when your coworkers won’t stop talking

A reader writes:

I’ve recently graduated from a professional-graduate level program. I’m in my 30s, but I’m just starting out on my professional career path. For the first time, I’m looking for a job where I will stay for more than a year or two, and hopefully will be able to advance either within the company or within the profession.

I don’t really like making small talk, and I’m usually a quiet person both in and out of work. Despite my quietness, I am a very open person and when I do get talking I tend to reveal too much about myself. In prior work experiences, I’ve learned the hard way that some people will take such information and use it against you if given the opportunity. I’m also in a same sex relationship, which makes it harder to make small talk about my personal life, because I never know how coworkers will react to such information. For all these reasons, I don’t talk much at work.

Currently I’m working in a job where several of my coworkers and I sit in an open area with nothing to shield our desks from one another. I find that my coworkers will get into several conversations a day, sometimes lasting up to an hour at a time, about nothing at all work related. Given that our assigned tasks are complex, there is no way my coworkers are working and talking at the same time — they are just talking. On some days, I would guess they spend close to 3 hours of paid “work time” conversing. But talking isn’t just a problem here. Just prior to this job, I was completing an internship at a professional agency. Even though that work space had tall cubicles around each desk, my coworkers would talk, talk, talk all day. Given the cube walls, they would just yell at one another while sitting at their desks. They would talk about the most mindless stuff, like whether there were lots of cars in the parking lot, their dogs, and snow plows coming down the street (we live in a place that snows a lot, so seeing a snow plow can’t be an extraordinary event worth mentioning for anyone.)

I have a really hard time focusing when there are people talking and all this talking, especially when it seems pointless to me, really gets on my nerves. I often feel a little annoyed at my coworkers, and about the fact our supervisors must notice all the talking, realize productivity is being lost, and yet do nothing. My girlfriend is also quiet like me, and also a very private person, so she also doesn’t talk a lot at work and has similar complaints about her coworkers. This weekend we had a discussion about whether talking at work helps or hurts people. She says that people who socialize, no matter how little work they do, get ahead regardless because they talk to everyone and network. I hate to believe this is the truth, and would like to think hard work gets you ahead, but I have my doubts. What are your thoughts? Also, do you have any suggestions for dealing with coworkers that talk all day and distract you from work? I feel like it’s not “my place” to ask them to be quiet (because my supervisor should do that, not me).

It’s helpful to see this as two separate problems: (1) the talking distracts you from your work, and (2) it’s unfair that some of your coworkers are spending a huge chunk of their day focused on socializing rather than working.

These are separate problems, so let’s discuss them separately.

As for the distraction issue: Since everyone else likes to talk and you’re the one who doesn’t, I agree that it probably won’t be effective to ask them to keep it down. (Please note that this is only because you’re in the minority on this issue. If only a few people were causing the problem, it absolutely would be “your place” to ask them to keep it down. It’s not your place to ask them to focus on their work, but it’s very much your place to tell them that they’re interfering with your ability to do your own. This is the type of thing that most managers expect you’ll try handling on your own first.)

In any case, they’re the majority, so that leaves you without the same options. So … can you try wearing noise-canceling headphones?  Can you ask if it’s feasible to move somewhere quieter? That isn’t always possible, but sometimes it is. (And sometimes by asking, you politely call attention to the problem.)

Now, as for the second issue: the fundamental unfairness of the situation. It sounds like you’re working in an environment that doesn’t put a big emphasis on high performance. High-performing organizations have cultures where this kind of thing just doesn’t happen — they hire people with work ethics, people without work ethics don’t last long there, and the whole culture reinforces a focus on work, not chit chat. (That’s not to say that some chit chat isn’t normal; of course it is. But not three hours a day of it.) I’d bet money that this kind of slacking off isn’t the only problem with the management where you’re working — if people are routinely spending that much time not focused on work, there are going to be other problems too, like managers not holding people accountable to ambitious goals, not having tough conversations, not firing people who need to be fired, etc. So the problem goes well beyond the unfairness of the slacking-off: You’re working somewhere mediocre, and unfocused coworkers come with the territory.

That’s something that you can only change by changing jobs and making a point of seeking out somewhere with a culture of high performance.

And as for your girlfriend’s assertion that “people who socialize, no matter how little work they do, get ahead regardless because they talk to everyone and network” — that is absolutely not true in most industries, not at the places you want to work. If that’s true in a particular workplace, it’s a flashing red light that it’s one you don’t want to work in.

Some socializing and networking is generally helpful, because having professional relationships is helpful. But if you don’t have accomplishments to go with it, high performers (who are the ones you want to be associated with) are going to fairly quickly see you as a time-waster and blusterer.

{ 160 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    “High-performing environments have cultures where this kind of thing just doesn’t happen ”

    This x1000. A former co-worker used to complain that all people do here is work and no one ever wanted to hang out except for when they are having lunch.

    Yeah, that’s kind of why we’re all here – to work – so in that case they were the odd person out. I’ve worked in places where people like that were the norm and I couldn’t get out fast enough.

    High performing people need to work where that is what is rewarded – of all the aspects of cultural fit this is the most critical, imo.

    1. Alisha*

      Jamie, well put. (I usually agree with you.) Having ADHD, I share this pet-peeve, especially once I took on jobs with more responsibility, and really needed to concentrate and power through to avoid working heinous amounts of overtime.

      My solutions were as follows:

      1. Noise-cancelling headphones, like Alison said, formerly accompanied by a Sony Discman, now paired with my iPod or Grooveshark.

      2. When co-workers “popped in” my office to chat, I’d tell them “Gee, I’d LOVE to catch up with you, but I’ve got this [design, report, 400 lines of code, whatever] due today, and my [boss, client, teammate] is gonna KILL me if I don’t finish. Let’s talk as soon as I’m caught up, ‘kay?

      I am pretty extroverted, so I would make good on that promise and catch up with the co-worker later. The introverts I’ve worked with, who wanted smaller doses of socialization, tended to “catch up” on “bonding time” with a group lunch or happy hour once a month. If you don’t want your co-workers to know you too well – and believe me, my hubs and I are LGBT, so I totally feel you – would doing a small-group thing once a month work? The nice thing about those for introverts is that they can listen while the Chatty Cathies and Charlies gab. In fact, at my last job, two of the other dept. managers were motor-mouths, and I wound up listening 90-95% of the time on our group outings.

      1. Liz*

        I was going to suggest headphones too! They are the best.

        One of my favorite work moments ever was when one of my coworkers fixed the office chatter box with a look and said sweetly, “I really don’t need to know how your day is going right now.”

      2. Vicki*

        One important point – you want noise-Isolating headphones, not nose-canceling headphones. There’s a difference.

        Noise isolators block noise (including talking). Noise cancelers try to cancel certain consistent noises by “evening them out”. This includes things like airplane engines, refrigerators, fans, AC. The noise has to be a steady hum that can be evened out and “canceled”.

        Noise canceling headphones Do Not Work On Voices.

        1. Alisha*

          Awesome distinction…you are absolutely right. (My husband is an amateur electronic musician, and is a stickler for this kind of thing – I, however, always get confused!)

          Can I recommend the Philips “Extra Bass” Earclip Headphones? They retail for $10-21, depending on where you get ’em, and they’re awesome for canceling human voices, but since they don’t completely enclose your ears (like the giant, pro-musician noise-cancelling headphones my husband has), you can hear stuff like, say, the fax machine or the telephone ringing.

        2. Mike*

          Thanks so much for that point Vicki. That IS the main point – to block out talking. Do you know what noise-isolating headphones are the best?
          Thanks again for pointing this out.

