my employees chat too much at work

A reader writes:

I have a couple of employees who are using their time and company resources during work to chat with each other, like sending lots of personal emails to one another during work hours. What is the best way to address this without alienating them? It seems to be ongoing throughout the day and is affecting their work.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 167 comments… read them below }

  1. She's One Crazy Diamond

    Great response. I am a naturally very chatty person and personally like a lot of my colleagues so I definitely spend some work time talking to them about personal stuff, but my boss has never talked to me about it because my work is good and I meet deadlines. Plus, I feel there is value in connecting with colleagues on a human level at an organization I am planning to stay at long term. I’ve definitely observed that former colleagues who have left my workplace after only being there a brief amount of time were the ones who didn’t bond with the team. I’m not saying that was the reason, and I’m not saying you have to be or should be BFFs with colleagues, but it makes a difference when you genuinely like them, feel comfortable around them, and care about what matters to them.

    1. Jamie

      Plus, I feel there is value in connecting with colleagues on a human level at an organization I am planning to stay at long term.

      This didn’t come naturally to me, but I’ve definitely found that becoming more open to chatty, friendly exchanges helps build rapport in a way that really improves the work on projects, etc. as well as just making work more pleasant.

      Also, the little annoying things we all do bother me less from co-workers when I like them as people.

      I am not talking about excessive socializing, or deep personal bonds, just what’s called “social lubricant” around here.

      I was one of the biggest skeptics about this when I first read AAM as I resented having to pretend to give a crap about people’s weekends and then as an experiment I engaged in small talk a little more and was shocked how much of a difference it made.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Will you say more about the difference you found it made so others get the benefit of that experience? (I’m not surprised to hear it, but I think it’s useful to have those results talked about explicitly. I am taken aback by the anti-warmth-with-coworkers streak that sometimes shows up here so I’m interested in anything that counteracts that.)

          1. StudentPilot

            Several years ago i had a new co-worker start. I went by her office the first day and introduced myself, and offered to show her around to find photocopiers/bathrooms/kitchens/etc. Her first words to me were “im not here to be your friend. Im here to work” i was so taken aback that i avoided her the rest of the time i was there. Her response was so unrelated and off-putting – everything i said had been work related, nothing personal. It definitely impacted our work.

            1. Spool of Lies

              This is very “I’m not here to make friends, I’m here to win” ala early 2000s reality TV show competitions. At work and on Survivor, the social game matters a hell of a lot.

          2. LizardOfOdds

            I can definitely share my experience. I’m one of those people who had a visceral reaction when people suggested socializing more at work. First of all, I’m a severe introvert, and it takes a lot of energy for me to socialize. Secondly, I don’t want to be friends with people at work. I’m at work to work, not to build a new social group. I also had some thoughts around not wanting to “waste time at work” (the ol’ Midwestern work ethic), maintaining a certain level of professionalism, trying to brand myself in a particular way at work, etc., and my thinking there did not jibe with socializing at work.

            Once I got past my own hangups and started idle chit chat, I started getting invited to things like happy hours and social events. I don’t go to many, but I do go to some, and it’s helped me feel more comfortable with the people I work with. Now that I’m informally socializing, I’m realizing how much information is shared in informal settings that would never be shared in formal settings. Some of that stuff is annoying (i.e., gossip), but a lot of it is ridiculously helpful in my job. I often hear when a team is doing something faster or slower than expected, for instance, which not only helps me plan, it also helps me learn how other teams are solving similar challenges. Should that be shared in a more formal way in the organization? Arguably, yes. But it isn’t. So if I wanted the information, I needed to go through back channels.

            The other thing is that my relationships with coworkers became a lot more easy. I’m more empathetic and forgiving when someone makes a mistake, because I’m more tuned in to how they’re feeling, whether they have stuff going on in their personal lives that’s temporarily impacting their work, whether they have a craptastic boss who’s not sharing the info they need to do their jobs, etc. It’s a blessing to not have to think everyone around me is just an idiot who can’t do their jobs. It turns out they’re humans who sometimes make mistakes and also have a lot going on in their lives, and that is OK.

            Anyway, socializing is not something that comes naturally to me, and yet here I am doing it daily — and finding a lot of benefit in it.

        1. carrots and celery

          Not who you responded to, but I’ve discovered the same thing as Jamie. Being friendly with coworkers (as in, not delving into super personal details, but casually chatting about weekends/”how’s it going?”/”how was your vacation?”/and so on before everyone arrives for a meeting or when warming up lunches/getting coffee, in the elevator, etc) definitely makes working on projects with coworkers easier.

          What I’ve found:
          -people are more willing to reach out with questions on a project rather than keeping themselves in a silo where they assume things because they don’t want to bother you
          -coworkers are more receptive if I have to push back on something
          -coworkers are more understanding if there’s a delay or blocker
          -when things get busy, people are more willing to pitch in and help out
          -people are more willing to recommend you for other projects or as a go-to person
          -it sets a casual meeting environment where people feel safe speaking up

          With people who are very anti-social and refuse to engage in social lubricants, I’ve definitely seen less responsiveness from coworkers. It tends to be a sense of “well, they’re grumpy so they’re going to get annoyed if I ask this question about a project” or it creates a very strained meeting environment because people are worried they’re going to get snapped at or have eye rolls if they say anything that isn’t work related or ask something they worry might be perceived as stupid.

          I’ve been surprised about comments here too that act like small talk is a sin. I think it’d be pretty toxic to be an environment where you couldn’t have any casual conversations with coworkers. I don’t need to be best friends with them or go out to drinks after work, but it doesn’t take much energy to chat about my weekend while we’re waiting for our lunches to heat up in the kitchen.

          1. She's One Crazy Diamond

            This. If I get to choose who to work with on a project, I’d so much rather pick Jane, who smiles and says hello to me whenever we bump into each other, than Sally, who stares at me like I’m crazy for saying “Good Morning” to her in the elevator.

            1. carrots and celery

              I’ve also noticed that it makes a huge difference about who is chosen for high profile client projects. No one wants someone on a big project with an important client if they’re going to get upset when someone starts a meeting with, “hey everyone, hope you had a great weekend!”

              It’s not saying you have to be fake and engage in over the top cheeriness or tell everyone about your personal life, but rather a willingness to make smalltalk with other people for 30 seconds goes a long way. I’m a really private person by nature, but there’s no harm in saying “I went to the movies this weekend” or “Going to the beach for vacation”.

          2. Kiki

            I totally agree with your first point about being more willing to reach out with questions! It’s really intimidating to ask for help/ demonstrate that you don’t know something, but it’s a lot easier to do that with someone who you feels like cares about you at a certain level.

            I am always taken aback by the number of askamanager commenters who seem to believe someone asking about their weekend is invasive. I understand there are times the honest answer isn’t something you want to share, but you just say neutral filler about the weather and move on.

