our intern won’t stop talking — but I can’t tell her I need to get back to work

A reader writes:

You’ve answered versions of this question before, but this chatty coworker question is slightly different. I work at the front desk of a small nonprofit museum that has a rotating pool of volunteers. I started out as a volunteer, and still do a fair amount of volunteer work, so I’m kind of a bridge between the volunteers and employees. The best part of the museum is definitely the community of volunteers/employees it attracts — everyone is pretty young and extremely passionate and interesting.

Recently, a research intern joined the team. She’s very sweet and well-meaning, but talks CONSTANTLY, to the point that several people have approached me to quietly comment on the fact that she never ever stops talking. It seems like she’s just very anxious about being liked, and is trying to overcompensate. In so doing, she’s actively annoying everyone within earshot.

When she does her research, she’s typically at the front desk with me — a slightly isolated area — and the effect is twofold: 1) my friends at the museum avoid stopping by the front desk to talk to me, because they’re avoiding the chatty intern, and 2) I end up listening politely to the intern for the entirety of my shift.

It also doesn’t help that my front-desk job is fairly non-demanding. She always stops talking whenever a customer walks in, but as soon as I’m finished with their transaction, she starts again. I can’t honestly say “Sorry, I can’t talk, I have work to do” because if there are no customers, I GENUINELY DON’T.

I’m at a loss. Her immediate boss and my immediate boss (both friends of mine) have said privately to me, with varying degrees of tact, that they don’t know what to do about the intern because she’s so annoying. What constructive feedback can you give to someone like that without confirming their worst anxieties? Is there a polite way to say “Please talk 10% of the amount that you currently do, so I don’t actively resent you?”

Yep, this is different than previous letters I’ve answered about overly chatty coworkers, because in those cases people were able to credibly say they couldn’t talk/had to get back to a work project.

So, a couple of options:

1. While you can’t say you have work to do, you could in theory say you have something else to do. You could have a book you need to read for a book club — actually, no, you don’t even need to invent a fake book club. You could just say, “I’ve been dying to use this time to read this book so I’m not going to chat today!” Or for a longer-term solution: “I’ve realized this is my best time for reading, so I’ve started bringing books with me. Sorry I won’t be up for chatting!” You could do the same thing with a personal writing project, reading the news, catching up on your correspondence with your great-aunt, or anything else you want to spend that time on.

2. Be direct: “Would you mind if we didn’t talk so much while we’re up here? I like to have some quiet time in between customers, and I think if we’re constantly talking it deters other people from stopping by.” You could add, “I don’t mind a little chat, of course, but I like some time to be in my own head too.” Then reinforce that; if her calibration of “a little chat” is still way too much, talk to for a bit and then say, “Okay, I’m going to spend some time reading now.” Or, on the other end of that, if she seems to think this means she can NEVER speak, model an appropriate amount of chat by asking her a warm, friendly question at some point (and be prepared with a conversation-ending strategy, like leaving for the bathroom or to get coffee if this opens the chatting floodgates).

But also, her boss should really be addressing this. That’s part of managing an intern — or managing anyone, really. This is annoying other people and making them avoid her, and they have an obligation to address it with her by saying something (in private) like, “We love having you here and you’re doing great work. One thing I’ve noticed is that you’re pretty chatty with others. It’s great for you to form relationships with other people here, but I want you to pull back on how much chatting you’re doing since other people are working or just may need quiet space. It’s fine to have a short conversation, but be mindful of how long it’s going on — a couple of minutes is fine, but usually people should get back to work after that.”

And yes, this risks the intern thinking it doesn’t apply to you since you don’t have actual work you need to be doing when she talks to you. But as a manager, I’d start here and see if it solves the problem. If it doesn’t, then she can address that piece of it more directly.

{ 156 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Sarah Simpson

    Her boss should have the conversation with her, but be much more direct. I think it would be helpful for her to hear that she is talking incessantly and that it is making her coworkers uncomfortable. They could talk about the professional environment and ideas for what else she can do when she isn’t busy with work. Internships biggest value is in their preparation for the workforce, and being told kindly and directly that she is talking too much, and helping her navigate what would be more work appropriate would be a great favor to her – and to keeping around all those other great volunteers you have currently.

    Reply
      1. Knightly

        I agree the boss should do it. It will be awkward if OP says something and then there will be a weird vibe from that point on.

        Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Yeah, this is an odd set-up. OP’s managers should not be outsourcing this to OP and forcing OP to deal with nonsense and professional feedback.

      That said, OP should:
      1. Tell the managers that the research intern be moved to a desk that’s not in public view/at the front desk.
      2. Tell the managers they need to have a convo with the intern about the incessant talking.
      3. Very directly tell the intern that OP doesn’t want to talk or needs quiet time, and repeat as often as needed. The tone should be kind, but the content should be direct, non-apologetic, and not sugarcoated.

      Reply
      1. Washi

        Re #3, would it be super out of line for the OP to not just repeat that they don’t want to talk in the moment, but also gently indicate that the intern is talking too much in general? Like “Hey, don’t feel like you need to entertain me with chatting while you’re up here at the desk! There are no awkward silences for me and I’m happy to just work quietly together, and actually prefer that often.”

        Reply
        1. AnnaBananna

          I also think being direct ‘the chatter is really overwhelming at times’ would also go far. Intern doesn’t understand how she’s affecting her fellow coworkers. Being clear about the results is imperative for her to ‘get’ why she needs to tone it down. Maybe even highlighting that it comes across as nervous and at times abrasive.

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    1. Glitsy Gus

      That was my thought too.

      If nothing else, her boss should be telling her that even if she can talk and work, most people can’t. Also it’s going to make future managers think she isn’t working, whether it’s true or not, so she should pay attention to how much chatter is going on.

      Reply
      1. TootsNYC

        And even more–she’s an intern, which means she’s supposed to be learning while she works–which means she should be thinking, like Why do you suppose this is important? What do I think the main goal is here? Do I think this thing I’ve found is important, and why/why not?
        Do I understand what George is going to do with this research? What follow-up questions do I have?

        That sort of “thinking about the deeper levels connected to this mundane task” is how people turn internships into something powerful!

        Reply
    2. Antilles

      I would actually guess the answer is yes. OP says that while she’s working, they’re in the same desk space. So I’m thinking it’s not that she’s walking away from her own work, but more than she’s talking *while* working – in the same offhand manner that people pace their office or listen to music or have a background TV on.

      Reply
      1. Drop Bear

        I’d be surprised if the standard of her research isn’t negatively affected by her talking though, unless the research is incredibly basic (eg find a photo of something, paste it in a document). If it is this basic then her manager should be giving her something to get her teeth into, if it’s not then her manager should be talking to her about the standard of her research (and what it could be if she ‘zipped it’). Whatever is happening with the research the manager needs to talk to her about how it is unprofessional to disturb coworkers with constant conversation. The poor LW is not only stuck with the chatty intern, but also with ineffective managers (don’t know what to do about the intern indeed – how about managing her!).