  2. B*

    This is totally the bane of my existence too! I work in a cubicle environment next to a coworker who I like a lot—but she talks allllll the time, and it makes it difficult to concentrate and to hear when I talk on the phone. Listening to music/white noise with headphones at my desk has helped (try the website http://www.simplynoise.com to listen to white noise from your computer, if that’s an option).

    I actually just accepted a new job where I will have my own office and where things are much quieter, and I am really looking forward to it!

    1. Jamie*

      “Can you ask if it’s feasible to move somewhere quieter? That isn’t always possible, but sometimes it is. (And sometimes by asking, you politely call attention to the problem.)”

      If I could grant wishes it would be that everyone would have their own office. FWIW the part I quoted above was how I got mine – in a backwards kind of way.

      I had been seated near the noisiest of co-workers and asked my boss for strategies in dealing with it. He looked at me like I was silly and asked me why I sat there when there was an office used by a sales guy a couple of days a month. It never occurred to me that I could just set up camp in a (nearly) empty office and it never occurred to my boss that I wouldn’t simply move if I wasn’t happy.

      That was a valuable lesson in speaking up – sometimes all you have to do is ask. Doesn’t always work, but doesn’t hurt to try.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        “It never occurred to me that I could just set up camp in a (nearly) empty office and it never occurred to my boss that I wouldn’t simply move if I wasn’t happy.”

        I think it’s because having an office is usually considered a privilege and (most of the time) being granted an office is usually a sign that someone is “moving up” in the world. Most people, myself included, wouldn’t just take it upon themselves to move into an office unless told to do so. Back when I didn’t have an office, I would have felt like I was saying, “hey I’m more important than you.”

        1. Jamie*

          That was exactly how I felt – I would never have taken it upon myself to move. I hesitated even after being given the go-ahead because I felt weird displacing someone out of their office.

          However, once noisy co-worker found out I could move they arranged it asap and even helped move my weirdly shaped enormous desk personally. Could not get me out of there fast enough.

          You see my being as quiet and focusing on work so much I was “thwarting the very creativity that makes businesses run and stifling all energy and happiness.” Yes, that’s a direct quote. Apparently I was just as irritating – even more so actually since I was only annoyed when I was being actively bothered, but my mere quiet presence was annoying all by itself.

          I had come from an environment where having an office was kind of a big deal, so I didn’t get that here it’s just about what makes sense and where people land. The sales guy whom I displaced couldn’t have cared less. Taught me a lesson about bringing preconceptions into a new environment.

          1. The Other Dawn*

            “stifling all energy and happiness”

            I like this so I’m stealing it. Right now, I’m “rotten with no emotions” (said lovingly by a former co-worker eons ago).

            I’m commonly referred to as “being in a bad mood” by the co-worker that likes to BS half the day away. No, I just like to focus on my work. I’m WAY too easily distracted, even in an office with a door, to engage in more chit chat than necessary.

            1. Jamie*

              We should totally work together. My happiness stealing won’t affect you, since you have no emotions to steal.

              Like a couple of villains from Batman’s rogue gallery.

              1. The Other Dawn*


                Another co-worker and I joke that if it was just she and I in the office, we would go weeks without talking to (in person) or seeing each other. We would just email each other, even though our offices are next to each other. We probably wouldn’t even know if one of us was dead for quite awhile.

                1. Jamie*

                  Oh, I wouldn’t worry about that. If someone dies the smell will tip you off fairly quickly…I learned that from Law & Order SVU.

                  No reason to speak just to make sure people are among the living.

                2. Andrew*

                  I actually worked in a small company that was just like this. An email went out asking staff not to say “good morning” to each other, lest work be disturbed.

                  It was hell.

              2. Unmana (@Unmana)*

                Can I work with you two too? (I actually prefer to work from home because the office is too noisy, apart from the fact that I’m too lazy to want to change out of my shorts and drive to office.)

          2. Liz*

            Wow. You gave up a free seat right next to “the very creativity that makes business run?” You should have sold tickets.

        2. Vicki*

          I’ve worked in many many places where you are NOT permitted to “simply move”. IN fact, that’s been the case everywhere I’ve worked.

    2. Anonymous*

      Yes, thank you for the link! I am actually one of those people who likes a little steady background noise usually, but my office is pin drop quiet save my noisy eating/grunting/coughing coworker who grates my nerves. This is great for when I don’t want music.

  3. Anonymous*

    I agree, this is very annoying. And I love my co-workers and do enjoy socializing with them. My solution to this is to come into the office early. I am usually the first one here and that way I can get through most of my emails and get a few things done right away before everyone else comes in. That way I feel productive and I can participate lightly in the morning chit-chat when everyone else gets in without feeling distracted or annoyed. Headphones are also great too because it signals that you’re busy working and it’s an effective ‘do not disturb’ for non-work related items. I love my ‘quiet time’ and I feel the most productive in that hour.

    1. Unmana (@Unmana)*

      I second this! When I had to work in an office, I used to do this. On the flip side, since I often had to stay late, it would make for long workdays.

  4. Anonymous*

    I completely second the advice to move if you can. When I started at my current company, I had my own office, but it was located in a high-traffic corridor (near the water cooler, kitchen, bathrooms etc) so co-workers would drop into my office and chat. Sometimes that was OK, but several of my co-workers couldn’t pick up on my visual/body language cues for when this was not OK, leading to me having to be quite blunt at times. (I am an attorney specialising in litigation and urgent, complex work can arise at very short notice with nonnegotiable tight deadlines – most of my colleagues are not attorneys and do not understand this.) I was also becoming increasingly irritated by distracting chatty conversation outside my office door. The opportunity came up for me to relocate to an office on another corridor and as a result the chit chat has more or less ended. It helps that the new office has a glass panel in the door so people can glance in – I find that if I don’t look up, they won’t come in. My most sociable co-worker tends to drop in on me at around the same time every afternoon, and I am usually happy enough to talk to her for 5 minutes then. The whole company has a problem with distracting chat and not enough focus, but that’s another topic – moving offices helped me to manage the impact on my work.

    1. Jamie*

      “I find that if I don’t look up, they won’t come in.”

      Once I learned this skill my interruptions cut down 90%.

      Work life is much like the monkey cage at the zoo. Who do the visitors focus on? The dancing, chattering, poo flinging monkeys or the quiet monkey in the corner avoiding eye contact while trying to debug some code?

      Don’t look up.

  5. EngineerGirl*

    Get yourself a big headset with squishy comfortable ear mufflers (aka “portable quiet room”). Then let your coworkers know that you are one of those people that needs it “really, really quiet” to work. Then wear the headset.

    It is a very, very visible “do not disturb” sign. Since you’ve let your coworkers know that this is an issue you have, they shouldn’t be offended by it. And it really cuts down the questions.

    1. Jamie*

      I love these. I can’t stand ear buds and EngineerGirl is right – they are a giant not so subliminal message.

      My kids mocked me when I got a pair for home (I believe there were queries to which Brady I stole them from in my time machine) and now they love them so much I had to buy another pair since mine are always AWOL.

      1. M*

        Your kids mocked you? Really? Here, earbuds are for old fogies and the kids “gotta have” Dre Beats or 5o cent headphones. There is absolutely nothing subtle about these headphones, I mean, when you spend $200-$400, you want people to know. (I’ve rejected these from my teenager’s birthday and Christmas list twice now.)

        1. Jamie*

          I saw those! If I’m going to pay that much for headphones they need to come to life while I’m asleep and clean my house. :)

          Mine are more the $16 on sale JVC variety and make me very happy.

        2. Liz in a Library*

          When I was trying to get rid of my piano, I had someone offer to barter me a new-in-box set of Dre Beats. Maybe I should have taken them up on it?