            1. carrots and celery

              I always just say “it was good, thanks, how was yours?” and no one has ever had a problem with it or bothered me for more info. I get the feeling that a lot of people assume social niceties are someone’s attempt to pry into your personal life but they’re really just small talk that most people don’t over analyze or even remember.

              I’m more likely to remember someone who pushes back on a simple “good morning” than someone who gives a brief, neutral answer about what they did this past weekend.

              1. Lx in Canada

                Yes, usually between my coworkers it just goes, “Hey, how are you?” “Good, you?” “Good, thanks!” or some other casual questions. A couple sentences and you don’t have to divulge anything personal (although I usually like to), but it definitely results in a huge social boosts.

                1. Harvey 6-3.5

                  Exactly right. I also find that people appreciate when you remember some detail about their lives (like “how was your beach trip?” or “is Zelda still into jazz dance?”), and after a minute or three of casual conversation, you can get to business. In my line of work, we sometimes disagree about a particular issue, and we each get to write out our disagreement, so social connections make those moments of dispute less personal and more about the issue itself.

              2. RUKiddingMe

                “I get the feeling that a lot of people assume social niceties are someone’s attempt to pry into your personal life…”

                I see this a lot of times in other advice column. The OP will ask what to say when someone, say a cashier says “how are you?” The answer is, “fine, and you?”

                I’m honestly shocked at how many grown up, adult people don’t seem to understand this simple little social thing. No one wants to know about your gallbladder surgery, your kid’s addiction to My Little Pony, or Great- Aunt Martha’s constipation.

                I mean I’m a giant introvert (not shy, just “leave me alone what are you talking to me…”), and kinda misanthropic by nature, but hell even I can do a little bit of social-doesn’t-even-really-mean-anything small talk.

                1. what if

                  The thing I worry about with the chatter types is that the small talk does frequently lead into extended conversations about *their* ponies and great aunts. Reciprocating their interest in recognizing the current weather somehow sends a bat signal to the would-be-chatterboxes that this person is open for business. I’d rather just say “good, thanks” and keep moving – because while I’ll never be caught dead talking about my gallbladder, they seem to love it.

                2. carrots and celery

                  @what if: I think that’s a separate issue, though. People who are prone to chatting non-stop are going to have that problem no matter what topic comes up. Most people take small talk for what it is and rarely use it as an excuse to have a thirty minute session about their personal life unless you’re actually good friends.

                  That being said, I don’t think it’s a warning sign if someone says, “how’s Brad doing at college?” or “hope Cupcake the Great Dane isn’t hating this heat wave!” because it’s normal to know the names of important figures in someone’s life if you see them everyday. It becomes an issue if the person responds with a diatribe or overly detailed account rather than “Brad’s loving college!” or “Cupcake doesn’t even want to go outside in this weather!”

                  Most people are going to respond with the latter example because they know you don’t really care and it’s just passing conversation.

            2. Alice

              This is such a good point. Just because someone asks you a question doesn’t mean you have to answer it honestly. You can redirect or be vague or make something up if you want!

              1. Pauli

                I do that a lot. If I don’t want to get into the details of what my partner and I did this weekend or what I’m doing on my vacation, “drinks with friends” or “visiting family” are always safe, and blah enough they don’t require follow-up questions

            3. Michaela Westen

              As I posted below, I don’t discuss weekends with my boss because I don’t feel safe doing so after he tried to get too personal. I wish I had a boss who hadn’t done that.
              People may not feel safe because of previous experience.

        2. Mop

          I’m not a particularly social person, but 7 or 8 years ago my spouse mentioned that I should really make time to have lunch with coworkers once in awhile. (I’m usually a work-through-lunch type.) I always had an ok rapport with people, but making an effort for occasional lunches made a huge difference—people were more willing to support me and my team, more willing to give the benefit of the doubt when there was a problem, etc. I’m a senior level leader and I count this advice as one of the most useful pieces of feedback I’ve ever received.

          1. Samwise

            Yes. Similarly: walk over to the coffee shop, take a quick walk around the block, I’m heading to the print shop want to take a break and walk over with me, that sort of brief social interaction.

          2. Budding socialite, I guess

            +1 and feh to the types who will surely say, “I should only be judged on my work and not my lunch choices”.

          3. RUKiddingMe

            I did this in grad school. I am such a lone wolf type by nature but I made a massive effort to befriend/hang out with my cohort. I’m still in touch with most of them….mumblemumble years later.

        3. Alianora

          Not Jamie, but similar experience. One of my coworkers in particular is very extroverted and bubbly, I would say. I definitely come off as more reserved at first. We had some communication issues at first (I would email her questions, she would come over to my desk to talk in person and often wouldn’t answer the question I actually asked, then get frustrated when I asked for clarification), and I was getting the sense that she didn’t like me. I didn’t particularly like her either because it was frustrating trying to get answers to my work questions.

          So I started to talk to her more about her kids and commiserated with her a little bit about some of our clients. That helped a little bit, then I asked her to run some work errands with me. We ended up having lunch together, and we talked about some completely non-work-related things. I noticed SUCH a big difference after that. She was more willing to admit to making mistakes, friendlier when I needed help, would fill me in on things that were happening around the office. And I think she’s giving me more of the benefit of the doubt when there is a miscommunication between us.

          On a general level, I’ve noticed that spending time in an open office actually is much better for building work relationships for me, because then I have an avenue to talk to people naturally when the opportunity comes up without feeling like I’m intruding. If it’s limited to kitchen/water cooler talk, it takes me a lot longer.

          It seems like my approach is the complete opposite of how most people do it. If my coworkers are competent and we work well together, that’s what makes me start to feel warmer towards them on a personal level. But I’m realizing that many people are the opposite — if you build your relationships up, they’ll have more faith in your work abilities.

          1. BethDH

            I’ve noticed that I’m more confident and actually do better work around people when I feel like they like me. It makes me more forthright in my communication, more willing to admit to errors, and more focused and productive because it just makes me a happier person.
            I’m working on this because obviously you can’t always wait to feel liked to do quality work, but I just have so much more energy if I feel like I’m not starting from a negative point on the goodwill scale.

        4. Jamie

          A lot of responses covered my feelings on this but for me, some of it was getting to know other people made interactions just smoother but a lot of it was how it changed how they related to me.

          In my case I was upper management in a workplace culture which wasn’t always non-toxic. I was always genuinely more than willing to help someone, answer questions, address problems they’re having … but when I was a pleasant but 100% work related after hello I could say that all I wanted, but they didn’t believe me.

          So my experiment which was many years ago, but I still remember…a smile and nod or “hey, how’s it going?” as we passed in the hall. Deliberately asking people about their weekends Monday morning. Not waiting for kitchen to be empty if I wanted coffee and small talk with whomever was in there if they were feeling chatty.

          I didn’t embark on a mission to cultivate BFFS, just to get myself more comfortable with pleasantries because weird as it seems now, I did resent that this stuff was expected. I was professional, polite, very good at my job and absolutely felt that should have been enough.