        Reply
  2. Jessica

    I know this wasn’t the LW’s question, but I’m wondering about the fact that she volunteers for her employer.

    Reply
      1. egg

        But i thought even at a nonprofit, you can’t volunteer if you are a paid employee? She says she started as a volunteer so i assumed she’s paid now…

        Reply
        1. Alldogsarepuppies

          Yeah i caught this and was confused too. Unless she means she still does duties that volunteers tend to, but gets paid?

          Reply
          1. Jaybeetee

            I used to work at a non-profit museum that sounds similar to this one. It is a thing that is done, but yeah, usually very different duties. Like maybe she pitches in for set-up/take-down for special events, but they wouldn’t be able to use her as a “volunteer” greeter if they’re also paying her as a greeter.

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            1. bonkerballs

              Yeah, I used to work for a non profit preschool and any special fundraising events teachers could come and work at, but that would be considered volunteer hours. They weren’t required to be there and they didn’t get paid for it.

              Reply
        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          Ah, I misunderstood the question. It depends on what her paid role is. You can volunteer for your nonprofit employer if the work is significantly different from your paid job and not during your normal paid hours. (That said, let’s not derail on this since it’s not what the OP is asking!)

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        3. Ann

          This was exactly my first thought. :) My understanding is she can’t volunteer for something that is within her normal scope of duties. So she can’t volunteer her time over the weekend to greet patrons, but she might be able to help Susie get a display ready for viewing, as long as she doesn’t normally do this, or it’s not part of her job description.

          Reply
    1. Jen Bennett

      As a leader of volunteer engagement I would not recommend this as a good practice. Depending on the jurisdiction there may not be any legal restriction to having a paid staff person also volunteer with the organization, but it does blur the line. I might consider allowing paid staff to also volunteer with the organization if the roles are very different and the responsibilities for paid and volunteer work are clear, defined, and enforced, but there’s still a lot of room for mis-classification. If the OP leads museum tours as a volunteer I’d want to make sure that no one asked her any questions about the front desk/reception, but that’s really hard to enforce. And that’s where you might end up with questions about paid hours and staff classifications.

      Reply
  3. Edna Mazur

    Does she have to do her research at the front desk? Could you ask your/her boss if they can move her to another place? If she could be put in a more private work area, it might cut down in this.

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    1. NewHere

      Seconding this- I can’t see how she could possibly be getting her research done efficiently if she’s spending that much time talking, especially since OP thinks she’s going out of her way to be friendly and isn’t just absent-mindedly chatting while she does other work.

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    2. MuseumChick

      This.

      OP, I would push back with your/her boss. They are the ones who should be addressing this issue with her, not you. You also have ever right to request that her research area be moved. I would also ask you boss for more projects to work on while you are at the front desk. There must be some project they can have you work on in between helping customers.

      Reply
  4. Pinkie Pie

    I used to work with people on the spectrum to prepare them for employment. I’m used to having to take a blunt approach to make sure I’m understood and usually the message has to come from multiple people.

    Reply
    1. AnonForThis

      Oh gosh, this! My kiddo is on the spectrum and I’ve had this conversation:

      Me: Okay, I don’t want to talk about this anymore.
      Kiddo: [keeps talking about the topic]
      Me: Did you not hear me say I don’t want to talk about this anymore?
      Kiddo: But you’re not talking, you’re listening!
      Me: … Okay, when people say they don’t want to talk about something anymore, they usually mean they don’t want it to be the conversation topic anymore.
      Kiddo: Oooh. Okay.

      Reply
      1. AnotherAlison

        That’s interesting. I have similar conversations with my son who has ADHD. It’s a little more situationally dependent, I think, but I can’t really think another time I had to tell anyone else bluntly, “I am done talking about this.”

        Reply
        1. Glitsy Gus

          I’ve had to flat out tell my nephew, “I don’t want to talk about Minecraft or Fortnight anymore.” He doesn’t have ADHD, so sometimes I think it’s just an enthusiastic kid thing.

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          1. Jaybeetee

            My nephew is similar, and his dad (my brother) has told him point-blank to stop talking about Minecraft right then (or whatever video game he’s on that week), because my brother knows from experience he’ll chatter to everyone and anyone about Minecraft aaalllll night if no one stops him. From what I gather it’s a fairly normal kid-thing while they’re still learning how to socialize. I think I remember my parents had to redirect me too every now and then when I was babbling on about a book or TV show what have you.

            Reply
          2. Teapot Tester

            Yup, same with my son. He loves to talk about everything and everything – he gives every little detail and it makes me crazy. He doesn’t have ADHD or autism, he just talks non stop.

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          3. EH

            Hahaha, yeah, when I was younger my parents would occasionally ban particular topics for a while because otherwise my current obsession was all I wanted to talk about.

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          4. Boo Hoo

            Doing this at the dinner table tonight. I really cannot muster energy to hear about one more flipping video game again. On the verge is screaming “get a freaking life” but you know I’m a nice rational person, with a wine glass to stop me from doing that hahhaa

            Reply
            1. Airy

              Be kind about it, though. When the adults in their lives clearly hate hearing about the topics kids are enthusiastic to talk about, they learn to feel embarrassed by their hobbies and interests and they tend to shrink from telling you about anything important, from the cool thing they built in Minecraft to the weird guy on Discord who keeps asking them for photos. To a parent the latter is the obviously “important” thing but children often don’t distinguish.

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          5. Drew

            My mom used to weaponize this when we had door-to-door salesmen (so, a LONG time ago):

            DTD: Hi, I’m here to ask about your chocolate teapot needs–
            Mom: I’m sorry, I have to go change the baby’s diaper. Drew, why don’t you tell the nice man what you learned about dinosaurs today?
            DTD: I don’t really–
            Drew: [several minutes of enthusiastic dinosaur knowledge]
            Mom (returning): Sorry about that. You were saying?
            DTD (stunned): He sure knows a lot about dinosaurs. I think I need to be going.
            Drew: Bye-bye! Come back and we’ll talk about the carnivores!

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          6. Jules the 3rd

            Doesn’t always stop with the kids, tho.

            Says the woman who has to think about how to spreads her cosplay enthusiasm across multiple co-workers so that no single one is overburdened…

            Reply
      2. Muriel Heslop

        Okay, I’m a special ed teacher who works primarily with our spectrum kids and I started laughing when I read, “I don’t want to talk about this anymore” knowing where the rest of the conversation was heading.

        No matter the audience, I am a fan of kind but direct approaches. Something like, “I appreciate that you want to chat but I need some quiet time. I’ll let you know when I am ready to visit with you.” (That’s what I say in class – YMMV for your self/workplace.)

        Good luck, OP! As a former talk-too-mucher, please talk to her (or have someone else talk to her) about her overtalking. An office manager did this in my first job and it was really helpful (and necessary) for me to hear.

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        1. Just Employed Here

          “talk-too-mucher”

          I’m definitely stealing this term!