      2. Elizabeth West*

        LOL Brady headphones. I hate earbuds (they hurt my ears and fall out), and I got some of those big phones for my computer at home. I love them. They are Sony and are about $20 at Walmart. The sound is better and they are way more comfy. I like the earbuds with hooks on them for working out, but the big ones are the best.

  6. London-Luxembourg perspective*

    “people who socialize, no matter how little work they do, get ahead regardless because they talk to everyone and network”

    I have worked in London and Luxembourg in the financial service sector and can definitely say that yes, a certain level of performance is expected but once you get to the ‘above average’ performer status then it no longer matters whether you are a superstar or just slightly above average – all that matters is the socializing. Well, in a French dominated company also what matters is hierarchy and doing things politely and according to certain social standards – instead of doing things right. I have seen and heard about many occasions when a above average performer does not advance in their career and the only thing holding them back is the socialising. I unfortunately have not yet witnessed in my 6 years of professional life a single occasion when good, hard working people get ahead in their career without networking. I do not like it but my experience is that once you reach a certain level you either network or your career plateaus.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Professional relationships ARE important — if no one knows about your good work or that you’re smart/creative/etc., then what will you build your reputation on? But in my experience you don’t have to do a ton of networking — just enough that you have a reputation.

      (I can actually use myself as an example here — I try to avoid networking almost entirely. I suppose I might have more opportunities handed to me if I did more of it and stopped saying no to most networking invites/calls/etc., but I’m incredibly happy with my career and consciously choose not to do more than a minimum amount of networking stuff.)

      1. fposte*

        I also think that there are plenty of fields where networking matters, but not exclusively or even more than the work. And even in fields where networking matters, that doesn’t mean yammering at your desk all day long, so I’ll disagree with the OP on that.

        1. KellyK*

          Good point. There’s a difference between a couple minutes of friendly chat throughout the day and a constant social hour.

          I also think the best networking relationships have to be at least somewhat work-focused. If I’m going to provide a reference for a coworker, it’s going to have more to do with their awesome work ethic and the things they’ve accomplished than the fact that we’re both into science fiction and obsessed with dogs. Liking someone socially is icing on the cake.

    2. Snufkin*

      Excellent point because one of the major lessons I’ve learned from working abroad is the importance of socializing/chatting in building trust and work relationships. That said, there are a Hell of a lot of people who haven’t figured out the art of socializing at work and instead will talk your ear off, waste time, or generally spread gossip/TMI. I don’t even think it’s an introvert/extrovert split as much as having good social skills. The tools I’ve found for nipping office prattlers in the bud are as mentioned, noise canceling headphones or handling people politely but not leaving an opening (I’ve used my grandma’s “Why Bless Your Heart” many times)

    3. Anonymous*

      Totally agree. I have worked at a French company based in London, and getting ahead was ALL about networking. No-one cared what you did day-to-day, so long as you were socialising with the right people.

  7. ChristineH*

    Bane of my existence here too. I’m a little quirky in that some days, I’m okay with a little background chit-chat, particularly when I’m doing something relatively mindless. Yet, other days, I don’t want to hear a single peep or sound out of anyone. I’m too shy to speak up for fear of getting a disgruntled response or even snapped at for being too sensitive. My husband has noise-cancelling headphones, and they’re terrific (though a bit heavy for my tiny head. lol).

    My trick: I wear hearing aids, and one thing I occasionally do if things get too noisy is that I just turn them off; I’d have to be sure to tell people that they are off so they know that if they try to talk to me, I won’t hear them.

    1. Ummm... no*

      Not a peep? Whoa. How do you ever get anything done? Typing bothers you? Someone chuckling at something their boss just asked them to do via email? What a miserable existence.

    2. KellyK*

      I’m the same way. My noise tolerance is proportional to what I’m working on and how much concentration it takes, as well as the kind of day I’m having.

      And I love the idea of shutting off your hearing aids when you don’t want to be bothered!

  8. Kevin L*

    The noise cancelling earphones I have take away background noise only. I was on an airplane, loud engine noise, I turned them on and suddenly it was like a cocktail party! I could hear all the conversations going on around me. My suggestion, a white noise app on your phone, iPod etc.

  9. Student*

    Earplugs also work well. My work provides them for free because we have many noisy areas where they’re necessary, and I take full advantage.

  10. Elena*

    I’m having the same problem, and although few people do this successfully in our office, I’m going to give headphones a try and see if that helps. We have an open office, but while I can block out people talking about business, the random personal side conversations that happen drive me up the wall (or would if I had one…).

    1. Melinda*

      LQTS (Laughing quietly to self). I can usually handle the business conversations, it is the personal ones; especially just one sided on phone conversations that push me over the edge. I am so happy to see from all the comments that I am not alone in believing that silence is golden. I’m convinced that those who are talking non-stop are working non-start.

  11. Ummm... no*

    He JUST said that he’d be talking if he wasn’t leading such a life that many people don’t approve of. SO for fear of retribution for those choices, he wants EVERYONE to keep it down? What a big, dull dud!

    Could you imagine sitting at a desk for 9 hours a day and not speaking a word related to anything outside of the workplace?? Yuck. No thanks.

    OP sounds miserable and he wants everyone to join him. I’m a fast worker and a fast talker. I can be attending a press conference one minute and guiding heavy equipment on a construction the next and end the day at a meeting at the state capital. If I couldn’t discuss non-work issues while I’m “on-the-clock”, I’d always be talking about work. My job never stops. When I come into the office and talk to the ladies who work in payroll or accounting, we usually discuss the drought, our kids, the hot new basketball coach at the college. It varies but we laugh and go on our way. Just today several boxes arrived and we played a two minute game of “Let’s Make a Deal” – it was SO funny.

    We bust our asses here. I’ve got several multimillion dollar projects moving along and failure is not an option. Just because YOU can’t multitask, doesn’t mean others can’t either. You dno’t like the noise? Wear earplugs. Get off your high horse.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Wow. First, as she made clear in her letter, she’s a she. Second, she said clearly that her primary reasons for not talking much at work are that she’s a naturally quiet person and doesn’t like small talk. Third, she’s talking about coworkers who spend three hours a day talking instead of focusing on work — that’s not a high horse; that’s a legitimate and serious complaint.

      You’re either deliberately misreading her letter, or you have an ax you’re trying to grind here.

      1. moe*

        And while the commenter’s post was way, way over the top, I also understand how it can rankle for people to judge talkative folks as being incapable of getting work done or having a low work ethic, and noisier workplaces as being poorly managed or ineffective.

        I agree, people are different… and this workplace environment is just a different type of culture that may, in fact, work for them. AAM’s response and the comments are pretty one-sided on this subject.

        But “umm,” it would be much easier to defend your comment without the veiled homophobia and snark.

        1. Jamie*

          Speaking for myself I don’t think there is necessarily a correlation between noisy workplaces and lower productivity. I have no doubt there is a lot of great work being done in gregarious environments, I couldn’t work there, but people who work well like that would probably go crazy from my isolation and quiet. That’s why fit is so important.

          But this post isn’t about the noise level, though, its about extraneous chatter. Any workplace where people are focused on non work related activity for almost half the day every day cannot, by definition, be as productive as people who are focused on their jobs. If you are in the office 8 hours and chat for 3 you’re as productive as a part time employee – but with the benefits and salary of FT. That’s bleeding money however you look at it.

      2. Anonymous*

        I think we are supposed to be impressed by the “multimillion dollar projects moving along and failure is not an option”.

    2. Jamie*

      This is the epitome of a strawman argument, because you’re rebutting things that aren’t at issue.