          I need less social interaction than the average person, I know this about myself. But when I made an effort to meet more typically social people half way I found it was kinda nice and even though I will never care about co-workers adventures in lawn care or their feelings about the weather (why, oh why, are these fascinating to some?!) I became seen as more approachable.

          I always was approachable, but formal enough they didn’t know that.

          So as people felt more comfortable just stopping by to say hey and mention some work stuff I was able to address things before they became a problem they had to bring to me. And a lot of what I do depends on people trusting me and often not wanting to be the one who “told on” someone. So once people got comfortable sticking their head in my office for a quick hello and “hey you might want to wander through X department today.” I got to discover things I’d never have found on my own until the problem was bigger.

          Here’s a weird side benefit…I do have major misophonia. I’ve had it my whole life, long before I knew it had a name…and if I know and like someone as a person I can escape from their loud chewing usually without getting as cringy and ragey as I do when I dislike or don’t know someone.

          Like with other annoying behaviors, I think we just cut each other more slack when we see each other as people and not just task owners and human resources.

          I am still not a fan of holiday parties, I still don’t socialize outside work unless I’m moved to on rare occasion, but I’ve found the little friendly exchanges just make it nicer to be with people with whom I spend so much time and it’s definitely improved work relationships. I don’t mean that to sound mercenary – I started years ago as an experiment from what I’d read here but now it’s not something I do as a means to an end, I’m just more relaxed about it now.

          And bonus – I get pet stories. I don’t want to hear about gory medical details or personal drama but I am all about your dogs and cats so have a cute story of video and you work with me…I’m gonna like you a lot.

          1. Hrovitnir

            I think this is really interesting, because it kind of hits on the crux of what anti-pleasantries people are ignoring:

            “In my case I was upper management in a workplace culture which wasn’t always non-toxic. I was always genuinely more than willing to help someone, answer questions, address problems they’re having … but when I was a pleasant but 100% work related after hello I could say that all I wanted, but they didn’t believe me.”

            If you show zero warmth toward me, I’m not going to trust that you’re someone who’s going to be good to get on with in a work capacity, let alone that you have my back in potentially difficult situations if you’re my manager. I lean far too much toward avoiding people who I feel uncomfortable with at work (I have anxiety so I’m a strange mix of “just get shit done” and “suddenly incapable of approaching that slightly cold person because I’m not feeling that great today”. I can force myself but it’s hard.)

            I also feel like some degree of warmth communicates respect. Being treated with respect is my single biggest desire at work, and treating someone like they’re not worth your time is not respectful. It’s actually possible I would have got on fine with you pre-small talk! I really like some people who aren’t very warm. But I find it difficult to believe most people who rage against “good morning” are honestly pleasant to ask work questions of.

          2. BethDH

            My spouse had a similar experience with misophonia abating when he got to know someone better!
            I actually like — sort of — the weather conversation because it means I know exactly what the expectations are. It’s so formulaic that I can do it when tired/sick/sad, and it rarely accidentally treads on someone’s sore spot (unlike asking about family, weekend activities, etc.)

      2. hayling

        I went to a leadership workshop recently and they talked about “emotional bank accounts.” When you are friendly and develop a good rapport with people, you put deposits in that emotional bank account. That way when something negative happens (a deadline slips, you inadvertently hurt their feelings, you have to make a time-sensitive request), you still have a net positive amount to work with.

      3. Michaela Westen

        I am normally fine with chatting about weekends and such, but during my first two years at this job my boss manifested inappropriate feelings and borderline behavior and it was clear he wanted to be “friends” and “family” and it was all very upsetting, to the point of affecting my health for years.
        So I had to set boundaries with him that include no personal talk of any kind, including about weekends or family. I didn’t leave because this is the best opportunity I ever had and I’m not guaranteed to find another one.
        Years later he is more and more absent from his job, I’ve gotten used to him not being here.
        There were three of us support staff, and one was never supportive with me. She treated me like a criminal or nuisance.
        Another used to be friendly but for about 2 years has been isolating herself in her office and barely saying hello or cooperating when I need something.
        The third one is friendly and supportive and we chat every morning when I come in. If she was off work, I didn’t see a friendly face. I felt so isolated and lonely, I would have had to look for another position if I hadn’t found AAM.
        The unfriendly one was laid off last year and now it’s just us – me, the hider, and the one supportive one.
        I would love to work in a place where I could safely engage with my boss and colleagues and chat throughout the day, but I’m doing well at this job in terms of the work, so with AAM’s help I’m bearing with. :)

    2. Busy

      I don’t know why, but for some reason this comment makes me uneasy about your work place? I can’t put my finger on it though, so it might just be triggering some traumatizing experience at some terrible job in the past? I am not sure.

      But I don’t feel like I need to be That Close to people I work with in order to care about them in a general sense, be polite to them, or make them feel good working with me? I think you can reach that without getting into any kind of friend zone. Maybe that is what it is? It is just sounding to me too much like that “but we’re faaaaamily” thing?

      1. Jen RO

        I don’t think anyone is arguing for being That Close with coworkers. I am friendly with most of mine, meaning that we talk about our weekends, holidays, favorite TV shows, significant others and so on, and it does make the work day more pleasant. It does not mean that I talk to them about the fight I had with my boyfriend, my latest visit to the OB/GYN or anything truly personal.

        1. Lily Rowan

          Yeah, that’s exactly it — work friendly is talking about how you liked the movie you saw over the weekend, or where you’re going on vacation. It’s not your actually personal stuff. And it does make a difference! I honestly think some of my coworkers were hurt that they didn’t know that another one was buying a house recently.

          1. LaurenB

            But of course you don’t want to be so weird that letting them know that your significant other’s name is Alex, or that you like to ride horses, or that you’re from Pennsylvania are such amazingly deep dark secrets that they are only revealed to Close Friends and Family. Part of normal small talk is sharing these kinds of things.

        2. fposte

          It helped me so much to have a couple of social experiences with a colleague that I’d had some procedural difficulty with. Even if he still dropped balls, he was a human with a life dropping balls, not a faceless entity who elicited road rage.

      2. She's One Crazy Diamond

        Oh we’re absolutely not a “we’re all family” place. I’ve been there before and that’s awful. My current colleagues believe in respecting boundaries. It’s just that I love hearing about Lucy’s cats and Bob’s kids and if someone is out sick I genuinely hope they feel better rather than being grumpy that I have to cover for them. When my grandfather passed away, I had to leave work immediately because I was so upset, and when I got back, there was a card on my desk that everyone I worked with signed, even people I didn’t know very well. That stuff matters.

      3. The New Wanderer

        It might be because often when we hear about a workplace where coworkers are close and engage in a good amount of small talk, it verges on “staff is like family!” which seems to go badly a lot of times.

        I think there’s a middle ground that doesn’t often get talked about. People usually mention if a workplace is cold and business like, where no one says good morning on arriving or good bye when they leave. Or they mention if people are cliquey or overly chatty or ask a lot of personally invasive questions. But we don’t get a lot of letters or comments from people who have pleasant coworker or manager interactions to a degree they are comfortable with, even though that’s likely to be more common than the other situations.