          Signed,
          A slight-talk-too-mucher who is managing, and sharing an open office with, a raging-talk-too-mucher…it would be nice to chat about **something sometimes** without it going on and on and on…

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      3. samiratou

        Yes, my older son has ADHD (and possibly on the spectrum as well), and talking seems to be his fidget, in addition to lacking social cues about nattering on about something like a play-by-play of his recent video game play that nobody really wants to hear. It’s maddening.

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          1. Boo Hoo

            If you think this will help let me tell you. Now I just listen to play by plays of other people playing video games. I really didn’t think there could be much worse than hearing his version but wow was I wrong.

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      4. Owler

        Oh my gosh, AnonForThis. This is a lightbulb moment for me. My daughter has a friend who talks *at* us about D&D, which is enjoyable about 75% of the time, but overwhelming the remaining quarter. I am sharing your conversation with my daughter so we both can remember this. THANK YOU!

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    2. Dragoning

      Why does austism come up every single time someone in one of these letters is socially awkward? OP says she thinks she’s overcompensating for social anxiety; that’s totally normal, no one has said anything to this intern, and doesn’t require excessive bluntness.

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I share your frustration with that, but I don’t think anyone is suggesting the intern is autistic, just sharing strategies that they’ve used with people who are, because that’s a context where being very clear and direct is useful.

        Reply
      2. Dot

        A lot of people seem to think that you can’t ask for anything, either for yourself or from someone else, unless there’s a specific diagnosis involved.

        Reply
    3. LGC

      Oh man, this! I actually have to talk to one of my employees again about her habit of just coming up and interrupting me when she needs something. She uses extremely polite language, it’s just that she doesn’t understand when I’m busy from just looking.

      (Challenge: I’M autistic.)

      Reply
      1. LGC

        (Also, I’m not speculating about the intern’s brain function, or my employee’s! You can be considered NT and still be oblivious to things. This is just a really common thing with people with autism!)

        Reply
    4. Emily K

      I’ve had a lot of good results telling people at the outset something like, “Conversation really tires me out mentally. Just part of how my brain is wired I guess! Sometimes I’ll let you know that I’m all talked out and need to take a good hour or so to recharge my batteries with some quiet time/by working quietly, so don’t worry you’ve upset me if that happens.”

      Once they’ve been primed nobody really reacts badly to being told basically, “this is one of those times I told you would happen, NBD.”

      Of course that’s not quite the right tack if you’re hoping she’ll stop talking so much to everyone, since it frames “sometimes needing to not talk for a while” as my quirk instead of the other person’s constant chatter as a problem.

      Reply
    5. PersonalJeebus

      Late to the conversation, but yes, working with adult students on the spectrum taught me that for *anyone* (spectrum or not, disability or no) who clearly doesn’t understand that something in their social behavior is inappropriate, the kindest thing you can do is talk to them about it directly. Point out the problem, offer a better alternative if possible, and reinforce proper behavior when you can (without talking to them like they’re five. Treat the error as innocent, not the person.)
      -“I know you wanted to be nice, but when you told your professor s/he is beautiful/handsome, it was actually inappropriate. Save those compliments for when you’re asking someone on a date, and even then, keep it PG.”
      -“You don’t have to make direct eye contact during our entire conversation if that’s too difficult, but please don’t face the wall when you’re talking to me, it’s impolite. Turn your body in my direction. Yes, that’s better! Now about your history paper…”

      Script for the OP to use with intern:
      “You probably don’t realize it, and I know you only mean to be friendly, but this amount of chattiness is excessive in most situations and especially in a work environment. I know that for me, it’s pretty overwhelming to have someone talk to me all day. I would prefer if we could have some stretches of time where we just sit here together quietly. In my experience, customers and coworkers also prefer not to have a nonstop conversation happening nearby because it’s distracting. And I definitely don’t want our boss to worry that the chatting is keeping you from your work.”
      If she looks really hurt or embarrassed, tell her: “I want you to get as much out of this internship as possible, and that includes polished social skills at work! Don’t worry, people here like you, and you’re doing a great job.”

      Reply
  5. Hey Karma, Over here.

    This is honestly another example of a manager pushing manager duties off on staff. She’s an intern, she’s there to learn. LW, I think you would be best served by going back to her manager and asking how you should proceed to instruct this young woman on the office norms she’s also there to learn.
    Remember all the comments about people who don’t hire qualified candidates because they spent the entire interview running monologue? I wondered how nobody every said anything before. Apparently, this is how.

    Reply
    1. Grits McGee

      So much this- part of the reason why you’re legally allowed to not pay interns is because the employer is spending resources training them. If your manager isn’t willing to talk to intern about very basic professional norms, they’re not holding up their end of the bargain.

      Reply
  6. AmethystMoon

    I had a coworker like that. It was like he thought we were still in high school or something, and that every minute needed to be social time in the company instant message program. I am an introvert. Also, he was in his 20’s and I am middle-aged.

    I basically wound up pretending to be busy all the time, and being adamant that the IM program should be used for work-related things only. It took being really firm about the boundary and multiple reminders. It sort of worked over a long period of time.

    Reply
    1. Amber T

      I also had a temp coworker that would never stop talking, and would often cross the boundary of what was work appropriate to discuss. She worked front desk reception part of the time, which can get lonely… if you’re stuck up there for a long enough time without phone calls, there’s definitely thoughts of “please stop and talk to meeeee!” when someone walks by. But it got to the point where people would purposely not walk by the front to avoid conversations with her, because once she got a hold of you, there was no letting go.

      Reply
  7. Cosette

    Along these lines, I carpool with someone who talks… ALL.THE.TIME. I barely say anything the whole time. I just write it off to the cost of commuting (and it’s only a few days a week). But, dang! I’ve never known anyone that talks so much! I sometimes check to see if my ears are bleeding!!

    Reply
    1. Iris Eyes

      Some people are uncomfortable with silence, REALLY uncomfortable. You should know at this point what type of things interest them and maybe find a podcast or audiobook or something. Music probably isn’t active enough. You could challenge them to find something.

      Its a lot easier to tune out something that isn’t there staring at you waiting for an occasional response.

      Reply
      1. Cosette

        She doesn’t really wait for a response, though, so as painful as it can be, it is easy to tune out and just throw in an occasional grunt. LOL I am definitely not someone who is uncomfortable with silence.

        Reply
        1. irene adler

          Oh man- in the car? Noooo!
          My non-stop chatterbox is in the lab. I at least have an office to hide in. Recently she’s decided to follow me to my office to chat away about stuff. Usually she likes to endlessly complain about things or go on and on about politics. Both hateful topics for me. Not sure where I can go to hide from her.

          Can you listen to something on the radio? Like NPR, or a recorded book when carpooling? Give her five minutes of chat time, then turn on the recorded book and say that you want to listen to the book now.

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          1. Nic

            Or possibly even have the audiobook/radio programme playing when they get in the car – that way, with any luck, they’ll be unwilling to interrupt it!

            Reply
          2. TootsNYC

            send her out! “I’m going to send you out now; I need to do some other things here.”

            “Would you go back to your station? I need to do some other things here.”