      1. She (and the OP is clearly a woman – multitasking done well usually has attention to detail) didn’t say she doesn’t want chatter in the workplace because of retribution for her lifestyle, which would be ridiculous. I read it as she doesn’t care to get too personal with casual acquaintances because not everyone is accepting of small talk about same sex partners, which is understandable but freaking sad that it’s still the case in 2012.

      At what point will this be a non-issue with people? I can’t wait for the day when I have that glazed over pretending to care look over boring tales from the weekend regardless of whether it’s two men, two women, or one of each who went to Home Depot to spruce up the deck.

      2. She never said that she was opposed to any non-work related conversation, but only that she thought 3 + hours a day was excessive and interfered with productivity. Anyone who would argue that so much chatter is compatible with high productivity should never be in management.

      3. She never once said she couldn’t multitask. Not everyone wants to add listening to co-workers babble on about who they think is hot or playing make believe with game show scenarios to be worthy of adding to their task list at work. Because for most of us time wasters don’t rise to the level of tasks.

      1. Tel*

        She did say that in her previous job people would “talk, talk, talk” so I’m guessing that either she’s picking the kind of wrong work environments or she’s a very sensitive person. Probably a bit of both and it will likely take a combination of both workplace culture and modifications to her personal workspace.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Or she’s worked at two mediocre employers in a row — which is likely, statistically speaking, since by definition most places aren’t above-average.

          1. Tel*

            That too.

            But it really varies. The word agency makes me wonder if she’s not in advertising, and if the expectations aren’t different. When we worked on campaigns, we’d work for 12-14 hours sometimes. But we’d also do stuff nobody would do at a ‘regular’ workplace (like yelling Star Wars quotes across cubicles, I admit it). Part of working terribly long and late shifts meant we could take days off after completing a project…or, be silly and yell Star Wars quotes sometimes. Because otherwise we’d murder each other.

            And then there’s my friend in Japan and all the ‘enkais’ they attended and the ‘nomunicate’. I think she left Japan because her liver wouldn’t cope with it.

    3. KellyK*

      Wow, that was incredibly rude, both the uncalled-for insults like “big, dull dud” and the fact that you completely misread the letter (whether deliberately or just by not taking the time to do more than skim it before jumping in with your own assumptions).

      She said it makes it hard for her to concentrate and that it gets on her nerves, which is a legitimate work-related gripe. She also said once she *does* get talking, she tends to overshare and she really wants to avoid that. (Doesn’t surprise me at all–the less chit-chat you participate in, the less practice you have knowing where the line is.)

      I’m also amazed that you went from “three hour conversation” to “not speaking a word related to anything outside of the workplace.” Unless you multitask really well (and most people think they multitask better than they actually do), that’s like three back-to-back lunch breaks. (And even if you are one of those rare people who can do complex tasks accurately while carrying on an unrelated conversation, that doesn’t mean it isn’t distracting the people around you.)

    4. Elizabeth West*

      A little chat is fine; the OP (a girl, btw, in case you missed it) is having trouble concentrating on work because the others NEVER SHUT UP. I’m quite friendly with people myself, but honestly, that would drive me crazy too.

      Way to stick your bragging and putdowns in there and completely miss the issue in the post.

    5. Charles*

      Ummm… no.

      I have just one question for YOU. Just how much did your mother drink when she was pregnant with you?

  12. Tim C.*

    I have similar problems. In fact I have been perceived as “not liking people”. If I wore headphones, I think I could be fired. I have tried buying bagels for the department, however the talking continues, the effect is temporary, and can get expensive. I think an alternative employer may be my only alternative.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      You shouldn’t have to bribe your co-workers to stop talking. If it’s distracting you from your work, and you’ve actually talked to them about the issue, then go to your boss. You shouldn’t have to spend your hard-earned money on bribes.

      1. Jamie*

        I agree with this.

        I also really want a bagel right now. I need to start eating either breakfast or lunch again, because when I don’t eat all day these late afternoon food references are super distracting.

        A sesame bagel toasted with light cream cheese. Maybe if I start talking to myself from now until I leave someone will come in and bring me one as a bribe to shut up.

  13. AMG*

    More like ‘ummm…obnoxious. Why deliberately act like a troll and a jerk? You can’t be that much fun to talk to if you are half as rude as you were here. I’d rather have headphones.

  14. Steve G*

    I cannot listen to music 8-12/hours a day. I would go deaf and spend 1/2 the day looking up songs.

  15. bemo12*

    I really recommend getting the noise cancelling head phones and/or ask to move.

    I work in a low pace environment where there is a lot of camaraderie. We tend to chat a lot and there are a few people who wear them and they swear by them. They don’t mind us talking and we don’t mind leaving them alone unless we legitimately need them.

    There is a lot of anti-talking conversation here and I can understand the sentiment, but some people do work better with chatting and some people work better with quiet. I think it takes a lot of factors, such as company fit, work load, pace, and camaraderie to determine whether it’s acceptable to talk during the day, but if no one is saying anything and you are getting your work done, then there shouldn’t be anything wrong with talking.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It depends on the type of job. In a lot of jobs, if you get the basics done, then there are all kinds of other things you could start tackling, so it’s not always accurate to say that if you just get your work done, then there’s nothing wrong with talking. Even if someone is getting all their work done, if they’re talking as much as the OP describes, I’m going to assume that they could be performing at a higher level and contributing more if they weren’t.

      (Also, if you’re distracting other people, then that’s a problem too.)

      1. bemo12*

        I agree, but in my work environment we are given a certain amount of things to do a day, based on how much work there actually is to get done. Our team is dependable and reliable enough to know how to tackle each days workload and how much chatting we can do while we are doing it. This type of environment is quite common in my field, and while I fully concede that it is not the same in every environment, I think it just becomes too easy to blame others and sometimes people need to work on their self and move on or move to a different job. Hence my suggestion of moving or headphones.

        If a large group of people in this environment are doing this, then maybe it is more a question of fit rather than a question of productivity?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I maintain that in high-performing organizations, you set ambitious goals and help people reach an ambitious bar — and in most jobs (not all, but most) that doesn’t mean “do x, y, and z and then use the rest of your time however you want.”

              1. bemo12*

                Because my point is completely irrelevant to what you’re saying. Not all organizations are high-performing and not all organizations have unlimited amounts of work to get done.

                When you do insurance billing our team can only do the work for the charts we have in front of us. If I only have 100 charts for the day then I know how long that will take me and I know how much socializing I can do.

                I’m saying office culture is different in different environments and if the superiors don’t have a problem with the behavior then maybe the OP should just work on her own problem, rather than people making the generalization that the others are unproductive or could be working harder.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Since we don’t know what type of work the OP does and she does know, I’m willing to take her word for it that it’s the type of work that requires focus (which she says in her letter), and that spending nearly half of every day chatting would detract from that. It’s not hard to believe that would/could be the case.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s also worth noting that I come from the nonprofit world, where how much you get done has hugely high stakes for the people or mission that you’re serving.

        2. Reader*

          I work in the law field. It would be virtually impossible to “get it all done in a day.” it just doesn’t work that way. there is always something else to do. I’ve worked in other types of jobs where my tasks involved filing, data entry etc. I could do these tasks and carry a conversation at the same time. However, now I am reading complex policy briefs, trying to distill information from them and drafting documents. I can’t talk and do that at the same time. I’m fine with some talking at work. It is the hour long conversations that get to me. Especially when its two or three people in the room where there are several people trying to work. its rude! And frankly, once my coworkers get into the hours of talking per day range, i consider it stealing (since they are getting paid for all of that time that they are doing nothing). I’m more than happy to chat at happy hours with my coworkers.