        IME the best kinds of workplaces are where people *can* make small talk with others and are received relatively warmly instead of treated like they’re interrupting or wasting time, but don’t feel obligated to do so just to fit in.

        1. Alexander Graham Yell

          Yeah – I think my office actually hits the balance really well. We’re a bunch of analysts and are deep in Excel all day, but we do things like most people will eat lunch in our break room and we’ll watch a little TV or chat about things like how your credit score is determined – nothing terribly personal, but it’s all different than, “Hey Bob, yeah, I know we need 3 copies of the TPS reports.”

          I think the majority of offices out there probably fall somewhere in the middle of the “No small talk ever – FAAAAAAAAAMILY” spectrum and aren’t mentioned for exactly those reasons, TNW.

        2. CmdrShepard4ever

          I think this is an issue that many advice columns/blogs face. People will write in with questions about actual problems they are having, and in turn that is part of what makes people want to read them. Like you said not many people write in to say, “I really enjoy my job, my boss is a good manager open to feed back, and I get along with my coworkers but they respect my personal privacy.” or “My partner and I have been together for 5 years, my partner is great, and my relationship is going really well.” I will say I have seen some advice columns/blogs put a call out for people to send good experiences they have had about certain topics every once in a while.

          At my job I am friendly and social with my coworkers, talk about sports, movies, tv, weekend, vacations etc, but we respective individuals privacy if they do not want to talk about certain subjects and we are not “family.”

        3. Time is Money

          At least in my case, it would be nice if managment established what was appropriate. For example, boss said grandboss mentioned not to socialize too much. What does that mean? How much is too much? And who are the ones socializing too much?
          The biggest socializer in our department is the boss. An employee from another division regularly spends 30+ minutes almost every morning talking about personal stuff with the boss, and one of her other direct reports regularly joins them. The visiting employee’s workday ends an hour before ours, and he spends about 30+ minutes almost every afternoon socializing with the boss and colleague. Boss and colleague regularly stay after hours working, but no says anything.

        4. Michaela Westen

          And also where we can make small talk without having people take it as an invitation to get too personal – that makes people feel unsafe and we shut down fast.

      4. Anna

        But this is exactly the kind of thing we see here in the comments all the time. “I’m not interested in being friends with the people I work with.” It’s weirdly aggressive. There is a middle point between being best chums and being cool and distant. Too often we see comments from people who think cool and distant is somehow the only way to be with coworkers and no matter what that person thinks, I’ll bet their disinterest in all things coworker comes across. It makes it difficult to work with those people or, more importantly, do anything outside of the required amount of work for them.

        1. frostipaws

          Maybe that’s cause the extroverts are socializing while the introverts are reading AAM.

          1. Clisby

            Nah, I’m an introvert and did plenty of socializing at work. “Being friends” with people at work is way different from socializing with co-workers. To me, being cool and distant toward co-workers is just as weird as expecting co-workers to be friends.

            1. carrots and celery

              Seconded. I’m an introvert, but for me, being an introvert means I don’t need to talk with someone daily to survive and that I’m fine being alone. A two minute chat with a coworker isn’t going to ruin my day.

              I think too often people use introversion as a justification to be rude and anti-social. Introversion does not excuse you from social niceties.

            2. Arctic

              The misuse of “introvert” sometimes in the comments can be infuriating.

              I’m an introvert. I need a break from people sometimes. My office neighbor who is always on 24/7 can be frustrating.

              But I love people. I love relationship building. I would absolutely hate to not have that at work. Being an introvert just means sometimes all the socializing can wear you down and you need a break. Not that you don’t want any socialization at all. And some people don’t want socialization and that’s fine! But don’t make a claim that that is a definition of introvert.

          2. Michaela Westen

            I’m an extrovert and I’m reading AAM because I don’t have opportunities to talk with my colleagues.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yeah, and honestly I feel some responsibility for that because I’ve talked a lot here, especially earlier on, about my own dislike for mandatory social stuff (not all social stuff, just making it mandatory) and have taken a strong stance against a lot of formal team-building. I worry that I inadvertently created a space that felt friendly to this kind of extreme anti-relationship-building stuff we see here sometimes. (And to be clear, that anti-relationship stuff is not my stance, and I think it’s really misguided and am dismayed by it.)

          1. all about eevee

            Yes, I think you have inadvertently created just such a space. I don’t see how you walk that back, though.

          2. what if

            Some folks, like Anna in this post, don’t seem to understand that “I don’t want to be friends” is different from “I don’t want to be friendLY.” Being “friends” is (or can lead to) all-day chatting, out-of-work socialization, being in each other’s weddings, cliques, invasion of privacy, nepotism, throwing baby showers, discrimination, etc. Being friendLY is being willing to say “good morning,” can lead to working pleasantly together with others, communicating well with others, but doesn’t necessarily mean I want to know everyone’s life stories or medical situations. I don’t think you’ll find many people here who insist that they’re not willing to be friendLY.

            I don’t want to make friends at work. I just don’t. This doesn’t make me cool or distant. I just want to work at work, say hello, do my job, eat the birthday cake if I have to, and then use the money they pay me to do things away from work with my actual friends.

            1. all about eevee

              I agree that we are not at work to meet the great loves of our lives and that work is not a sorority. At the same time, some people here seem bizarrely anti-social (for example, the commenter in this post calling their coworker a chattycathy). Worse, some seem to be anti-social busybodies (the letter writer who was bothered enough by the “optics” of an intern’s harmless desk decorations to write and send an e-mail to Allison about it).

              1. Former Retail Manager

                I agree with both of your comments and WhatIf’s comment, and I agree about the folks who come off as very anti-social. There is a surprising amount of that in the comments on this site. I am very friendly at work, but not friends with any of my co-workers, except 1. I know a little something about most everyone in my office (hobbies, kid’s accomplishments, favorite TV shows, upcoming vacation plans, etc.) and it has never not helped me. At the end of the day, people are more likely to help you/promote you/work collaboratively with you if you are pleasant to be around and they have some rapport with you, at least in my experience.

                1. Cecile

                  Here’s the thing. I accept that I have to put on this fake friendliness at work. I do it. It works. I hate it. It makes me miserable, it harms my mental health, but it’s apparently necessary for other people to be willing to get their effing work done, so I do it. I smile and ask the polite question about their weekend/kids/pets. I say good morning and goodbye and make boring, stupid small talk about nonsense that I don’t give a sh*t about. And then I go home and do whatever I have to do to deal with how it makes me feel.

                  I can’t be honest in real life about how awful, mind-numbing, stupid and ridiculous I find this stuff. But here, in online anonymity, I can express my actual feelings about it. Maybe others are just doing the same. If you worked with me, you’d have no idea how I really feel about this. Here, I can be honest for once. And that’s such a huge relief, you have NO idea.