            Reply
    2. London Calling

      Up until the end of last week I had three of those sitting behind me. How they found things to talk about for HOURS I never fathomed and it was all utterly trivial – as well as irritating and distracting. They moved to the other side of the office last week where I can’t see or more importantly hear them, and I don’t think I have given such heartfelt thanks since my decree absolute arrived.

      Reply
  8. Annette

    If you are at a front desk , the fact that there is a conversation going between the workers can be incredibly off-putting to guests of the museum. It will make you both seem unapproachable to people who are not willing to interrupt or are unsure about the dynamic.

    I would tell her this myself, and be pretty blunt about it, because if she’s there to greet guests and is instead being rude and off-putting, she needs to be told.

    Reply
    1. blink14

      Second this! It can be really awkward to come up to a reception area (or anything that is customer facing) and feel like you’re interrupting co-workers chatting. It’s uncomfortable for the customer, and also makes it look like the employees have nothing to do or aren’t paying attention.

      Reply
    2. MechanicalPencil

      I’ve had this happen before. You’re talking, but I’m the only customer and you’re the only ones who can help me. Can I approach or am I interrupting something? I can’t exactly go to someone else, so…

      Reply
      1. LQ

        Yeah, but there’s still a lot of leeway on this kind of thing where if this was a reception desk and I can see 2 people engaged in conversation I may not even bother to get close enough to be noticed as potential guest. Not saying you can never talk, but the optics extend far beyond someone striding in purposely to the front desk.

        Reply
    3. Lillie Lane

      This! I recently visited a National Park and there was an intern sitting with one of the Park Rangers at the welcome desk and she would Not. Stop. Talking. to the ranger. She didn’t talk if someone came to the desk to ask a question, but blabbed on and on while my husband and I were looking at the exhibits. It was so distracting and made it hard to enjoy the museum, since it was difficult to pay attention while reading the captions on the displays. We ended up leaving. OP, please say something!

      Reply
    4. sheworkshardforthemoney

      Optics! I just came back from running errands and in one store there was only two employees and me. They were deeply engaged in talk and didn’t acknowledge me at all. I hated to interrupt them but I was there to buy something that helps pays their salary. They were completed closed off and radiated: Do Not Bother Us.

      Reply
      1. Milksnake

        If they’re working at a standard retail store in America chances are they aren’t salaried and what they make isn’t enough to live off of, so I would recommend being wary of the “My patronage pays your bills!” mentality, because realistically it doesn’t and the expectations on them are grueling.

        Reply
        1. Just Employed Here

          OK, so replace the word salary with the word wage. Of course it’s the customers spending money that keeps the store’s lights on and whatever-form-of-compensation-to-staff paid! There’s no particular mentality needed to see that.

          Of course one should treat all people with kindness, but expecting customer service from people whose job is providing customer service really isn’t contrary to that, or demeaning in any way.

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        2. ThankYouRoman

          Without paying customers, you have no job. So cruddy wages or not, they are paying your bills.

          Customer Service 101. No they’re not always right and sometimes they’re downright evil but ignoring them is a no-go unless they’re being abusive or otherwise terrible.

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        3. animaniactoo

          Valid to call out when the cashier is doing the job but doesn’t seem super-enthused about it or isn’t bending over backwards to make the customer happy and somebody wants to grip about that.

          Not valid at all when the worker is literally not doing the work they’re supposed to be doing and the customer is receiving NO service.

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        4. sheworkshardforthemoney

          Oh I get that. I’ve worked retail, it can be Hell so I cut workers a lot of slack. But I’m standing in front of you with my purchase and you are deep into your plans for Wednesday while pointedly ignoring me.

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    5. LITbluejay

      Came here to say just this! (Unlurking for the first time, exciting!!!) I am front-line staff at a small academic library, and this is an issue we have often with our student staff. We have an IT student (under a different department) who sits at our circulation desk for IT issues, and we consistently had an issue last year where the one IT student and one of our student staff would chat for the entirety of their three hour shift. It was to the point where we actually had a complaint about it from someone who needed help but felt unable to approach. We had to shut that down pretty quick, with the reasoning that it makes the staff look unavailable and people will probably be hesitant to approach the desk if it means they’re interrupting what is clearly a conversation.

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    6. Lucille2

      Honestly, there is a trick to pulling this off. Working in retail during slow times can be pretty mind-numbing, so expecting people to sit quietly waiting for a customer is not always reasonable. You can chat with a colleague but ALWAYS keep an eye out for incoming customers. When a customer walks in, you stop (mid-sentence if you have to), make eye contact, smile and greet the customer. After finishing the transaction, pick up the conversation where you left off. Sure, the conversation loses momentum, but you’re there to do a job.

      Same thing applies when you’re doing side tasks between customers, like putting away inventory. Customer walks in, stop what you’re doing and assist.

      Reply
  9. AnotherAlison

    I think the only real solution is for her manager to address this. The OP still wants to chat with her friends when they stop by, which is reasonable. How do you explain the nuances of this to the intern if you make an excuse instead of addressing the problem head on–I want to talk to my friends, but I have to read this book and can’t talk to you? The manager would be doing her a favor. I know experienced people who have been overly chatty for their entire careers, and it isn’t good for them professionally.

    Reply
    1. Sabine the Very Mean

      Yeah I agree. I don’t like that both bosses know there is a problem and won’t do anything but express that they know there is a problem. I generally dislike ever having to correct grown folks’ behavior. I much prefer simply responding to others appropriately. Mean people are avoided, over-talkers are spoken to less, and open-mouth chewers are not invited to lunch very often. Do I really need to have these conversations with adults? Can’t they regulate their own selves? Alas, life shows that we/they cannot. And life shows that I have to go along to get along sometimes. Le Sigh…

      Reply
  10. Pikachu

    I interned at a couple museums in research roles. I cannot fathom why this is an activity done in view of the public–if she makes a mistake, cites data incorrectly, or draws the wrong conclusion from sources because she can’t stop talking, then the museum communicates inaccurate information calling the institution’s credibility into question.

    Reply
    1. MCL

      Right! I can’t believe that this intern is getting her assigned work done and at a high standard when she’s talking this much. Her boss should really be handling this problem not just because the intern is driving everyone up the wall, but because I bet this is a habit that is detrimentally affecting the intern’s work. And even if this isn’t impacting the work at all, the boss needs to step in because a) this will save their other workers/volunteers from going batty, and b) this is such a good opportunity to give an inexperienced person some feedback that will help her in her career going forward.

      Reply
  11. gecko

    When I want to get rid of someone–“all right, I’ve gotta kick you out now!” I live in a fairly direct culture and I say this in a very cheerful and friendly tone. You can always respond to an “aww” with “yeah, sorry! But I’ll see you tomorrow!”

    You could also say more generally, “You’re great, but I have to make time to chat with other folks and be freer for customers throughout the day. How about we catch up around 10 each day and wrap it up at like 11?”

    I would also recommend not complaining about her to your coworkers, especially if my suggestion works and she limits the time she spends with you. She’s an intern so it sounds like she’s a time-limited problem anyway; and doing a ton of complaining like that will only make her feel bad.

