1. Let's Bagel

        holding up a hand saying “no”

        wow. just wow — the things it takes to get people like this to leave you alone!!! i’m cracking up.

        Reply
  73. In the Q

    If she’s not responding to you verbally, can you try it in writing? A little sign on cardstock that you pull out of your desk as she arrives: “I’m concentrating. Can’t chat now. Thanks!” Just keep pointing to the sign. Don’t engage verbally as that calls for a verbal response, in her mind.

    Reply
  74. Rebecca in Dallas

    Do we work in the same office??? My Chatty Cathy is also into baseball…

    We have a more open office plan and luckily Cathy hasn’t picked me as her target, but she does just talk to anyone and everyone. Or, if all of us put on our headphones, she’ll talk to no one! I deal with her by wearing headphones and if she starts talking to me about something that isn’t work related, I won’t even look up from my computer screen. I’ll tell her, “I can’t talk, I’m busy.” If she continues talking, I’ll just flat-out ignore her, sometimes even putting on my headphones as she’s still talking. I got over feeling like it was rude, she’s the one being rude by continuously interrupting my train of thought.

    Luckily my seat assignment changed so I don’t sit as close to her as before. Good luck to you!

    Reply
  75. GreenDoor

    Fellow government worker here. Take advantange of being a government employee (harder to fire/discipline). Throw a verbal bucket of cold water right on her.
    “Cathy would you puh-lease shut up! You talk and talk and talk and talk. Close your yap and go away!”
    “Get your hands out of my face! I have my headphones on for a reason!”
    “Cathy, don’t even come over here unless it’s about work. I don’t want to hear another word about your cats.”

    It’s horribly rude and unprofessionally blunt. But with her, it sounds like you just need to be rude. Some people are jsut that oblivious to how annoying they are. And also, talk with your bosses. I can’t believe they sit that close to her and dont’ notice how often she’s running her mouth about non-work stuff.

    Reply
  76. Di

    I wonder if the texting is unprofessional between co-workers about how they are stuck talking to Crazypants. All it takes is one text leak to HR and suddenly tables are turned and OP is stuck with mob bullying issue – texting about being stuck with the woman is clearly a pattern of behaviour between staff. I would be really careful now approaching this because of this inappropriate behaviour on OP’s sde. I aleays think much as you think you can trust co-workers to keep quiet for you, you can’t. Stop with those communications immediately. All HR will do is turn the table in favour of the woman and pair the texting with freezing out the co-worker and you have bullying behaviours Crazypants can take directly to HR and really cause a headache (“OP keeps telling me to stop talking when I try to ask about Project X it makes me feel awful!”). I would stop the texting and talking to anyone at work about this and instead keep asking my manager to move desks for another reason such as lighting, special standing desk required, anything to get out of there.

    Reply
  77. Seespotbitejane

    Alison mentions that you have to be consistent or you’ll train her to ignore you. I would add that when you’re trying to train away a behavior that has previously been rewarding (a dog that has fun digging or barking, or your coworker that won’t shut the hell up) once you cut off that reward the behavior is likely to increase. “Oh I used to get attention for this but it’s not working, let me do it *harder*” It’s called an extinction burst (I think, my dog training lingo is rusty).

    The thing is when this happens it might be tempting to give in just to get her to stop since she’s being worse than usual, but intermittent reinforcement is the strongest kind. When a reward comes regularly it’s not as good as one that comes as more of a surprise. This is why gambling is so addictive.

    But! it’s called an extinction burst for a reason. Because if you can power through it, you have a good chance of training out the bad behavior once and for all.

    Reply
  78. The Wilting Flower

    I would be careful about the texting between co-workers. One leak and HR will find that you have dubbed this woman a mocking name Crazypants and that other workers are involved. Pair that with freezing her out and she has ammo to go directly to HR for a bullying issue, (“I tried to talk to OP about Project X but I was told to stop talking every time. Oh and I see this texting and I’m getting a vibe from the team…”). I would instead keep asking the manager for a desk move for an unrelated reason such as lighting, that you need a stand-up desk, need to be closer to the bathroom – anything, and cease texting about this woman to others.

    Reply
  79. Detective Amy Santiago

    Something I just thought of — start documenting how much time she is spending at your desk talking at you by emailing your supervisor every time it happens.

    Chatty Cathy: *comes over and starts talking*
    You: “I’m busy. Please don’t talk to me.”
    CC: *continues talking*
    You: Dear Supervisor: Chatty Cathy is at my desk talking at me about [not work topic] despite me asking her to stop.
    5 minutes later: Supervisor, CC is still here.
    15 minutes later: Supervisor, CC is still here.
    30 minutes later: Supervisor, CC has now wasted [$half your hourly rate] talking at me about [not work topic].