                2. carrots and celery

                  @Cecile: If you worked with me, you’d have no idea how I really feel about this.

                  I highly, highly doubt that. Fake friendliness is a lot easier to spot than people think it is. Most people who claim no one can see their true feelings are drastically underestimating how facial expressions and body language give them away.

                  If asking a polite question of someone is harming your mental health to such an extreme degree, that’s not your coworker’s issue to deal with and they shouldn’t have to bear the brunt of you shading them for needing a good morning.

                3. Michaela Westen

                  @Cecile, IMHO you can dial it back a bit. You don’t have to ask about weekends, pets or children if you don’t want to.
                  Just smile and say Good Morning or Hello, and respond to whatever is said to you pleasantly. That should be enough, it would be for me. I always try to read people’s cues in what they want to talk about, and I try never to push someone who’s not in the mood.

          3. Djuna

            I don’t know, I feel like we’re all adults and it’s on us to see what applies to where we work.
            I work very remotely from the rest of my team (on a different continent), and when I joined my boss mentioned a former team member who was also remote and ended up feeling kind of alienated from the team because they didn’t interact a lot with people.

            I’m really not a social person, so that was a potential risk for me. But I made the effort and I can attest to small talk over IM making a really big difference. It can be something simple like “Love that reply to x, thanks for explaining it to them!” or anything that shows some thought, work related or not (“Look at this cat gif I found!”). It helps build relationships and those really matter in most jobs (for reasons others have covered), but matter a lot more if you’re mostly 2D to these people (a name on an email, a face/voice on a call).

            Now, whenever I visit that office, I already kind of know people and feel less awkward about going “Oh hi, I’m Djuna, Nice to finally meet you in person!” or whatever. With my own team, in-person meetings are always warm and friendly, and I credit our chats in large part for that.

            I also have good relationships with people in my own office that started with that same kind of chit-chat. And over time, those people move into different teams, so I now have people I can talk to in a whole bunch of different departments. The idea of networking gives me chills, but when I think about it, this feels like a more natural kind of network building.

          4. This is why I hardly

            I don’t understand it at all and I find it quite offputting – it’s very difficult to trust opinions and advice from people who think saying good morning is an affront to humanity and

          5. This is why I hardly read the comments

            I don’t understand it at all and I find it quite offputting – it’s very difficult to trust opinions and advice from people who think saying good morning is an affront to humanity and it’s put me off reading the comments a lot of the time.

            I would be so miserable if I spent my time at work just working and not having warm and friendly relationships with my coworkers, some of whom I certainly consider work friends. It’s sad and strange that people here are so against it, and the misuse of the term introvert makes me want to scream.

      5. Eukomos

        Being polite to coworkers involves a little bit of bonding, especially if you need to work on things as a team. You don’t have to be BFF with anybody but you can work with people much more successfully if you treat them like people rather than like cogs in the work machine you’re attempting to activate.

  2. I GOTS TO KNOW!

    Also, human beings are not machines. Most people cannot spend an 8+ hour work day doing only work and nothing else. That is how your brain breaks. You burn out. You need time for your brain to refresh. Interaction with fellow humans is a part of that for many people.

    Also, people have different kinds of productivity times. Some people are slow and steady throughout the day. Some are super producers in the morning, some are super producers in the afternoon. I’m a morning producer. I can knock a bunch out in a morning. But, I cannot maintain that pace throughout the day. That’s not to say I am not working in the afternoon, just that my pace is much slower. But my brain would break if someone noticed my morning production rate and demanded I have that all day long.

    For other managers that think your employees are spending too much time “not working” – are they meeting their goals? Are you just mad you aren’t squeezing them for more? Because if you squeeze them like that, they’ll break. Really focus on the big picture, not the chatting (or surfing or coffee drinking). Are the producing what they are being asked to produce?

    1. Redhead in NY

      Love this! Off topic but I’m a huge fan of working when you’re most productive, taking a break, then coming back to finish work. My ideal work schedule would be 7am-1pm, stop working, then come back for a couple of hours in the evening before bed to finish up anything that’s outstanding.

      1. Been There

        +00!
        My ideal workday would be 6:30am to 2pm. I’m super productive in the morning and after 2pm i just don’t have the motivation to do much of anything. Starting new projects after 2pm is a real struggle for me.

    2. Emily K

      Yeah, I have a really hard time keeping my eyes from rolling out of my head when someone characterizes a normal amount of socialization between employees as “using company resources.” I mean, yeah, sure, company email is a company resource if you want to get really technical about it, but it’s a functionally unlimited resource and it’s not like the company is incurring extra costs as a result of misuse of company resources. Using this language makes the boss sound like he doesn’t grasp the difference between taking a book of stamps to use for personal mail and writing a friendly email to a coworker. Being stingy with functionally unlimited resources is a bad look.

    3. Chris

      I totally agree. I’m a big fan of “Deep Work” by Cal Newport. The thrust of the book is that most people can only do a couple of hours of work requiring intense concentration per day. Some of the rest of the day can be filled with less intense work, but for many people, part of maximizing their ability to do deep work involves taking a break.

      That said, I’m more of an introvert, so I don’t tend to relax by having conversations, but in between sessions of difficult work I let myself relax in other way (like commenting on blogs).

  3. Lilith

    Plus people are just different. I generally like being around talkers even though I’m not much one of a talker myself. It makes a day go faster if it’s a boring job, for example. That doesn’t sound like what is happening here.

    1. Lx in Canada

      I used to be reeeeeeeeally talkative in my last position because I was bored! Now I’m just overwhelmed and definitely not bored. Lol. There’s people nearby me who talk a lot, kind of loudly, and sometimes I will listen to their conversations (then sometimes I just listen to music and steadfastly ignore them). You’re right, it does make the day go by a little faster! Plus I can also do my work while listening to them.

  4. CC

    How does the letter writer know the employees are sending personal emails–that they’re sending emails, that they’re personal, etc.? Sounds to me like the boss feels left out and that may be the underlying issue?

    1. Tiny Soprano

      Also an email can easily be both personal and work-related. Like:

      “Hi Workfriend!

      Can I get that thing you’re doing asap? Client needs it this arvo.

      Omg did you see those sportsball results??

      -Friendly signoff”

      At a glance it looks very personal, like chit-chat, but there’s work in there too.

  5. CoffeeinanIV

    I had a manager shut down chatting at work. To the extent that she would walk into your office if you were with a coworker and ask if you were on break if she heard even the slightest off-topic conversation. It was so frustrating because guess what!? The person I was talking to and I were some of the highest achievers on the team. We worked well and had great morale because we connected personally. It’s not that everyone works that way, but so long as the chatting isnt disruptive to others why on earth does it matter. People talk to and connect to each other that’s just a fact of life. We spend more time in our office with our office mates than we do at home if you don’t count the sleeping time. LET US LIVE.

    Yeah… I quit that job. I wonder why?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Exactly!