    Reply
    1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone

      Agree with your direct approach.

      Also to add, the OP should be direct with the intern’s manager. “Hey Jane, Intern Ida is driving me a little nutty. Can you please talk to her about the chattiness? Thanks!”

      Reply
    2. ginger ale for all

      I like the direct approach as well. I flat out told someone that I don’t have a lot of conversation skills with people I just met and while it didn’t go over as well as I hoped, it did end the wall of words that had been directed towards me. I wish I could have stated it better but I think she got how socially awkward I am from it.

      Reply
  12. SigneL

    Develop a project you can do. Ask your manager to find something for you to do when there are no customers. Almost every workplace has things that can be done – find one of them.

    Reply
  13. theletter

    A research intern who sits at the front desk and chats constantly? Are you sure she’s in the right role? I’d put her in donor outreach/membership renewal and put that extrovert energy to some use.

    Reply
  14. MuseumChick

    OP, based off the responses you are getting here, this is the action plan I would take:

    1) Push back with her boss. Firmly insist that she needs to be spoken to about business norms. “I am worried customers are avoiding the desk because of Intern talking all the time. I’m also worried she isn’t learning appropriate work place behavior. Since I am her peer and outside of her management chain I don’t feel it is appropriate for me to speak with her about this. Rather, it should come from someone above her.”

    2) Ask your boss for projects to work on. There is always something a museum needs help with. Is there a research project you could work on?

    3) If the above do not solve the problem request that she be moved to another area to work.

    Reply
  15. animaniactoo

    As a sometime over-talker (not social anxiety, I just sometimes don’t know when to shut up already – my only saving grace is that my goal is to not be as bad as my father and I’m NOT), I favor the direct approach.

    “Hey, I know that you like to talk and be social, but sometimes it gets to be too much for me. I’m just wired differently and I need to save some energy to talk to other people when they come around. I’ve been trying to manage it, so I haven’t said anything before now, but I’m slowly going batty over here. Is it better if I just tell you when I’ve hit overload, or is there some other way that would be better for me to let you know?”

    You can transition from there to maybe suggesting ways that she can pull back and proactively not talk to you rather than reactively – maybe setting a limit per hour of talk time or something like that which she can be in charge of with you able to say “Hey, you’ve run over for this hour! Let’s talk about it this afternoon, k?” which is to say – gameplan that with her what each of you thinks would work for you, until you find something that would work for both (maybe it’s a total of 3 subjects a day for not longer than a half hour each for example), and how you’ll handle it if it’s not being followed through on. The goal is to draw the boundary of what you need and then ask her to be your ally in figuring out how to manage that. If she weren’t an intern, I would just draw the boundary and say “I’m overload, can we not talk for now?” but given age, experience, apparent social anxiety, I think it would be a kindness to work with her to help her learn how to pull it back if you’re up for it (and she is).

    Reply
    1. Psyche

      Yep. This is a case where trying to be nice by not potentially saying something upsetting is not actually being nice because she is driving people away. Tell her the truth. Be as kind as possible while doing so. If she seems to withdraw too much you can try initiating conversations with her.

      Reply
  16. Greg NY

    In all honesty, this isn’t a work problem, this is a social problem that’s taking place at work. This wouldn’t have been any different if it took place during a club meeting, for example. The incessant chatting isn’t unique to a work environment, and it can’t be addressed merely in a work context.

    I would be upfront and quite blunt and say it in one of two ways. The first option is to tell her that she is talking way too much, and it’s getting on your nerves as well as some others (you can tell her that others have come to you to say that). You can even say that fitting in doesn’t require being chatty, and this level of doing so is taking it in the opposite direction. The other option (which you would arrive at anyway if you try the first one and her talking isn’t due to wanting to be liked) is to explain to her that you are the type of person who doesn’t like to talk at work except about work-related things (and even then, to streamline the talks as much as possible), adding that some of the coworkers may be the same way. That’s likely to shut her up since she knows no one will be receptive. If it doesn’t happen, then have your manager get involved. I actually did this in a previous workplace. I am not interested in being social at work and have told that to my coworkers, and I am there solely to do my job.

    Reply
    1. Airy

      “The first option is to tell her that she is talking way too much, and it’s getting on your nerves as well as some others (you can tell her that others have come to you to say that).”
      Putting it this way is likely to sound like “Nobody here likes you and we all talk about it behind your back.” If she is talking too much because she’s anxious to be liked she could well feel crushed, which is well beyond a learning experience. It’s one thing to not want to be sociable at work but another to actively hurt feelings.

      Reply
      1. Gyre

        Well, another thing that she needs to learn is that “your behavior is annoying” is NOT the same as “we all hate you”. Being cruel is needless, but this is expressing an uncomfortable truth. LW acually has a problem here, it’s not a mild annoyance on their part either. Politeness and truth.

        Reply
  17. Commenting Nymph

    I have had a few chatty officemates. I have a hard time saying “hey I need to get back to work” even when I legitimately have work to do and it’s even harder when I don’t – like if I’m reading an article as a break inbetween other things I have to do and my coworker decides to talk to me *right then* and I don’t want to spend my break time talking. I’ve had to practice saying “I’m in the middle of reading something, can you tell me about this later?” without feeling like a monster. Sometimes I put headphones on to signal that I’m concentrating and my coworker will talk to me anyway (not work related, just whatever’s on his mind). And I do often get up to go to the bathroom or fill my water bottle…or just walk a lap around our floor when my coworker won’t stop and I don’t want to ask him to again that day.

    Also, my coworker gets in 1-1.5 hours later than I do. So I’m always in the middle of something when he gets to work and the following occurs:
    Coworker walks into our office suddenly and says “Hi, how are you, what did I miss?” before he even takes off his coat or puts down his bag or logs into his computer.
    Me: I’m good! Take some time to get settled in and check your email, then we’ll talk.
    Every. Day.

    I’m seeing a lot of intern-specific comments that sound like they’ll be helpful. I would also suggest the letter writer practice saying things like “Hey, I’m not feeling talkative today” or “I’d rather not chat all day” or “I’m going to stop talking and catch up on some reading now” because all of those things are reasonable to say. When you’re at work you’re not obligated to constantly talk to your coworkers if you aren’t actively working on something.

    Reply
    1. Zweisatz

      For the headphone thing, I have started taking off my headphones on my own time and then asking my chatty coworker “Excuse me? I didn’t get that.”, no matter how much I heard.
      He seems to slowly make his way to the conclusion that he should wait until I’ve taken them off before he starts talking.

      This way I can actually find an appropriate break in my work process instead of being talked at (so much).

      Reply
  18. Serin

    When the manager (or the co-worker) talks to her, I think they need to be a little blunter than Alison’s recommended wording: “pretty chatty” is too weak.

    Reason: This is an intern, so presumably she’s either young or new to the workplace or both, and apparently she hasn’t noticed how much her talking is out of the norm. (Well, how could she? In her experience, everybody in the workplace chats constantly because they’re always in conversations with her!)