    Reply
    1. A Nickname for AAM

      Get a stopwatch- or use the stopwatch app on your phone- and just time how much time she spends talking at you. Then at the end of the day, tally it up and send it to your supervisor.

      “Chatty Cathy has spent 3:52:37 talking at me. I have asked her to go away 18 times.”

      Reply
    2. tangerineRose

      I used to have a co-worker who would come by my cubicle to tell me something that was technically work-related but I didn’t really need to know about it, and it was some minor thing that could have been sent by e-mail. That part wasn’t so bad, but then he’d just stand there.

      What I ended up doing is glancing back at my computer screen and then looking back at him and then saying something about “Sorry, I’ve got to work on this.” That seemed to be his cue to leave.

      Reply
  80. Meißner Porcelain Teapot

    Step 1: Next time she tries to chat with you, give her the big picture talk: “Cathy, you keep on interrupting me for trivial conversations while I’m working and it is seriously distracting and exhausting for me. Unless it is work-related, please stop talking to me while I am at my desk. I will not be this polite about it again.”

    Step 2: If she tries to argue with you: “Cathy, leave me alone. Right now.” If she tries to argue again, repeat like a broken record. “Leave me alone. Right now.” Meanwhile, start polishing up your resume in case step 8 fails. Start looking at other opportunities outside of that company for you.

    Step 3: Make a note in a separate document about the two of you having head this discussion, with the time and date. Write down what you said. Write down how she reacted.

    Step 4: From this point forward, repeat this procedure for one week. Every time she tries to chat you up while you’re working, say “Cathy, leave me alone. Right now.” and document it in your little evidence sheet.

    Step 5: Take this to her manager (I’m not sure if you share a manager – if you don’t, it needs to go to hers). Say “I have an issue I need your help with. Cathy has been coming by my desk X times a day, trying to strike up off-work conversation. Each time I told her to leave me alone. The constant interruptions are seriously impacting my productivity and I need them to stop. Would you please talk to Cathy about this? Thanks.” If her manager does not believe that it’s an issue, pull out your notebook/document and show them just how much harassment you’re talking about. Because that’s what it is when someone tries to engage with you despite your very clear objection – harassment. Make a note in your document that you talked to manager on day x, time y. Note their reactions and particularly any promises they made regarding dealing with the issue.

    Step 6: If you do not see any improvement within a week, send her manager a follow-up mail: “Dear Manager, I was wondering if you have had a chance to talk to Cathy about her constant interruptions of my workflow yet, as discussed on [date]. There has been no improvement to her behavior and the situation is becoming untenable.” Document the conversation and the reply.

    Step 7: If the reply is anything but “I am so sorry to hear this. I will talk to her today/tomorrow.” and you still see no improvement from this woman within the week, then it is time to go to HR. Bring your documentation. Explain the situation, including your numerous attempts to resolve this on your own and with the help of Cathy’s manager. Make it clear that this situation is untenable for you and you expect it to be fixed. You have the right not to be harassed by your co-workers.

    Step 8: If HR does not act upon this within the week, get out. These people do not deserve your energy and your skills.

    Good luck.

    Reply
    1. Khlovia

      I would add Step Zero, prior to Step One: A semi-informal CYA head’s-up with LW’s manager, whether they are also Chatty’s manager or not: “This is my problem, this is how big a problem it is for me, this is how I am planning to proceed unless you’ve got a better idea, just wanted to make sure you’re in the loop, kthxbai,” so as to deliver the (unspoken, unwritten) subtext: Hey, boss, it ain’t me.

      Reply
  81. Its Ok To Say No

    This woman is my mothers clone.

    Youre going to have to get over the line of rude to get things to even approach reasonable. And shes going to be absolutely pissed. How this lady will show how she feels will not be a normal reaction. Be prepared. Its unlikely to feel good or be particularly rational/reasonable. After all out of context youre going to be over the line. A line that SHE moved.

    But you’re NOT wrong. Be equally mad that shes mafe you NEED to react so inappropriately. It is very much her fault.

    I wish you all the good luck.