          1. bemo12*

            Why don’t you get noise cancelling headphones and let your superiors deal with the problem? I encourage you to discuss it with them, but if they don’t want to get involved, than maybe it is a question of fit.

  16. Miss Displaced*

    I’ve worked at a number of places, some with WAY too much socializing (annoying) and some cubicle farms where no one spoke to anyone all day long (depressing).

    Try any and all of the above suggestions. Ask to move if possible or try the headphones if not. At the one company I came in early in order to get more done, although that can also work against you if you leave earlier than the others.

  17. Tel*

    Office culture. If you don’t enjoy it, you should get a new job.
    Look, I’ve work in many different places and some can be dead quiet and others very busy, chatty. It varies a lot by the industry, size of the company, culture of the company. Clearly you are looking for a more structured thing.

    As for socializing…yes, a certain amount of socializing helps, but again, it varies quite a bit. Hell, I remember being in labour and the nurse and the doctor merrily chatting about what she did over the weekend. Probably not the conversation I wanted to hear! But, people talk. Sometimes a little, sometimes a lot, and it may or not affect their job situation.

    My friend spent several years living in Japan and every Friday they had basically a mandatory bar afternoon. Around 2pm they would go to the bar, meet with clients, and drink drink drink. It was perfectly fine and expected.

    So, aside from headphones or moving your desk, I would suggest gauging whether this is the right office culture for you. There is no point in getting annoyed at your supervisors or co-workers. If you think headphones will do the trick and you can put up with the rest, then fine.

  18. Anonymous*

    My office recently started using MS Communicator, which for those who have never heard or use it before, it’s the same as instant messaging. When work gets slow, many of my co-workers IM about non-work related stuff, sometimes the whole day. I never understood how they get away with things like that.

    Also, I’ve had talkative co-workers too and I know how annoying that is, since I need absolute quiet to do my work. When co-workers stand around and all gather at one person’s cubicle and talk for 40 mins is even more annoying.

    My other pet peeve is when someone plays “soft” music at their desk, but other people can obviously hear it no matter how low it is on. Use headphones!

    1. V*

      I totally agree about the music. It’s not like headphones are a big investment. If you still want to be able to hear everything around you, play the music softly or use one earbud.

    2. Anonymous*

      I was going to comment that it isn’t always the talkers who are wasting time. I have coworkers who complain about not being able to concentrate because of the noise generated by talkers—implying that they can’t get their work done—but then spend probably 20 minutes every hour on the interoffice communicator.

    3. Esra*

      My last office used to use communicator and I miss the crap out of it. A message on communicator can wait till I finish my thought/design/current line of code/whatever, which is vastly preferable to someone coming by my desk and interrupting.

  19. Ade*

    This might be an incredibly stupid question, but do you have to actually play music in the noise-canceling headphones to drown things out?

    1. fposte*

      No–they play “anti-noise” to block the sounds out. Though somebody upthread noticed that they block out airplane engine noise better than conversation, so you’d want to check that out before buying if you didn’t want to play music.

  20. Anonymous*

    AAM– What do you consider a reasonable amount of time for chit-chat in an 8 hour day? I work in a high-performing organization, but don’t know how some of my co-workers can spend so much time socializing. Well, actually some of them complain about having to work at home at night because they are so busy ;-) I am busy but prefer to work hard while I am at the office to avoid taking work home. What is a reasonable amount of time to socialize during a work day?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think you can quantify it exactly, like “X minutes,” but I think that a bit of light catch-up in passing is normal. When it goes beyond “in passing” more than very occasionally, then I think it’s in a questionable zone.

      A good way to look at it might be: If you were spending that same amount of time in your personal Gmail account or buying something online, would you feel guilty or like you were doing something your boss wouldn’t be thrilled to know about?

  21. Anonymous*

    I haven’t done this in a while, but I used to go set up shop in unconventional areas of the building when I needed some peace and quiet. This will probably only work for you if you don’t have to worry heavily about face time or using specific equipment. Sometimes there’s a lunch room that gets very quiet any time outside of the conventional 12-1 lunch hour. Sometimes there’s a perfectly good conference room that’s never in use, or a park bench outside, or even a dead-end hallway or out-of-the-way stairwell that no one will notice you in (no one uses stairs anymore!).

    I’ve seen a couple of co-workers escape out to their trucks to get some peace and quiet (always trucks, never cars or SUVs – no idea why). One used to set up for an hour or two at a time in the bathroom on the couch there, but that’s a bit strange for my tastes.

    1. Jamie*

      Wow. If people there are so desperate for a quiet place to work that multiple employees are escaping to their vehicles, the stairwells, and the bathroom (bathroom?!) to get some work done then the powers that be should take a look at the environment and make some changes.

      Seriously stairwells, trucks, and the bathroom? And because it can’t be said enough – the bathroom?! There is a serious problem there.

    2. The Other Dawn*

      I’ve gotta say that if I walked into the bathroom and saw someone had set up shop there, you better believe I’m going to say something to them about it. Who wants to use the bathroom when someone is camped out in there? And do these people know what goes on in a bathroom? Why would they subject themselves to that?

      1. Anonymous*

        Interesting. Why would you feel you need to comment on someone who chooses to work on the couch in the bathroom?

        Incidentally, where does one have to go to find a bathroom with a couch?

  22. Anonymous*

    “people who socialize, no matter how little work they do, get ahead regardless because they talk to everyone and network” — that is absolutely not true in most industries, not at the places you want to work.

    Well, I definitely agree that these aren’t places the OP (or most of us) would want to work, but I disagree that this is not true in most industries. I think it’s wishful thinking about how things should be rather than how they are.

    I’ve worked all over the place–fast food and retail when I was younger, then lots of different offices as a temp, and more recently in office management. I can’t remember a single company where I didn’t see slackers with good networking skills thrive. Slackers who weren’t good at socializing didn’t usually move up, but then again, they rarely actually got fired. And the nose-to-the-grindstone types were kept right where they were forever because they were so darn good at it!

    Managers are only human and want to be around people they click with, so they’re going to promote their friends as long as the friends’ work isn’t blatantly poor.

  23. Cassie*

    Like the OP, I’m on the quiet side, sit near people who talk all the time, and have difficulty focusing when there’s a lot of noise around. Although their conversations usually last 10 minutes (or less) at a time, maybe several times a day (and not necessarily always the same people). I guess my biggest gripe is that my coworkers tend to socialize at the beginning of the day. They gather around to get coffee, chat about what they did over the weekend, comment about how *everyone* is wearing turquoise today (and this was a guy making this comment), decide on where to go for lunch, etc.

    When I get in to work, I want to get started on my day: check my email, figure out what I need to do, make a to-do list. If only they could hold off on socializing until 10am (or even 9:30am), I’d be in a much happier mood! Of course, it’s not like I can ask them to keep it down until a certain time, but if there was one thing I could ask for, that would be it.

    To alleviate my frustrations, I listen to music on my computer – either with headphones (before my boss gets in) or I leave the headphones on my desk with the volume low (I can still hear it but it’s low enough not to disturb anyone else). Sometimes I forget the headphones are connected to my computer and get yanked back when I move away from my desk. An mp3 player might be a better choice then, but I like how there’s more variety on Pandora, Last.fm and the like.

    1. Anonymous*

      hahahaha! I have been yanked back by my headphones too! I thought I was the only one…

      I have worked as a temp in the same PR agency for two year (with rather young women) and I want to shoot myself in the face most days, especially when I hear, “I think being pregnant is the new black”. Headphones are a must.

    2. Anonymous*

      Hi, a co-worker got this for me for Christmas and it’s the best:

      It’s a headphone retractable extender and it’s great! It gives you a larger radius with headphones (I have an odd shaped desk so some of my files are tucked away from the computer jack).