      It’s a great way to drive high productive workers out and increase your turnover to be this kind of strict “nose to the grindstone, work work work”.

      I’ve had some marginal bosses over the years but chatting has never been an issue to them. I would have walked if anyone ever had the audacity to pop into a conversation and ask if we were on break. I’m on break forever now, have fun with the replacement process! [And I’d have lined up a new job and quit without notice because I don’t need you and don’t trust a person like this to ever give me a reference because they’re clearly going to find a reason to smear my name since they’re so power hungry.]

    2. frostipaws

      I used to have a very chatty coworker, and I would go in her office ocassionally. Sometimes I would spend quite a lot of time in there, but very rarely. When we did chat, grandboss would shut it down. This was very frustrating because two of our other coworkers in the same department would spend more time chatting to one another throughout the day–every day–and he just ignored it.

    3. Ennigaldi

      The chat-policing got so bad at one job that our manager was shutting down work-related conversations (coordinating our legally mandated breaks, asking to switch shifts which we were required to find coverage for, who was going to greet at the door). When I quit, management gave me the chilliest sendoff I’ve ever had the pleasure of suffering through.

  6. Cloudy in DC

    I don’t know anything about this situation beyond what is stated in the letter, but I have a hard time believing that chatting or sending personal emails is having such an impact on people’s work that the boss needs to step in. I had a very successful c-section a few months ago. The two doctors chatted about nothing of significance the entire time and it all worked out just fine. If they can chat while performing surgery, I am almost certain your staff can chat while doing their jobs well.

    1. carrots and celery

      My dentist and the dental assistant always chat when I’m getting root canals and I actually appreciate it because it gives me something to focus on while they’re drilling into my teeth. I think casual conversation is such a normal part of our lives that most people don’t have a problem having light convos while still focusing on their work.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      Hah, good point – I had an emergency eye surgery once for a retina detachment. I was under twilight anestesia and could hear everyone in the room talking about Vlad the Impaler, because the anaestesiologist was from the Transylvania region. The surgery went perfectly fine. Our brain cannot be in 100% work mode the entire work day. To me it’s in the same category as our brain sometimes slipping into work mode when we are not at work.

      1. Tiny Soprano

        Twilight anaesthesia is wild isn’t it! My mum had it years ago for eye surgery too, and overheard a very in-depth discussion about what breed of chickens the surgeon should get for his backyard. Her surgery was successful, her recovery was fast, and presumably the surgeon ended up with some good chooks.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Well let’s be fair here, there are individuals who cannot do two things at once like that! Doctors are a different breed as well ;)

      But in general I do agree, most people know their own limits and if they’re chatting and producing, just leave it alone, it’s fine. As Alison points out in the response, focus on how it’s effecting their production.

      I know plenty of people over the years who will chat chat chat chat and then scramble to get things done and it’s awful. Those people were low performers regardless and should have been reeled in but they usually self-select out after awhile anyways since it’s too much of crunch to sustain the energy it takes them.

      we have plenty of chatting on our production floor even! Since it’s a lot of standing and waiting and watching machines to see if they hiccup at you [humans are there to have eyes to check the outcome and if the parts are working properly, etc]. So yeah, they have plenty of time to just shoot the sh*t. Some facilities wouldn’t allow that or it would actually be dangerous to be distracted in, we’re not that kind of setup thankfully!

    4. Goliath Corp.

      “If they can chat while performing surgery, I am almost certain your staff can chat while doing their jobs well.”

      I’m going to remember that one!

      1. frostipaws

        That reminds me of a scene in Barney Miller where Harris was talking while he typed his incident report. When he read it back, he’d typed his conversation instead.

        1. Jamie

          OMG I loved that episode!

          At an old job when I was working alone at night or on weekends I’d play old sitcoms for background noise…so I didn’t hear the rats scurrying around the deserted factory on the other side of the wall.

          Barney Miller and the Golden Girls kept me psychologically safe from many a rat.

    5. Amber Rose

      My manager has so much work and gets so much done I don’t even know when she sleeps or eats, but even she has time to sit in her office and chat with people who stop by.

      I also have no trouble working and talking about movies at the same time.

    6. obleighvious

      I think it really depends on the people and the office. My coworker just moved out of a shared workspace into her own office, and mentioned that she could focus so much better now that she didn’t have to pay attention to/participate in the chat going on… even though they only chatted about half the time (?), it was still distracting, and she mentioned the need to participate in the chat or otherwise look grumpy or feel like she was being mean to coworkers. I’m sure her productivity has gone up, although she probably does feel lonelier!

      I agree that “sending personal emails” seems suspect, but some workspaces can definitely be “too much” as far as socializing goes, and impact productivity.

    7. Jennifer Thneed

      Talking while working with your hands is totally different from sending emails while otherwise working on a computer. The first – you’re doing 2 things that absolutely can be done at the same time. (Believe me, I know this. I’m a knitter and I can absolutely carry on a conversation while knitting.) The second – you’re doing 2 things that can only be done sequentially, not simultaneously.

      I suspect that if your surgeons had hit any tricky bits, they would have stopped the chatting. Same as how I can talk with my passenger while I’m driving, but traffic gets to needing a lot of attention, I stop talking (and say I have to stop, so the other person does too) and resume the conversation once I’m past that bit.

  7. Shut up already

    God, the mindless chatting!

    I know it’s kind of an internet/aam/intj/whatever cliche, but omg the annoying mindless chattering. Just this morning, my office’s chattycathy literally chased me down the hallway the second she saw me come in the door, complaining about something someone said to her yesterday about something I have nothing to do with. She’s just a chatterbox and I was the unlucky first person she saw. It’s not like I’m a *CoFfEeFiRsT* kind of person, but at least let me set my stuff down? maybe? These kinds of people don’t have friends, or significant others, or anyone that enjoys listening to them?

    1. CoffeeinanIV

      It’s totally okay to request quiet time in the morning or politely say “hey I just got in can you give me a second”

      It is totally not okay to assume chatty people don’t have any friends or loved ones to talk to.

      Some people are energized and enjoy more contact that others might. We can all respect that we all have differences, without being so judgmental about it.

      1. Shut up already

        And my chattycathy can respect others by being responsible for her own annoying behavior. I mean, I *obviously* just got in so I shouldn’t have to spell that out for her – she saw me walk in the door, carrying my breakfast, unlock my door, set my bag down, get my coffee cup, walk to the kitchen, pour my coffee, go back to my desk, turn on the lights, open my computer – all while she’s chatting my ear off about nonsense. So – is she obtuse, or does she not care?

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          These people are so self absorbed that they really don’t care and therefore don’t notice social cues like that. You have to just straight up say “Dude, leave me alone.”

          1. ahp

            Yeah, we have a pretty good dynamic in our office where we chat often, but if someone is not feeling it for whatever reason or has a lot of work to do, no one gets bent out of shape by someone saying “hey I don’t have time to chat right now.” Now, if one of my coworkers took that personally and got frustrated with me, that’d be problematic.