    Reply
  82. Smolfox

    Oh man I’m the queen of being super nice to everyone but also the queen of being rude to awful people that deserve it (so so rare). I’d seriously (if Allison’s advice doesn’t work) to just start with: “bye”. As soon as she comes over just “bye.” And if she starts talking I would keep repeating “bye” over top of whatever she’s saying until she calls me a b**** or whatever and leaves. You can obviously counteract that reputation by being extremely nice to every other well mannered person in the office. If talking over her just repeating “bye” doesn’t work I’d probably just follow up with “why are you still here” with a completely blank expression.

    I know that’s pretty nasty but I’ve had to deal with this (only like once ever) but it would go like:

    *Susan walks up*
    Me: Bye
    Her: Oh hi Jellybean you will not believe —
    Me: Bye
    Her: what my cat did this “bye” weekend can you just “bye” look at “bye” why are you “bye” being rude “bye” I’m just trying to “bye” tell “bye” you “bye” about “why are you still here bye”

    Reply
  83. Noah

    I think Alison’s answer is probably not helpful. Surely OP (other than the one time she snapped) has asked the coworker to cut it out. (If she hasn’t… um… I don’t really know.) This has to be an “involve the boss” situation.

    Reply
  84. Gayle Davidson-Durst

    “This is the rudest advice I’ve ever given, and it’s making me uncomfortable!”

    I think it’s better to think of it as clear, not rude. This person is either rude or totally clueless, and in either case, you being blunt is not actually rude – it’s a rational (and helpful) change in your communication tactics.

    I remember a volunteer group I was part of had a volunteer who was bringing her kids to public events and they were horrible, clearly driving away our target audience. We pussyfooted around trying to tell her in ways that would be kind/polite/face-saving and it Did. Not. Work. I remember the feeling of revelation when a member of another center where she volunteered told me, “Yeah, I just said, ‘Daenerys, you can’t bring your kids to meetings anymore.”

    And Daenarys was FINE with that, had no negative reaction, and stopped bringing her hooligans. PROBLEM SOLVED.

    Reply
  85. Kitty

    Wow, this is just like my old roommate, and it is indeed exhausting. She used to literally follow me around the house when I was trying to do other things, and wouldn’t pick up on social cues like the fact I wasn’t making eye contact or responding. I probably could have been super blunt with her every time like Alison advises, but confrontation makes me quite anxious, and having to do that constantly would have ruined my night just as surely as having her talk at me all the time. So I moved out!

    Reply
  86. Quake Johnson

    “She also has a tendency to come into work sans bra (which she points out to everyone!)”

    You know how in the Peanuts when Snoopy does something so egregious or over the top that it makes Charlie Brown suddenly start backflipping? That was me reading this part (and the whole letter, really).

    Not that I really care if she’s wearing a bra or not, but why on earth is this something you would announce in your office?

    Reply
  87. MissDissplaced

    Good grief what is wrong with people? This letter reminded me of the bathroom / makeup / sink hog. They just don’t have a clue or don’t care.

    Reply
  88. Redacted

    This reminds me of a coworker of mine, but she doesn’t talk to one person, just all of us all the time. I’ve always wondered how she gets work done, but honestly suspect that she doesn’t really have enough work to do! Ugh.

    Reply
  89. Dawn88

    This made me think of the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan, to try shutting her up, start with the “Sssh!” sound he makes, then the 3 finger poke in the ribs, to “Snap the animal’s mind out of the negative behavior.”

    Too bad you couldn’t put a collar up under her ears, so you could “yank” her leash sideways to “snap the mind out of the obsessive/negative/never ending behavior.”

    Seriously, I agree with the other person about how infuriating it is that these idiots keep their good jobs and benefits …when there are hundreds of people out there who would love the chance at that job, and would do fabulous work, as paid to do. Unbelievable.

    Reply
  90. Khlovia

    And if all of the above fails, try just talking over her, while not looking up from your work or removing headphones, until she gives up: “…BORING BORING BORING BORING BORING BORING BORING….”

    Reply
  91. Strode

    I recently had to deal with almost the exact same situation. It started out harmless and I wanted to be friendly, but very quickly my coworker would go on a 15-45 minute rant about absolutely nothing or random things about the project she was working on (which had absolutely NOTHING to do with me) and I could no longer bear saying “Uh-huh…wow…that’s crazy…oh my gosh” etcetera so as not to be rude. I finally just stopped starting a conversation or responding to her unless it was a pressing question.

    Luckily, I only had to deal with her for a month until she moved onto another show at a different company. (I work in casting for reality tv which is basically freelance). My stomach would fill with dread every time I walked into the office and saw her sitting there though. *shudder*

    Reply
  92. Headache

    I had a coworker like this. She’d talk you into the bathroom, with earphones on, with your back turned. You could say “I can’t talk” and she would say okay and keep going. Or she would acknowledge how much she’s talking but still keep going. Management’s solution was to reprimand those of us who got caught up by her chatter to ‘just ignore it’. That’s what really burned me, she would disrupt us but we would get in trouble because she had a unique skill set that kept her bulletproof. It only ended when she moved on to another job.