      And for those that prefer white noise, there’s also this great site called http://www.soundsleeping.com – I use it for sleep but you can customize your own mix of white noise (ocean, wind, thunder, etc.)

    3. Andrew*

      I’m sorry, but you sound like a grump.

      People socialize at the beginning of the work day because it’s a natural thing for people to do when they haven’t seen each other for a number of hours. Your suggestion that they hold off until 10 AM– when the work day is well underway–is just inviting a large interruption in productivity.

      And are you sure your music isn’t just as irritating to other people as their conversations are to you? Unintelligible, half-heard tunes can be incredibly distracting.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        She doesn’t sound like a grump to me. She’s not asking them to stop or insisting they adhere to her preferences. She’s mentioning to us that it annoys and distracts her. It would me too.

      2. bonbon*

        This is a big part of the problem – that social people think that we quiet ones are “grumps” (or worse). I don’t understand why you don’t see how constant chatting is very distracting to others when they’re trying to work. To me, it’s an issue of being polite. Everyone is different. Why must you engage in name-calling?

  24. mancer*

    I have been in a very similar situation to the extent that when I sent this article to my girlfriend she thought that I had sent the letter!
    When you are the minority in such cases not only you cannot work but also you become alienated and it even hinders the perception that others have about your performance. For example I prefer doing my work within my shift rather than talk on the phone, chit chat in the office, go for strolls outside the office and then stay 1-2 hours longer. Also unfortunately using headphones might give a poor impression to others but honestly, I cannot even hear my thoughts, let alone work efficiently! Of course in such an environment, combined with the complete lack of training in a job that needs management’s guidance I cannot even dream advancing in my career.
    This sentence says it all:
    “That’s something that you can only change by changing jobs and making a point of seeking out somewhere with a culture of high performance.”
    Unfortunately I am stuck in this job probably due to my age (30s), certainly due to the recession (I ‘m lining in one of the PIIGS) and despite graduating from an MBA less than a year ago I cannot find a new job. And this is getting really frustrating…

  25. Sandrine*

    I’m lucky that by definition my work prevents me from needless workplace chatter.

    I work on the phones and I’m glued to the headphones unless I’m on a break OR if there’s downtime, in which case sometimes we do chat, unless the downtime is less than a minute (not much conversation you can do in 30 seconds haha) .

    The good part is that I sit near my boss, so if I need some clarification I can have it quickly and it saves a lot of time and hassle, so while I sometimes hear things I shouldn’t, there’s more benefit to sit there than far away from him XD .

  26. Eggs and bacon*

    How would you suggest a manager handle such a problem? My staff has permanent status and seem to be waiting for retirement (not interested in promotion etc.). They do their work well, but it’s clearly very inefficient all around.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Talk explicitly about the changes you want to see, lay out a higher bar, and hold them to it. You need to be able to replace them with people who will work at a higher level if they fail to meet a high bar, so your mention of “permanent status” worries me — you can’t effectively manage if you can’t set consequences.

      1. Eggs and bacon*

        These are civil service positions (I am not however) and the process to remove anyone is almost impossible. I have a colleague who managed it after 4-5 years of much documenting and grievances back and forth, but those years were hell for their department so I am reluctant to do this. Also it’s not like they don’t do their job, it’s just low achievement. I also effectively have no room to reward good behavior which would be another way to set some motivation. So I feel mostly frustrated but wondering what I could do within those constraints.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Not much — that environment has (very unwisely) removed your most effective management tools. They essentially have you overseeing work, not managing, it sounds like.

          1. khilde*

            Do you think that people would choose to leave the position if the supervisor cracked down, managed them firmly and consistently and just rode their tails? Like they’d get sick of this new, highly involved management style and choose to leave? Or could that backfire?

            1. Charles*

              I do believe that since they are waiting for retirement; nothing, and I mean nothing, will cause them to leave. Any “crackdown” will backfire. They will try their best to get rid of the manager by making her life miserable. (as a trainer, I’ve been there, seen that, got the t-shirt)

              The best that a manager can do in this type of situation is to try to keep their poor attitude and poor work habits from infecting the new folks. I’m sure that if “eggs and bacon” searched the AAM archives there might be plenty on how to handle that. Good luck!

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I tend to agree with Charles. The manager could try it though, but it’s likely to be absolutely exhausting and demoralizing. When people you’re managing don’t have a good work ethic and know that you don’t have the ability to impose consequences, it’s a really uphill and exhausting battle to fix it.

              This is why I will never work for the government.

            3. Anonymous*

              Bring in new computers. Upgrade all the software. Introduce a new workflow. In my experience, coasters tend to be technophobes, since computers do not accommodate human reluctance to change.

  27. Anonymous*

    On the topic of productivity, what do you think about longer hours with more breaks for chatting, phone calls, Internet browsing, etc.? I frequently stop working to shop online, get coffee, etc because I don’t work efficiently for long periods without significant breaks. I stay longer to make up for my constant break-taking, and my boss doesn’t care because my work gets done well. I imagine it would look unproductive to many people, though.

    1. KellyK*

      That sounds totally reasonable to me. If you’re functioning better than you would otherwise, it should be a win for you and your company both. The only thing that might be an issue is if you’re non-exempt and the breaks you’re taking are short enough that they have to be paid, because it might result in overtime.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If you’re paid hourly, obviously that’s going to be a problem. Otherwise, though, I’d say to talk to your boss explicitly about what you’re doing so that it’s out in the open and your boss isn’t secretly passing judgment on the habit.

      That said, I do think you’ll find some people will judge this work style even if you’re up-front about it.

    3. Jamie*

      I think it depends on the job, to be honest. If others depend on what you do in order to do their jobs, it could be an issue even if all your work is getting done. If not then it really only matters if it matters to your boss and I agree with Alison that you should be upfront that you’re making a conscious choice to work that way.

      Many of us have worked with people who do cloak themselves in the martyr mantle of working excessive hours because they can’t manage time – or think it scores them points – and others can judge them harshly for seeming to lack time management skills.

      1. AMG*

        +1. I know of people who don’t care how much you have on your plate. If you are working more than 50 hours per week, you are inefficient, period.

        1. Jamie*

          That also depends on the job. Sometimes it’s an indicator of inefficiency, but for some positions it’s the nature of the beast at times of high workload and/or understaffed.

          In my job, like many, there is no “done.” The list is long and every evolving so it’s important to carve out a schedule that works because working on full speed until you’re caught up, when it’s contrary to the structure of the position, is a recipe for burnout.

          I don’t know much, but that I know.

      2. KellyK*

        Definitely other good things to consider. I tended to assume “getting everything done” implied “getting your coworkers what they need from you when they need it” but that might not always be the case.

        And +1000 to not trying to score points with this. There’s nothing wrong with working best with frequent breaks, but it’s nothing to brag about either.

    4. Anonymous*

      The amount of hours/ amount of work you get done doesn’t bother me. If it means other people who aren’t doing purposely longer days to compensate get less done and get distracted more then it isn’t going to be well accepted.

      Its like me who leaves at an odd time – If someone decides to chat to me because they know I’m on the way out the door and therefore not working (although they should be) it disturbs other people in the office.

      On a general note can I add “people who constantly eat food out of rusting packets *just after* lunch” to the list of distractions? I have a colleague who will have lunch at 1-1.30 and then eat chips (crisps) at 1.35!

      1. Anon*

        So they like to have chips after lunch; that’s not unreasonable. Seriously, at a certain point people need to develop a thicker skin about normal sounds.

