update from the reader with the overly chatty boss

Here’s our next reader update. This one is from the reader whose boss wouldn’t stop distracting her from her work by talking, talking, talking. Here’s her update:

My situation has improved a little bit with my chatty boss. As I said in the comments, I brought it up in a one-to-one we had, and she was pretty cool about it – in fact, her exact words were “Just tell me to shut up!”. After we had that talk, the chatting reduced significantly, but I am sorry to say that over time it has crept back up again. I am getting better/more assertive about telling her I need to get on with my work, but the problem has not gone away. I would dearly love to wear headphones to eliminate the problem altogether, and am currently campaigning against company policy on that.

On a related note, at our most recent staff meeting we were told to stop eating noisy and/or smelly food at our desks. I am a big culprit of this and I know my boss has noise issues so I feel like this was directed at me, especially considering that the announcement came from her line manager… I fear we are both suffering from cabin fever, being trapped together in our little office; as much as the chatting annoys me, I get on her nerves too! We are supposed to be moving offices within 6 months, so hopefully this means we will get out of each others’ hair.

I must say again that she is definitely the best boss I have ever had, so I am determined to work through this and not let it become a bigger issue than it has to be.

{ 11 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    Instead telling you to to “just tell me to shut up” she is the one who needs to control herself, instead of expecting you to be rude to her if you use those words.

  2. Liz T*

    When I was 14 I had an after school teacher who told us all we should feel free to just walk away from him while he babbled on. He had the excuse of being old and eccentric, though.

  3. YALM*

    So, OP has habits that annoy her boss? Amazing how often that happens when people sit in close proximity.

    Not arguing the point that the boss should exercise a little more restraint, but I’m curious. How well does the boss take it when OP asks her to just shut up? How well does/would OP take it if the boss asked her to crunch less at lunch? It seems clear from OP’s update that she has a sense of humor. If she and the boss both now recognize that each other is human, that humans are annoying at times, and that patience, self-awareness, and mutually shared humor can round many sharp edges, the next six months together should go pretty well.

    I had a VP some years back who went into micro-manager-from-hell mode on occasion. He just got so wrapped up in the details. We’d smile and then tell him to his face to butt out and go away. He’d stop talking, look around, smile sheepishly, and go back to his desk. Some people are just wired that way. The best ones are the ones who know it and take the direct correction knowing that no insult was intended.

  4. human*

    Wow, people need to just learn to talk to each other. How hard is it to say, “Sorry, Person, your eating there is disturbing me, could you please go to the break room?” Or whatever. Geez.

    It absolutely floors me that some people think that is too hostile a thing to do, but that it’s ok to complain to the supervisor two levels above the person about it!!

    1. Rejected*

      Well, it’s not that easy! Some people take things personally and then get hurt. We’re not all wired the same way. Especially in a professional environment, you have to be careful how your phrase things. It’s not like you’re talking to your best friend.

      1. YALM*

        You (where “you” = people who work, not specifically the poster known as “Rejected”) should not be rude or abusive, and you should not have to suffer rudeness or abuse.

        “Yo, your *******-*** is really *****. Get it the **** outta my space!” is inappropriate in the office. It is perfectly appropriate for your best friend.

        “Sorry, hate to bother you, but that 7-layer crispy taco salad you’re eating is making it impossible for me to hear the other side of this [work-related] phone call I’m on; could you please finish lunch in the break room?” is completely appropriate.

        If you can’t say the last, I’m going to be annoyed when you a) whine to me about how you missed half the call; or b) grovel and beg me to fight your battles for you.

        If you can’t hear the last without dissolving into a pool of tears or blowing a gasket, you need to work on that. It’s not personal. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, that everyone hates you, and that you’re going straight to H-E-double hockey sticks. But I can’t have the rest of the team walking on eggshells around you because you’re so fragile. I can’t not be able to give you honest feedback about the work you do because you might faint dead away. Or you might rip my head from my shoulders. Intentionally exercised or not, it’s manipulative behavior, and it affects everyone who has to work with you.

        1. Anon.*

          It has to do with company culture as well. At my company everyone eats at their desks. I cannot stand the way the woman who sits closest to me eats – it involves open mouth slurping, chewing and crunching. And it’s near constant throughout the day – yogurt in the morning, apple at mid-morning, lean cuisine for lunch, pudding for dessert, carrot sticks in the early afternoon, pretzels around 4 – it really never ends and there are some things (the carrot sticks in particular) that can be heard two cubes away based on the way she’s eating them. She also takes personal offense to anything that we say in regards to her eating while commenting incessantly on how many jolly ranchers we eat during the day from the communal pile on our admin’s desk.

          Asking her to please finish her breakfast/lunch/snacks in the “break room” doesn’t work because no one eats in a break room. We don’t even have a designated area where people would congregate to eat or chat. In such situations it’s absolutely necessary to consult with higher ups to either attempt to put a policy in place that we’re not allowed to eat meals at our desks or to consult with her privately as she would fly off the handle should one of us say “Excuse me, but I am on an important call. Would you mind chewing with your mouth closed until I hang up?”

  5. another boss*

    What stands out here to me is the work space — and work space MATTERS. If you have absolutely no privacy, no room, then of course you get on each others’ nerves. I think OP has handled this well, and I hope she and her boss can hang onto their civility and the relationship until they move. Also hope the move includes more room for them both so they’re not in each other’s pockets!

  6. Laura*

    Hey guys. My daughter has Asperger Syndrome and has lost jobs because of her chatter. She can’t read body language and doesn’t pick up on the normal queues and facial expressions and turning your back or ignoring rarely fazes her. It upsets me to think of this lovely woman who sounds like a great boss. My daughter says she does it because she feels uncomfortable in a silent room so she fills it with her chatter.

    With my daughter, I look directly at her and say to her directly what I need to say. She often chatters reflexively and says oops sorry I didn’t realise I was doing it. Asperger people appreciate directness and don’t offend. Most understand their issues and appreciate honesty and “normal” prompts from sympathetic friends or work colleagues. I’d just make a jokey comment like “oh goodness, look we’re doing it again chatter chatter! Work time!” smile and return to work. If that doesn’t work, I’d say “Jane, I seriously need to concentrate now or you’re going to have to sack me for not meeting my deadline!”

    Hope this helps. Good luck

    1. Serin*

      Since she’s your daughter, maybe you could suggest some solutions that don’t put all the burden on the person being chatted at? If I knew I couldn’t read nonverbal signals, I’d wear a digital watch with a 5-minute alarm programmed into it and push the “start timer now” button when I started a non-work-related chat.

      1. Laura*

        Serin, that’s a brilliant idea! You’re right, of course. The burden shouldn’t be on the recipient of the verbal diaoreah (can’t spell it!) just thought if you heard the problems inherent in Aspi types you might find it easier to deal with. Maybe put a timer on your desk and tell her she’s got until the timer goes off to talk and then can’t talk again until you re set it? LOL it really is a tricky one 😳

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