    Reply
  93. KX

    This has been addressed by The Hanslick Rebellion in their song, “You Are Boring the Sh*t out of Me.” The lyrics are not safe for work, so wear headphones.

    Reply
  94. Envy

    Not a work thing but my mother in law. She would constantly nag to get what she wanted, not taking no for an answer.
    Once after my husband said no repeatedly she asked to speak to me. I told her I agreed with him, our answer will always be no, please stop asking. She kept going on about it.
    What finally got thru to her was when I said “I was raised to stop asking after being told no.” and that ‘no means no’ isn’t just for sexual advances.We feel harassed and we will no longer speak to you if this subject is mentioned again.
    She told my parents I was rude and threatening to her. I apologized for being rude but told her I felt I had no other option since she wasn’t listening or accepting my response.
    We haven’t had any problems since then.

    Reply
  95. Been There, Done That

    I so feel for you. I’ve worked w/ excessively gregarious people before, including one lady who literally Never. Shut. Up. I think managers just don’t want to backbone up and deal with it, and either shove the problem onto coworkers, or even delude themselves that being around more quiet employees will “rub off” on the motormouths.

    Reply
  96. Chatterbox supervisor

    Commenting for the first time to say that I work with someone exactly like this – in fact I supervise him regularly. Everyone I work with knows what he’s like, and our manager will fairly regularly just walk out of his office and say ‘Fergus – stop talking, people are trying to work’. This is the ONLY way to stop it, and even that usually doesn’t last long. It is frankly a situation that can only be resolved by firing him, which naturally won’t happen in a conflict-averse workplace.

    But the really good news is that he is the dictionary definition of ‘water off a duck’s back’. None of this gets to him. You can be as blunt as you like (I frequently am!) and he won’t be bothered. He doesn’t hold grudges, he doesn’t get upset, he just trundles along as before.

    I would actually slightly disagree with Alison’s idea that you can train someone like this in any kind of behavioural way. My colleague is simply a blank slate every day, which is actually great for the part of our job that’s customer-focused. You could reinforce your threats in every possible way and it would make no difference. My best advice is to simply set aside a little Jane-shaped hole in your mentality and allow yourself to break the social contract there every day.

    Reply
  97. Sleeping or maybe dead

    Hey! Tough situation!
    I’m a soft-spoken person as well, but I’m trying to speak up more and hold my ground… From my experience, when you speak up against them, obnoxious and boundary disrespecting people will usually think you are being unnecessarily hostile, because they lack self-awareness.
    Everytime I told these people off, they would demand an apology afterwards, shame me, bad-mouth me and play the victim. For months. Years even. DO NOT COMPROMISE. Don’t apologise, tlyou don’t owe them that. And if they find you unpleasant enough, usually they will leave you alone.

    Reply
    1. CJ

      Yeah, when I spoke up and politely asked the department loudmouth to please keep it down, *I* got in trouble because she manipulated the situation. She complained to her boss that I was intimidating her, then her boss complained to my boss, and then my boss called me into his office to tell me never to talk to her again. That was a real blow because it was so hard to find the courage to say anything to her, and I was proud of myself. I still believe it’s reasonable and professional to nicely ask a colleague to keep it down because you’re trying to work. Work in professional conditions in the workplace — imagine that?!

      So glad I left that place a few years ago. It’s still dysfunctional, and the loudmouth is still driving everyone crazy, from what I hear.

      Reply
  98. Jack V

    I usually say, although it’s rude to be unnecessarily direct, it’s not rude to be as clear as necessary. Mostly, people who talk to you more than you really want, if you kind of tune out, they will pick up on it and dump on you less, so it’s rude to immediately escalate to explicitly telling them to back off.

    But if they don’t pick up on it, it’s MORE polite to make your request explicit. It’s mildly embarrassing, but it’s in both parties interests to listen. And some people either genuinely can’t pick up implicit cues and are grateful for the request, or don’t care and are deliberately forcing you to escalate.

    There’s a quid pro quo — we avoid explicitly saying “your story is boring” to avoid hurting people’s feelings, but in exchange, if someone is deniably-but-probably bored, we don’t just keep haranguing them.