  28. Anonymous*

    I have the same views as the person who posted this. The mindless chitchat takes away from my work and seems unprofessional. I am not a real outgoing social creature. I have been admonished by a manager in a past job for not being “chit chatty” enough, though she had a strict policy of admonishing anyone away from their desks chic chatting and not working. (She was eventually let go fortunately). My current job, in a more professional environment generally does not lend itself to chit chat, though some folks are so inclined to spend their time doing so. However, I’ve noticed that the chit chatty person, though usually incompetent work-wise, will often be promoted. I am starting to dislike this pattern of little or poor work being rewarded.

    I would suggest really looking at the culture of a company and choosing your next move with heavy emphasis based on that.

  29. Pamela*

    Good God, you people need to work in a large call center for just a week. You will learn VERY quickly how to tune out background noise and voices. You have to otherwise you can’t do your job effectively. I no longer work in a call center and I am still able to block out everybody’s chatter. As a matter of fact sometimes I’m so focused I don’t hear my coworker calling my name and she sits four feet away. She has to get up and touch me to get my attention. And then she says “I said your name five times can you not hear me?” I’m just that focused. I guess it’s a learned skill.

    1. bonbon*

      If we worked at a call center, I think we would expect a lot of chatter. Goes with the job. We’re talking about other environments with other work requirements. Would be nice to have your focus. I can sometimes achieve that, but at the same time, some of my co-workers think I’m being rude or in a bad mood if I focus too much!

    2. Eva*

      Actually I work in an outbound call center and have trouble with this- I can easily tune out the sounds of people saying the things we say on the phone, which is heavily scripted. Most people use a “phone voice” anyway.

      But even when I’m on the phone only about 45% of my brain is engaged and it’s difficult to keep the other part from falling asleep- My coworkers unfortunately like to discuss highly personal things without realizing that we work in a cube farm and just because there is a wall there does not mean that the person less than 4 feet away can’t hear you describing what you bought at the passion party or what your religion believes will happen to unbelievers in hell.

      Management where I work is big on the carrot- they incentivize good behavior really well with bonuses for attendance, productivity, and quality, but it’s well known that it’s VERY difficult to be let go and the worst that happens if you complain about inappropriate behavior is usually an email or a new bonus to not do the thing that the people with the bad behavior don’t care about.

      I often deal with this by being “unintentionally” rude and joining in on personal conversations at total random- since I can hear them, they must not mind, right? No? Then I don’t need to hear it, talk about it at break time. My favorite are people whining that they won’t get productivity incentives after spending the morning talking, then getting mad because they think it’s impossible to meet their quotas.

  30. Just a worker*

    The chatter thing goes on where I work too. I work as a clerk in an accounting department. When I first started (6yrs. ago) there was not so much chatter as we were expected to have our postings done on a daily basis. We now have a certain day of the week to be caught up. So many factors go into the possibility of the department being able to meet the goal such as what week of the month it is, how the computer system is running, how many people are on vacation…so sometimes chatter is understandable because it is slow.What happens is it is talk talk talk until the day we have to be caught up no matter how much work we have to do at that moment – then on the big day it has to be crunch time because things are so far behind. I cherish my headphones!! :)

  31. Joanna*

    HELP ME!!!!! I have a coworker that is about 3 years away from retiring and she is my “supervisor”. She has been asked for 9 months now to do our SOPs and did not do them. I volunteered to do them. Took me 2 days to do them. She constantly makes noise (I believe it is to try to engage me in a conversation which I do not), she whistles (not a tune mind you) just a whistle sometimes I do not know if she is wheezing or whistling. She eats all day long, grazes as she puts it. Please give me some advice on how to deal with her.

  32. dhgjh*

    I wish this one girl Brooke would stop talking at work. How does she get any work done and they made her senior. I think I might have a case with her and HR.

  33. TheQuietAdminLady*

    I have the same problem… Though none of us share an office, and the ones who annoy me are seldom IN the building. But the times they ARE here, they simply cannot resist a bit of small talk. My office is right by the staircase, so whenever someone goes down, or comes up the stairs, they have to move past my office. I’m not a “people’s person” and hate having to deal with public.

    Needless to say, I’m not a big talker really. Even when surrounded by friends or even family, I’m always the impartial observer. One of my colleagues in particular annoys the living daylights out of me. Instead of being NORMAL and simply answering my polite response to his asking how I am and asking in turn how HE’S doing, he’ll always have this LOOOOOOOOOOOONG explanation. Really dude, I zone out once you open your mouth. Can’t you tell by the glazed look in my eyes??? He also always enquires about my love life which has F-ALL to do with him!!!!!!! One of these days I’m going to give him a very sarcastic answer, “My love life is SUPERB! I met this guy, instant chemistry and the sex is AWESOME!!!!” just to see his reaction. He’d probably get turned on because he’s the office perv. ANYWAY, then there’s this other coworker who always has to invade my personal space (I have a BIG personal space) by standing right next to my chair, and look on my computer screen. It’s got F-ALL to do with him what I keep myself busy with, and I hate it when he comments on it or just doesn’t go away. I’ve addressed this issue with him before but he’s too daft to grasp it.

    Well, I’m at the point now where I’m the very moody and aggressive-acting woman and where I just want to throw stuff at whoever enters my office, even if it’s my boss – who by the way is JUST as annoying. Ok, maybe I’M the one with the issues. But I just don’t want to be bothered. I want to do my work IN PEACE, and then just RELAX IN PEACE!!! I hate small talk, no matter who you are, even if you’re my aunt! I don’t want to share my innermost feelings with anyone else. So just take a hint and go jump in a lake.

    Sorry, was rambling/ranting there. I just needed to vent I guess

    1. Bonbon*

      I feel your pain! I have many of the same issues in my office (eerily similar). I just don’t have the guts to say it like you did! :- D

  34. HeadDesk*

    *headdesk* (The action where you bang your head against your desk)


    Came across this page. But I’ve tried those things already, specifically the “hovering coworker” but none of those things seem to make any impression whatsoever…

    Perhaps one has to be REALLY blunt and tell them straight-out that they’re annoying and you’re not in the mood for chit-chat??? I hate it when people don’t get the message either way…….. :-/

    1. Eva*

      In my experience this is a good idea- Some people may be so different from you that they may not actually realize they’re bothering you- I have habits myself that I didn’t know were bothering others for YEARS until someone finally told me. It’s like people with BO.

  35. Anonymous*

    My employer doesn’t allow headphones, earbuds, or music of any kind. And won’t make people shut up and work either. Guess I need to find a new job.

    1. Bonbon*

      Anonymous, that’s awful. I’m in a chatty office, and I find it very hard to concentrate (and not end up being really frustrated), but we’re allowed to wear headphones. I feel bad for you. I don’t know what to tell you.

  36. DDS*

    I’ve recently had two young women placed in the cubicles next to mine and they talk all day long through the cube walls. Blah, blah, blah, blah about personal stuff and giggle like little schoolgirls..and one of them is just loud by nature.

    It’s not just me who finds them annoying. Other workers nearby are about ready to join forces and put duct tape over their mouths.

    We have mentioned this to our supervisor, who really should have mentioned it to THEIR supervisor, but nothing’s been done. We’ve actually confronted these blabber-mouths and now they won’t speak to us at all and glare at us like they want to slit our throats.

    I’ve worked in this office 13 years and never once have we ever had a difficult person to work with, now suddenly two slackers show up, their supervisory doesn’t seem to notice, and the rest of us are supposed to put up with their nonsense.

    Thanks for letting me gripe.