    So I think someone needs to explicitly point out to her: “Most people might chat with their cubicle-mates for ten minutes* every hour. You need to spend more time NOT chatting than chatting.”

    * I don’t know — I work in a super-introverted workplace, and some days my cubemate don’t say anything to each other between “good morning” and “have a good evening.” Maybe that’s not the norm. But the norm is definitely less than 60 minutes per hour of chitchat.

    Reply
  19. Mirea

    I haven’t read through all the comments so excuse me if I’m repeating anything.

    How about headphones? If that’s allowed, you can just plug in when you want some downtime and if the intern continues talking, you can tune her out easily. And she’ll pick up pretty quickly that you’re plugged in and not going to be responsive. There are sooooo many compelling podcasts or you can listen to music, white noise or nothing. No one will know.

    I have known people like the one you’re describing. They seem to be genuinely uncomfortable with silence and feel the need to fill it. It’s a hard habit to break. You can gently tell her something like “I don’t feel like talking right now but when we come back from lunch, I’d love to hear about your weekend” or whatever she’s going on about. And whatever wording feels most natural. The point is that you don’t want to shut her down completely. Just increase her awareness of others’ levels of comfort while allowing her space to chatter on so you both get some of what you want.

    Reply
    1. ElspethGC

      “she’ll pick up pretty quickly that you’re plugged in and not going to be responsive”

      Not always, unfortunately. One of my housemates will often start talking to me about the new show she’s watching or a new musical she wants me to listen to while I’m sat watching videos with my headphones on and being completely non-responsive to everything she says. Even taking one headphone out, smiling and nodding a couple of times, then pointedly putting my headphone back in often doesn’t work.

      She’s lovely and a good friend and we often have great several-hour-long conversations when I’m feeling up to it, but this introvert right here often *doesn’t* feel up to it after a long day of peopleing. I just want to sit here in silence, okay? We’ve lived together for over a year now and it still happens. Sometimes I don’t know if she’s talking to me or talking to herself. I’m not sure how to bring it up without messing up the living situation, so I deal with it by just pretending that I can’t hear a single thing over the sound of my video and continuing in that vein for fifteen minutes or so until she goes back to what she was doing.

      Reply
  20. Lisa

    At one job the boss used to say “I hope you’re talking business!” What does Chatty Cathy talk about? And why is she in research?

    Reply
    1. ThankYouRoman

      No no no! Please do not make an atmosphere where if you’re chatting it must be strictly about business, that’s rigid. Just because one person has a motormouth doesn’t mean the rest of the staff should need to stick to “business” talk. Ick.

      Reply
  21. Budgie lover

    Owww I feel so sorry for this intern. Someone needs to be straight with her because a reputation for constant chatter will really hurt her in the long run. Hopefully she’s young enough to kick the habit.

    Reply
    1. LGC

      It’s hurting her now, to be honest – she has a reputation for being annoying at her internship, and her boss is in agreement. (I’m guessing you’ve implied that, but this is something she needed to stop doing yesterday.

      (Also, I am so not impressed with her boss. My (gender-neutral) dude – that is part of your blasted job.)

      Reply
      1. Budgie lover

        Yep, yep. People are currently getting annoyed with her, and if she’s this chatty in other areas her friends/family/service people are probably getting annoyed too.

        Reply
  22. RedFan

    My only comment is that I work for a public entity and we have an active rule not to be reading or texting while on desk. Our welcome desk volunteers do not have this rule, but consider that the paid employee in the workplace may have to abide by that so “I’m going to do some reading’ might not solve Ms. ChattyPants issue.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      are you allowed to write, or sketch? there’s something about those activities that don’t seem as absorbing.

      Reply
  23. Vuvuzela Symphony

    I think this situation actually requires a more direct approach than Allison suggested. A soft no along the lines of, “I need to read this book for my book club,” allows the intern to misunderstand the feedback as, “I love listening to you talk and wish I could hear more…unfortunately I have to read this stupid book.”

    I think a better script would be something along the lines of, “I want to give you some professional feedback. I apologize if it’s awkward. I’ve noticed that you are extremely talkative, and I find that really distracting. Also, in our work environment it’s the norm to limit chatting to just a few minutes, and then quiet down to work. I think your talkativeness may be offputting to others as well. I think it could even have a negative impact professionally. Again, I’m really sorry if this is awkward but I think you need to know this so you can be more mindful of how much you’re talking.” It’s going to be mortifying for her, but it’s kinder than letting her go on forever alienating people and not understanding why. And I think it’s more likely to get you what you want, which is presumably for her to talk less.

    Reply
    1. Mrs. Fenris

      I love this, and I love your username. My quirky 18 year old son thinks his vuvuzela is the funniest thing ever. He really wanted to sneak it into his high school graduation.

      Reply
  24. phedre

    I’m a talker, so I sympathize with the intern. Part of it stems from my ADHD (yes, excessive chattiness can be a symptom of ADHD) and it can be hard for me to not try to fill silence. But if the intern wants to be successful she needs to learn how to rein it in! I know I benefited greatly in my early years of employment from a boss who politely yet firmly told me I talked too much. It can be really difficult to have those conversations with staff, but it needs to happen.

    Reply
  25. Essess

    You mention that it annoys others in earshot, so you let her know that sounds carry in the area and that you really need to minimize the amount of social chatter to just a few minutes every now and then out of professional courtesy to everyone around you.

    Reply
  26. Knitting Cat Lady

    Well, my dad solved a similar problem like this:

    He plays in an amateur orchestra, and the orchestra did a trip to Italy for a few concerts. By bus. On the way back home a very chatty other player sat next to him for a bit. My dad wanted to sleep. So he started feeding her the candy he bought at the last rest stop. Eventually she asked why he kept feeding her the candy. My dad?

    ‘You don’t talk with your mouth full.’

    Being friends and all they both had a good laugh about it and my dad kept bringing her some of that type of candy whenever we were in Austria.

    So, LW, don’t do this!

    Reply
  27. AnonAcademic

    I have a routine I do with a chatty coworker, it’s a multi-pronged approach to avoid getting sucked into conversations.

    1. State a timeframe – “Hi so and so! Just to warn you, I only have 5/10/15 minutes to chat, what’s up?”
    2. Near the end of the timeframe, conspicuously check the time, if they don’t notice that then say something like “oh, my time is almost up, can you skip to the end/give me the cliff’s notes version?”
    3. When the timeframe ends – say something like “great chatting but I have to get back to this email/work task/meeting/etc!” Make a physical gesture to “seal the deal” e.g. put your hand up in a “stop” gesture, put headphones on, or stand up and start to walk away (even if just to the bathroom as an interruption tactic).

    All of this, done cheerfully, would be overbearing to a very socially aware person but is often just right for those who don’t get subtle cues.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Thneed

      My standard method: Stand up. Say “Come with me to the lunch room while I get another coffee.” They also stand up and we walk over. Chat for a few minutes over coffee and then say I have to get back to work and leave the lunchroom.