        2. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool

          Given that she DOESN’T get it automatically, I suggest you take Coffee’s advice and explicitly spell it out for her. If you want a solution (you may not, you didn’t say), and the status quo isn’t producing it, you gotta say something.

        3. Anna

          Or maybe you’re a jerk? I don’t know. You’re taking something mostly harmless very personally and if you don’t say explicitly say what you need, you don’t really have any right to complain. Use your words or be miserable.

          1. Shut up already

            It seems weird (patronizing?) to have to say to fully functioning adults, “It’s kind of rude and annoying to continually invade someone’s personal (head)space with meaningless stories. Could you please not?”

            1. Parenthetically

              There’s so, so much judgment in the words you’re choosing to describe this person’s actions. You could choose to characterize her as eager, social, or excited, but you’re choosing to say she’s “invading your personal space”. You could say she likes to connect with chit-chat that isn’t overly personal, but you’re choosing to call her conversation “nonsense” and “meaningless.” Those are value-laden words, and you’ve written a mental narrative about this person that ascribes intent to her actions that you actually have no way of knowing.

              It just isn’t that hard for you to respond to her next launch into storytime with: “Hey, it takes me about 20 minutes to get into Talking Mode in the mornings, sorry, can you give me some time to settle in when I come in please?” Because the issue isn’t that she’s stupid and awful and rude, and you’re a nice normal default-setting decent person with boundaries, the issue is that her communication style and preferences don’t match with yours. So communicate your preferences or be doomed to walk through life in a haze of condescending irritation at everyone different from you.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

                This is a workplace. She can be excited somewhere else, like a meetup group. Join a storytelling co-op in their area and tell all the stories! from a stage, no less. Find a therapist. Anything is better than talking at the first random person that walks in, at work, where we are being paid for getting work done, not for being someone’s captive audience. It is a very charitable assumption that Chattycathy is looking to connect. My guess though, from experience of dealing with this type, is that she doesn’t want to talk to herself and needs a warm body to talk at. The OP (of this subthread) just happened to walk into the office before anyone else did.

                1. Parenthetically

                  Okay, sure, but does that change the fact that it’s really, really on Shut Up Already to speak up rather than silently fuming?

            2. CoffeeinanIV

              It seems really weird that a grown adult would rather steam about a coworker for not realizing their behavior is impacting them rather than just politely deflect and ask for space?

              1. Shut up already

                Because it’s pretty clear (read the comments) that (even mindless) non-work related workplace chattering for most people falls somewhere between tolerated to accepted to encouraged, depending, and those who disagree are chastised for being disrespectful or judgmental.

                1. Close Bracket

                  You are not being chastised for not liking chatter. You are being chastised for the choices you are making regarding both how you respond to the coworker (slinetly steaming) and your characterizations of her (invading your head space). You could make other choices, like speaking up and giving benefit of doubt.

            3. Alianora

              That would actually be weird and patronizing. But you could say, “I’m not at my best in the mornings, would you mind giving me some time to myself?”

        4. Parenthetically

          Obviously the only logical answer is that she’s obtuse AND doesn’t care, she’s clearly TRYING to make you miserable and ATTACKED you the SECOND you came in so you wouldn’t have so much as a BREATH to yourself in the morning because she’s stupid and shallow and so, so far beneath you. CLEARLY.

          Alternatively: she likes you, she likes a chat, she wants to start the day off in a way she perceives as social and friendly and enjoyable, and if you don’t like it you’re going to have to use your words and ask for a few minutes to settle in to your day before you are geared up to talk with people.

              1. Important Moi

                No. The sarcasm was clear. :)

                I’d like to add that I’m glad to see note Alison added above because sometimes…..

        5. a1

          Or maybe she sees it as the perfect time to talk – these are the kinds of rote/routine things many people can do while talking, and it’s not interrupting you while you’re actually working or when you actually need concentration.

          1. techRando

            Yeah, a lot of people assume that “before you’ve sat down” is a great time to chat. They assume that because 1) it’s true for them and 2) it’s true for many other people.

            Shut up already: If you want a solution, you should really TRY to tell her that you feel overwhelmed when she chats with you first thing in the morning. It’s unreasonable that you expect her to read your mind. Go ahead and let her know that you’d like some time to calmly, quietly get your things together for the morning, and feel free to say that you aren’t really a morning person if that’ll help you express it.

            I’ve had success doing that– I’ve had people who would start talking at me before I sat down and got my computer started and it was too much, so I told them I needed some time to get my stuff set up before I could really socialize.

            This attitude seems… openly contemptuous and not good. You seem 100% unwilling to give ANY benefit of the doubt to your coworker and that’s really not a great place to be, especially when the “crime” is her talking to you in the morning when you haven’t even tried once to say you’d rather her not.

            1. techRando

              Benefit to think about: If you do ask her to stop and she doesn’t, now everyone here who currently thinks you’re over-the-top in how mad you are will have to admit you’re right. If she does stop, then she stops. It’s a win-win for you.

              1. Shut up already

                ha! I’m amused at how people are reading this as angry, when the primary emotion I have at her is annoyed, and at myself is conflicted between not wanting to be rude to her and just needing some quiet time.

                1. Natalie

                  I mean, lots of people are reading it as angry because it sounds angry.

                  When many people are interpreting your comment one particular way, it’s far more likely that their interpretation is more or less correct and you didn’t come across how you thought.

                2. Shut up already

                  This is probably why I’m reluctant to actually say anything to her – I don’t want to come out at angry or mean or rude at her. I just want her to stop doing this one particular behavior – and ideally recognize that she’s obnoxious without me having to label myself as anti-friendly.

                  When I say literally chased me down (and then back up) the hallway today, it’s true. Getting off the elevator, one can just see into the corner of her office where she sits. She started talking at me before I was even all the way in view, stood up before I got near her door while continuing to talk. I walked past quickly, hoping she was done, but she jumped out of her chair and scampered off after me down the hall, stood at my desk while I got my things together, I said “excuse me” and walked through the doorway past her, after which she followed me into the kitchen, talked while I poured coffee, and then all the way back again, just blah-blah-blahing at me the whole time. It’s exhausting to witness.

                3. Close Bracket

                  I had my own person who liked to call me first thing in the morning as I was getting in, and he drove me nuts. After about 3 days, instead of stewing in my irritation, I explained to him that the time he was calling was first thing for me and I really needed some time to fire up my computer and have some coffee before I launched into a conversation. He stopped doing that.

                4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

                  I 100% agree with you. You SHOULDN’T have to tell a grown ass adult not to chase you down the second you walk in the door, but unfortunately it sounds like this person doesn’t pick up on social cues so you probably need to say something to them. I don’t think you’re mean or angry because this drives you nuts – it would drive me nuts too. And being honest with her is not mean or rude. I would just suggest that if you’re the kind of person who lets things build up and then explode (that’s me) say something sooner rather than later.