    1. Molly*

      Hi , I had the same situation 3 years ago. The manager did nothing but ask them to be quiet( after a co-worker intervention) , next 2 years and still is a nightmare for me, they are still bullying me ( like saying really loud ” oh we should not talk this loud, shh shhh hahahahahaha” ) and talking bull…it about me behind my back not only in our office but the offices abroad. Just because they were reported AFTER I told them they are too loud. My reputation is in ashes and I only wanted to do my work well. There is no justice in this world. The worst is that these kind of people are majority and either you get used to it, or they will CRUSH you.

  37. B*

    Here’s a new wrinkle in my office saga. We’re packing up today to move from our office environment to CUBE world. We few quiet ones here are interested to see how this will all work out. We now have offices with doors, and it’s a noisy atmosphere, with frequent chit-chat/loud talking. So not sure how it will be when we move. I’m going to dig out my giant headphones and hope that helps me concentrate on my work. But the problem of being seen as the “difficult” or “unfriendly” one and not being respected for wanting some quiet is still the thing that bothers me the most.

  38. Joseph Ting*

    There is no escape from a world that can’t stop talking-especially not at the office

    With more success than a camel trying to squeeze itself through the eye of a needle, boisterous office banter manages to seep past the music rendered through air-tight noise cancelling headphones tightly clamped around my head. With limitless appetite for self-referencing talk and need for constant attention, contemporary social life is mostly about the explication of what “I” did, feel, plan, feel good or sad about. At a social function, I would perhaps even welcome animated extroversion from a significant other, family or close friend, offer a shoulder to cry on or share the happiness of others.

    The belief that tight acoustic reverberation in a shared office militates against the bar and restaurant ethos of basking in loudly declared mutuality couldn’t be further from the truth. The out and proud dissemination of juicy gossip and one’s latest romantic entanglement/disaster appears to be a freedom too often indulged by effusive talk-casters one has the misfortune of being within ear shot of. Like a caged animal, I am subjected to the noise annoyance and repeated disruptions to work focus from my fellow workers’ conversations and phone calls.

    There is no escape from our rampant ear-splitting “culture of personality.” Aside from impaired work performance and intensified cognitive demands to filter out loud, persistent and often startlingly unpredictable distractions, unwanted indoor noise is associated with adverse health outcomes, reduced self-rated health and job satisfaction. Far from enhancing work collaboration, a large amount of office banter occur within social cliques in implied zones of exclusion and have nothing to do with work. Head phones and other strategies like retreating to quiet zones, viewed as unsociable by free range talkers, predispose to conflict at work. The greater worry is that higher mortality risk observed in residents living close to busy highways or underneath noisy flight paths could apply to long-term exposure to noisy workplaces.

    We need to set some ground rules so that those of us who live by the increasingly rare principle of maintaining a dignified silence are not pursued and berated into extinction. Non-work related conversation, whether in person or on the phone, is to be conducted outside the sacrosanct confines of the open-plan office, out of hearing range of those they do not concern. If no alternative venue is available, try to keep the voice volume and dramatisation to a non-operatic level. Remind yourself that over-the-top talking mercilessly permeates an enclosed space and holds those in your proximity captive without necessarily captivating them. Lessen the spell that self-love and wanton self-expression has cast over you-remember that your indiscretion, misfortune, joyful reunion, TV and book raves are not necessarily welcome and/or of interest to others. If only we had the equivalent of “Quiet Carriages” at work; ear-battered and soul-bruised, I retreat into the blessed haven of the boss’ room on his days off, close the door behind me or wait for the workplace convent/ contemplation room to become free. Quiet everyone, I can’t hear myself think!

    1. Eva*

      This is amazingly well written. And don’t even get me started on noise pollution from media no one is paying attention to, like muzak in stores, hold music, the television no one is watching at the restaurant or in the office break room that is still blasting out sports stats, etc.

      Of course, a lot of this could be solved by having larger, more private cubicles or even offices with doors. I don’t even think it’s an issue of expense, either, since cubicle components aren’t that cheap- to be honest, I think it’s mostly an issue because many employers don’t trust employees to get stuff done if no one is watching them.

  39. my website*

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  40. tay*

    I so love this post! Sounds like my office. My coworkers go on and on. It disturbs me. I also am in an office where coworkers chat at 9 am over coffee. I’m the kind who would just say “hi how are you. I am good today.” May be a couple of lines more depending on the day but they can talk for 30 mins at a stretch about which neighborhood is great for living. I feel like telling them thats a separate topic for outside work and for friend s or family. This is just an example of the conversation they have and everyday that’s a new topic. I completely agree that progressive and competitive firms have less of such hhabits. time for me to move jobs.

    I am going to start using headphones at work but I don’t like music all day.

    And thanks about the white noise headphones. I am going to head out today during lunch to buy one.

  41. tay*

    I used my headphones and listened to music today morning. My usually talkative coworker got the message lol. She was within her talking limits today.

  42. Susan*

    I had to google this question because I thought it was just me and that I was from outer space! I too have to listen to side conversations everyday/all day. If it was short, and in frequent I would have no problem, but it starts the minute they walk in and continues throughout the day. What makes it worse is that I get their work, because they are too busy and can’t get to it. (WTH). I am asked frequently if there is something wrong “because I don’t engage in the converstation’s” as I have action items that need to be completed. I have requested to be moved and they wont move me, the only other option I have is to look for a job somewhere else! They pay me to work, I don’t know why that is so hard to understand! Can’t talk to management because I’m told to loosen up! if I Losen up, who’s going to do the work!

  43. Timothy Mattson*

    I literally go through a living Hell every-time I have to get work done at a computer.

    I’m in the military and am deployed to an overseas base.

    My job only requires me to be at a computer once a week, and the following is why it is always the worst two hours of my existence.

    I’m an introvert by nature, but I’ll force myself to be social when the opportunity presents itself. I wouldn’t like to be rejected when making a social advance, so I don’t deny anyone who does the same.

    When I work at a computer, it’s near a group of computers that anyone else on the camp can use. One gentlemen is ALWAYS at a computer in here, and he’s a very loud person. Literally, every ten minutes he breaks wind loudly and says “OH! That was a nice push!”. Everyone else laughs hysterically, EVERY TIME. I put on headphones and nearly wreck my eardrums with the volume, and I can still hear them chatting away.

    Take the absolute dumbest, most moronic conversation you’ve ever heard, multiply that by a google-plex and then deal with that every week. That’s my Hell.

    I wouldn’t call myself “smart”, I like to believe that I’m the higher end of average at best. One guy find a video that he thinks is hilarious, he’ll yell for people who are right next to him to come over and watch it. They laugh so hard that the walls shake and share commentary that can overwhelm the volume blasting out of my headphones.

    Do I tell them to be quiet? Hell no, that would invite them to shout louder. Where I am, it’s not about rank it’s about the social vibe. Farting constantly and screaming examples of ones own stupidity is how these people engage each other socially.

    I have to keep a government issued cell phone, it’s supposed to be so that I can communicate with reps from the various companies I deal with. One co-worker calls me all the time to ask me stupid questions, his entire reason for having a cell phone is to bug me by the way.

    Here’s a conversation from two days ago:

    Me: Hello?

    Him: Hey man, what’s up?

    Me: Why are you calling me?

    Him: I did not call you! You called me!

    Me: My phone rang, I answered it. You called me.

    Him: NO!! I know that I did not call you!

    I hung up. I’m leaving this camp soon, but this will have been the worst five months of my life only because for some odd reason the dumbest examples of humanity were dumped in here with me.

  44. DJS*

    Why is it the people who are doing what they are paid to do now have to confirm to and work around an environment that is given into a lackadaisical attitude. Why should a person have to wear a headset instead of enforcing office policies. We seem to be changing the rules because more people are breaking them. Your advise is given into allowing people to not do a full days work. Managers need to enforce polices.

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