      I have also been known to just flat tell people that I need to visit the restroom, and I leave my cube without waiting for them to stand up.

      Neither of these is terribly smooth, but they work, and nobody gets offended. (I can tell because they come back to chat another time.)

      Reply
  28. Lucille2

    I feel bad for the intern, honestly. I think it would be a kindness to somehow be upfront with her especially at a time when she is embarking on her career. Also, I wonder if she’s just nervous or finding difficulty fitting in. If that’s the case, she may settle in and not feel the need to fill the silence.

    I had an employee who had an incessant need to talk. Especially when she wasn’t busy. As her manager, I could take the frequency of her time-wasting diatribes as a cue to give her more work. But more work was not always readily available. The better solution was having some conversations with her about it directly. We were in an open office environment, and when one person had a bit of free time, a peer may not have the time available for idle chatter.

    Being direct about it seemed to help, but you have to give people room to be themselves – don’t expect her to speak only when spoken to. My employee was the type of person who had a lot of energy and knew she could be a lot for people to take at times. It wasn’t in her nature to sit quietly at her desk with her head down day in and day out. And I couldn’t expect her to be that way. And I certainly wouldn’t want her to change who she is to fit some mold. However, I could expect her to respect the space and needs of her peers and find other ways to expend that energy. She often took walks around the office, or met with colleagues in the breakroom for coffee. It definitely helped. But she did need reminding on occasion when she was getting a bit disruptive.

    Reply
  29. LadyCop

    “What constructive feedback can you give to someone like that without confirming their worst anxieties?”

    I just wanted to point out that while your hunch may be entirely correct, it’s also very possible she’s not this talkative out of social anxiety…and regardless it would be a favor to help put her on the right path. though, honestly, if you used Alison’s recommendations, I would hope/assume she might pick up on your social queues and respond accordingly. But as someone with there share of PTSD/anxiety, confirming it is sometimes an unavoidable necessity.

    Reply
    1. Gyre

      Well said. Her anxiety is ultimately for her to manage, and long term whoever tells her the truth will help her most.

      Reply
  30. TootsNYC

    wait–doesn’t SHE have work to do?

    She’s a RESEARCH intern; what’s she doing at the front desk?
    And if she’s just using the desk space while she’s supposed to be reading, sorting, whatever–she can’t be getting much done, nor can she be learning while she’s doing (which would involve thinking, remembering, puzzling out the whys and the connections), if she’s constantly inventing things to say.

    So that’s something; “Don’t you have some research work you need to do? I can’t imagine you can concentrate very well with all the talking. Let’s just be quiet for a while here so you can focus.”

    And then yes, read a book, or if reading a book is not OK, then maybe have a notebook and map out plans for, oh, a new sign for the museum, or a plan for a vacation, or something (work-related or not).

    And then, “I’m sorry< I can't listen, I need to focus. Don't you have things you should be doing?"

    Reply
  31. oy-why-cant-i-write-anonymous

    I had to fire a guy who was like this. He ran his mouth at every opportunity and was slow as heck getting his work done. We were a client/member-facing department, and he yapped at members, too – totally putting them off. I warned him so many times in person and over email, he had multiple PIPs, and I gave him so many chances to improve things. In the end, NOTHING WORKED. He just loved to hear himself talk (“Well, actually…”). It was hard to fire for something that felt so personal, but when I started getting member complaints something had to happen.

    Reply
    1. T

      I know someone like this who would literally talk nonstop until you left at parties, and multiple friends would go out of their way to avoid. I always wondered how she kept a job and found out she worked for a family company and her mom was her boss, who apparently talked more than she did.

      Reply
  32. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived

    There are many great comments on how to address the work situation above. I want to comment on the big picture: the social consequences of talking too much. She’s paying the price for this at work already (she has alienated most of her co-workers by annoying them) but she could very well be suffering these consequences in many other aspects of her life.
    You are in a position to do her a great kindness as she respects you, and she hasn’t annoyed you so much (yet…) that your response won’t be snappish or mean.
    15-years-ago me is basically your intern. I talk all the damn time. In my case I have generalized anxiety disorder and possibly ADD; she may not have either but our behaviour is the same.
    It took many instances of kind feedback from my parents and husband and one instance of really mean and hurtful feedback from an acquaintance for me to finally get a handle on conversational skills. This is a skill that took way too long to learn, and I’ve suffered a lot of embarrassment and hurt for my very, very excessive chatting.
    You are in no way obligated to address the larger issue. Simply addressing what you need at work is perfectly valid.
    Points you may choose to touch on:
    – if you talk without significant gaps (one minute or longer), many people will feel they are not welcome to contribute to the conversation
    – constant chatter distracts people from your important contributions to the conversation: everything melts into generic white noise, and your wit and insight is lost
    – many people need quiet to form their thoughts. Take that away and and the other person is unable to contribute to the conversation
    – a conversation is an exchange of thoughts between all participants. If any participant isn’t given the opportunity to contribute, they might feel like their thoughts aren’t valued, which is very hurtful.
    – If you talk constantly (which often leads to interrupting), people will feel like they are being steamrolled which is also hurtful
    – you may feel that you’re letting people down if the conversation lulls into silence. This is not so. Silent spaces are a natural part of any conversation and are just as important as the parts when you’re talking. Even Rachmaninoff put some rests in his third piano concerto (A piece of music with the densest amount of notes). Embrace the silent bits even if you feel really awkward. Everyone will be better for it.
    – there are people who will need at least 5 solid minutes of silence before they can speak up in conversation. Those people usually have the best contributions; trust me that it’s worth the wait
    These top tips took me over 30 years to learn. I would say to her don’t be discouraged: as soon as you start putting in the work to be a good conversationalist, people will notice and appreciate it.
    A final note: If you choose to have this conversation, try to do it at the end of the day. She’ll be more receptive knowing she can go home with some dignity to process this feedback rather than continuing to work after some deeply personal feedback.
    Best of luck OP no matter what you decide.

    Reply
  33. LGC

    LW, there are so many issues (and “issues”) with your situation, and the good news is that 99% of it isn’t you. (The 1% that is? You think that you have to listen to her. You don’t. You’re there for the patrons, not for research interns that think they’ll die if there’s silence for more than 5 seconds.)

    But aside from me wanting to scream obscenities at her boss…why did they station a research intern at the front desk? I know you say it’s isolated, but I believe you’re assisting every patron that comes in, right? That…doesn’t sound like an ideal research situation. YMMV, but I don’t know if I could deal with a steady stream of people coming by all day.

    (My less charitable and probably more accurate reading: You sound like you’re really concerned about others’ feelings in general, LW – and I’m guessing that they foisted her on you because you were the most tolerant person around. In which case: her boss is not your friend.)

    Reply
  34. pcake

    OP, her boss isn’t doing you or the museum patrons any favors, and isn’t doing the intern any favors, either. Isn’t part of the point of an internship to learn what’s involved in doing the job?

    My sister was fired from a job literally for talking too much. Her coworkers couldn’t stand it any more, and my sister was unable to talk less even after a warning from the manager. The research intern could find herself in the same position – no job of any sort is going to find someone talking non-stop to be an asset for long.