    Like, if someone is hitting on you unwantedly, or prosetylising, or trying to sell double glazing and won’t take no for an answer, you NEED to tell them to go away. You don’t need to be deliberately nasty about it, but you need to stop being nice long enough to tell them to go away (or extricate yourself some other way). That usually doesn’t come from a coworker talking at you — but here it does :(

    That said, I did once have someone I liked to talk to sometimes, but didn’t pick up when I wanted to get on to something else, and I escalated all the way to, “Fuck off, I don’t want to talk to you any more” and he STILL didn’t get it.

    Reply
    1. Someone

      That’s what I kept thinking while reading the post and comments. Sure, social contract expects you to be polite, but social contract expects that of EVERYONE. Like, you aren’t supposed to hurt people, but other people aren’t supposed to hurt you either, and plenty of countries have some clause about self-defense.

      If someone tramples all over your boundaries, you don’t have to sacrifice yourself and politely endure it, you get to defend yourself. You ought to do so appropriately and slowly escalate unless in dire situations, but you totally get to escalate.

      Captain Awkward has this saying about “Return awkward to sender”. I feel there ought to be a similar saying: “Return consequences to sender”. Right now the OP gets all the consequences of the coworker’s behavior by having her boundaries and feelings ignored, but the person who started this, and ought to feel the consequences, is the coworker.
      Being as firm as the OP needs to be just sets the record straight again.

      Reply
  99. Miss Jay, the Brazilian

    Oh, man, LW, I feel for you. I have one of these in the office, but she uses the chat to our group in order to grab attention. And she keeps making ‘open statements’ that, if we were interested at all, would lead us to ask questions (think ‘you have no idea who I saw today!’). If nobody responds to it (because you know, we’re busy working), she’ll follow up with ‘are my messages coming through?’.

    I used to respond in order to be polite, but I saw it was making me waste vast stretches of time indulging her, so at this point, we all just let whatever she wants to chat about (mostly very personal information about her life, such as details about a health issue she’s currently handling) fade into the background whenever we’re busy.

    I do sometimes feel bad for her, but I can’t feel bad for her all the way to unemployment. And neither can you handle your coworker all the way until you can no longer take it and end up saying or doing something that will get you in trouble.

    I agree with the advice about going to the manager (yours or hers – though I feel hers might be the best choice here). Not just you, everyone else Chatty is bothering too. If enough people go to her manager with complaints, hopefully they will get her into a conversation and see what they can do to make her less disruptive.

    Good luck, LW!

    Reply
  100. jo

    WHOA. This behavior is so extreme that I can’t help thinking this person could have a serious health issue. Impulse control disorder, compulsive behavior, brain tumor.

    I’m not a health professional and will try to resist any further armchair diagnosis, and I don’t think the OP has standing to tell the woman to see a neurologist. But I’d be tempted to. It would sound something like this: “NANCY, GO AWAY AND DON’T COME BACK UNTIL YOU’VE HAD YOUR HEAD LITERALLY EXAMINED BY A LITERAL DOCTOR.”

    It doesn’t really matter what’s causing this behavior; the only option I see is the same regardless: every time she opens her mouth, tell her bluntly to stop talking and go away. In fact, tell her you don’t want to talk to her unless it is absolutely necessary for the completion of a work task. Be mean. It’s the only thing she’ll respond to, and you’ve done your due diligence by trying gentler approaches first.

    Reply
  101. Vancouver

    So sorry you’re dealing with this – it sounds like you have tried really hard to do this gently, and gentle isn’t working. Feel empowered to be as forceful as necessary; sometimes the kindest thing to do is tell the truth, even if it hurts.

    Also, while many shark species do in fact need to keep swimming in order to pump water over their gills, there are quite a few species (mostly bottom dwellers (such as the epaulette shark) who have openings immidiately behind their eyes that draw water in for the gills. Because these wholes have muscles to pump the water, these sharks can in fact stay still and still breathe!

    Reply
  102. KH

    Jane should be fired. She wouldn’t last 3 weeks in my workplace. Someone as disruptive as that will be outcounseled pretty fast. We don’t have the time to deal with such drama. It’s a case of throwing out the rotten apple before it infests the whole bushel.

    Reply
  103. Wren

    When she waves a hand in front of your face to get you to remove your headphone and launches into a story about her cat, cut her off with, “A story about your cat is not a valid reason for interrupting me. You need to go now.” Followed by replacing headphones on your head and turning back to your work.

    Reply
  104. Aaron G

    Oversharing and boundary issues might be a mental health issue. Maybe they’re trying to be accommodating?

    Reply

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