    Reply
  35. JSPA

    Can’t you just have a headache? Nothing serious, but you’re cutting down on caffeine, and really need a lot more time with silence, and your eyes closed, to function well. Ask her to notify you, gently, if someone’s at the desk. Once she learns to be comfortable with her own silence, you can open your eyes more.

    Alternatively, if she’s chatting about whatever she’s researching, she may be looking for validation that she’s doing the research correctly. That’s a substantive sort of thing that you can’t help her with, but her manager can. Do the broken record, “if you have questions or worries about the research process, make a written list of questions as you work, and take it to Bob; he’d rather hear about them, than not.”

    Finally, she may be exhausted, and be blathering to keep herself awake and keep her eyes tracking over her material. You’ll know that pretty soon, once you manage to enforce silence on a health pretext.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  36. Anonama doo doo doo doo do

    I used to be the chatty intern.

    This is when I was a teen working in theatre and I really could not stop talking. Anxious, I’m sure. Then finally the very nice assistant stage manager broke in and sai “Jane! Let’s be quiet for two minutes , just two minutes!” I was shocked and embarrassed but realized I really wasn’t saying anything at all, and that was my wake up call. Less his heart, after two minutes, he said, “ok, what we’re you saying?”and I said it was ok, it really wasn’t important and we eventually fell into a normal conversation. I am grateful to get that wake up, Ben if it was harsh.

    Reply
  37. Pear Bear

    I actually think I have the same issue as the intern! I get very anxious in social situations and feel I have to over explain at times when I think I’m being judged for something I’m doing. I know it’s dumb, but I always just feel I would rather avoid a miscommunication than leave something unsaid. But at the same time, I know I’m probably annoying people that are too polite to say anything. Man, navigating people is so hard.

    Reply
    1. Mary Connell

      Navigating people can be hard but AAM has been so helpful for becoming familiar with workplace and management norms. My early-adult children call sometimes to run workplace issues past me, and since I’ve been reading this website I’ve found that I’m able to ask the right questions and suggest helpful strategies.

      Anyway, recalibrating behavior can be painful, but how good of Alison to provide the service to us.

      Reply
    2. LGC

      It can be “annoying,” but from my experience it’s more like I feel forced into emotional labor. I tend to read that sort of reaction as, “I’m really upset by hearing this, so I need to explain at length why this happened.” And…don’t feel like you need to! What I’ve tried to do is circle back afterwards, because I’m probably less upset a while after I get criticized. (You can’t do this with EVERYONE, but you can do it a lot of the time.)

      For what it’s worth, you sound slightly different from Chatty Intern. The intern in the letter reads as needing to fill silence because she’s uncomfortable with it, while you sound like you get nervous and over-explain things.

      Reply
  38. Ladylike

    I’m guessing the intern’s coworkers aren’t so much annoyed by her constant chatting, but I find that typically people who feel the need to talk endlessly don’t let others get a word in edgewise. So it’s not really a matter of people not wanting to have conversations with her, as much as it is people not wanting to listen to endless monologues all day. I’ve worked with people like this, and they nearly send me into a rage after a few minutes. The approach I’ve tried with coworkers is to “blame the boss”. I’ll say something like, “Hey, just so you know, Boss frowns on people having long, personal conversations, so we should keep this short.” Other times, I’ve just picked up my laptop and left as if going to a meeting, or I’ve gone to the bathroom and stayed away long enough for the person to find another way to entertain herself.

    Reply
  39. Gyre

    “What constructive feedback can you give to someone like that without confirming their worst anxieties?”

    I keep coming back to this. Telling her (kindly) that she talks way too much and this is annoying is not confirming that nobody likes her. It is explaining that she has a behavior that may lead to that. Addressing the behavior is a good (if profoundly uncomfortable) thing to do.

    To me, if anything, it’s not addressing the behavior but silently fuming / talking about her with others equals comfirming that she is unlikeable.

    That said, it totally should be the manager who talks to her about this.

    Reply
  40. T

    This is a huge pet peeve of mine and drives me bonkers. To echo other commentors it’s a disservice to the intern not let her know this is not normal office behavior. You don’t want her to be the annoying office rambler, and there’s a chance she’s just unaware or nervous. I’ve dealt with people of different ages who.would.not.shut.up and none of them were held in high esteem or seen as hard workers, and most were seen as the annoying thing that wouldn’t get fired no matter how little work they did. This really sounds like something her boss needs to sit down and talk to her about.

    Reply
  41. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House

    Just a point, Christmas was not originally a religious day–it was/is a natural event–solstice. Then pagans began celebrating /acknowledging it. It became a day for various groups then Christianity took it over (all Christian holidays have their basis in pagan religions/roots). So Christmas is a stolen holiday. You can simply celebrate it as Yule or Solstice and call it a holiday party.

    Reply
  42. Rivakonneva

    I’m a talker, and come from a family of talkers. To me it’s normal to chat about anything and everything under the sun, especially with my father. He loves tangents as much as I do.

    That said, this mindset hurt me in my early career days. I WAS this intern when I was in grad school, and had no clue how much I was bugging people. I got moved to an isolated location to finish my time there and was clueless as to why. It took me far, far too many years to figure things out. It would have been a kindness if someone had clued me in back then.

    OP, please be kind to your intern. It’s a hard conversation but you’ll be saving her years of frustration and helping many of her future co-workers as well as her current ones.

    Reply
  43. always in email jail

    Though it’s appropriate when discussing the situation, please be wary and don’t use the word “chatter” TO the intern if you address it. Even if that’s what it is, “chatter” has a negative connotation because by definition it is inconsequential and trivial, so make sure to say “conversation” or “talking” if you want to avoid being hurtful.

    Basically, it would hurt my feelings if someone said they needed a break from my “chatter”, but it would be understandable if someone said they needed a break from “conversation”

    Reply
    1. fritillery

      It isn’t conversation. The OP says the intern “talks CONSTANTLY, to the point that several people have approached me to quietly comment on the fact that she never ever stops talking.”

      Reply
  44. Birch

    Sometimes ignoring people works too. If you’ve told her you’d rather not chat today and she still talks, let her talk at you for a while. Pointedly put in some earbuds, or even just put in the earbud on the side she’s on, or get out your book. Do that thing Alison has suggested in the past for interrupters where you respond very slowly, drag your eyes off the page to her and act confused “I wasn’t paying attention to you because I was focusing on my reading.” I tend to feel like I’m being really blunt and rude because I’m very sensitive to this kind of thing, but realizing that you do just have to make those boundaries clear for some people. It’s not rude if you’ve stated what you need to do and then go about doing that thing. Some times you can only control what happens on your side of things. E.g. I’ve told our students they can always email me or text me but I will not answer outside of working hours unless it’s an emergency. They text me at all hours of the nights and weekends anyway, and I don’t respond. You have to weigh how much work it is to try to re-train someone rather than modifying how much you feel pressed to respond.

    Reply

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