        6. Eukomos

          My guess would be that she likes to talk while she does those things, and it’s never occurred to her that you would not like to talk while you do those things. If you want her to know, you’ll have to tell her.

      1. Shut up already

        I actually LOVE peace and quiet. It’s my productive, happy place. I can be nice (or warm, friendly, lube-y, whatever), but it takes extra effort for me to do so. I have to shift -out- of productivity mindset to do it. For me, it takes -away- from work, not adds to it. (I know Some People Are Different From Me). “Miserable” for me is social stuff that goes beyond the basics, like my chatty cathy chasing me around, or a meeting that is delayed getting started by more than a few minutes for mindless crap when I’ve got work to do, or whatever.

          1. Shut up already

            I’ve seen many references here that refer to this kind of stuff as “social lubricant” as though if one needs to put a specific work-related-value on it to find it useful.

                1. Devil Fish

                  Are you sure? And I would like to make it a thing because maybe the discomfort would make people stop saying the word “lubricant” in the office.

                  (Please stop saying “social lubricant” and then blushing and giggling like that, Coworker, it makes me think you’ll be no fun at the annual team-building orgy.)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Yuck, that would drive me insane as well. That and she’s complaining, I don’t do complaining well unless it’s time-of issue kind of thing.

      It’s totally okay to tell someone that you don’t have time for their mindless chatter.

      But these folks are emailing! That’s quiet and you can glance and ignore if you wanted to. Unlike someone chasing your butt down and ranting at you about how Joe’s sandwiches always stink up the room.

      1. Shut up already

        Yeah, I would absolutely care 0% if my chatty cathy were emailing someone else about her problems. First of all, because I would have no idea it’s happening. Better them than me, in fact.

    3. Lili

      Crap I have a neighbor like that. She talks about people I don’t know/have never met. I don’t understand people like her. She’s a good neighbor but cannot shut off her stories about people I don’t know. It’s baffling. Every story leads to a story about someone else.

      1. Rikki Tikki Tarantula

        I have several friends who do this, and I’ve found the best thing to do is to maintain a neutral facial expression and throw out the occasional “Wow,” “I did not know that,” and “And then what happened?” You don’t have to put in much effort beyond that because usually these people assume that if something is fascinating to them, it’s fascinating to you too, and it never occurs to them that you’d be bored. As an experiment, you can throw in a mildly sarcastic “That’s really interesting” and see if they notice.

        1. Jamie

          “Wow,” “I did not know that,” and “And then what happened?”

          Add in a, “You’re kidding? Who told you that?” and that’s the exact conversation I have with one of my cats when I get home every night.

          He follows me in to change and does not stop meowing loudly at me filling me in on all the adventures he clearly had while I was out earning money to pay for his noms.

          It totally satisfies him.

        2. LaurenB

          Right. This is just a basic social life skill — say “uh-huh” but don’t show a lot of enthusiasm.

    4. Anon for this

      You are getting a lot of pushback, but I agree that there is a difference between coworkers willingly having occasional chats and a coworker who talks AT people incessantly. Most workplaces have one. I assume whoever commented “maybe you’re just a jerk” hasn’t had to deal with one yet, but the night is still young, they’ll run into one too!

      We have one – the person walks into people’s workplaces and talks them to death – not me though. I engage them for a couple of minutes, and then get to work and they get bored and leave. Once this coworker ambushed me as I was walking to the bathroom before a meeting – ran into me in a hallway near the bathroom and just up and started talking as soon as I got close. I held up a hand, said “NO”, and kept walking. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do, tough love and all that.

      1. Shut up already

        I’ve tried the just-be-boring thing with her and it doesn’t work either. I’m not mean and rude, and thus I put up with it “nicely” but even if I wanted to engage with it, she doesn’t stop talking long enough for anyone to actually converse back with her. This isn’t someone who’s trying to be social or connect, like normal people do, this is someone who just needs an outlet. And I don’t want to be her outlet.

        1. gyrfalcon

          With people who don’t respond or act in a way that allows us to enforce boundaries in the usual soft and polite way, it’s ok and necessary to be blunt, and to do things that in different circumstances might be seen as rude.

          Don’t wait for a break in her talking. Interrupt her: “Cathy! Stop! I need to settle in on my own. I can’t listen to this.”

          1. Anon for this

            Exactly! “Hey Cathy, I need to work on the TPS report. Anything you need help with?” and then, if she does not ask for any help with anything, go ahead and work on the TPS report.

            I once asked my chattyperson if they wanted tea or coffee when they lingered around my desk after I already got to work. They got out of my workspace real quick. I’ll chat with them if we run into each other in a breakroom waiting for our coffee to brew or our lunches to heat up, but that’s about it.

            1. Shut up already

              Now, this is a strategy I wouldn’t feel bad about deploying, and we have lots of good real situations that would apply.

        2. Close Bracket

          Putting up with it or engaging with it are not the only two choices. There is also saying, “Hey Cathy, can I interrupt? I know you like to chat in the morning, and I really need some quiet time first thing to get my thoughts together. Could you give me a little space in the mornings so I can go that?” If she gets offended, then as you say, you can come back here and make us eat crow. She probably will be offended and be a little salty for a few days after. You will probably have to make asking for quiet an ongoing thing. Using your words is something you are allowed to do, however.

          1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

            And if she is offended or salty, THAT’S ON HER. I think most people in a work situation are hesitant to be more direct or blunt when someone is crossing boundaries because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. But what they need to realize is as long as they’re not mean or rude in what they say and the way they say it, it’s on the other person to manage their emotions and feelings. They are the ones being rude by crossing those boundaries – it’s not rude to stop them.

  8. AnotherPerson Here

    Oh, man, this post and the responses to it are really hitting me. One thing I noticed when I first started at my current place of work was that there was a *lot* of chatting happening. And a lot of the chatting involved complaining about the workload (and other general negativity).
    I’ve tried hard not to be negative myself, and I’ve also tried to maintain a balance between friendly-but-not-friends and please-stop-with-the-constant-chat-I’m-trying-to-work-here. My boss seems to need a lot of social interaction in the workplace, and I feel guilty for not providing that…but also they’re staying late/working on weekends. I don’t want to stay late/work on weekends if I can be more efficient (ie less chatty) during regular working hours!

    1. Alianora

      That’s one of the hardest balances to strike for me — social interaction without negativity. It’s so easy to fall into bonding by complaining! But it’s worse in the long run for my mental health. I usually try to commiserate without initiating. Or if the complainer is in a similar role to mine, offer to help with some of their workload if I can.

      1. CoffeeinanIV

        There have been times when coworkers will complain to me at lunch or on break and I don’t want to be clouded by negativity. My default line is “hey this is our break from work let’s pretend it doesn’t exist right now” which most people respond to.
        I wonder if there is a line you could use to deflect negative statements when they’re happening

      2. AnotherPerson Here

        Yes, definitely worse in the long run for my mental health. I struggle with negativity and find that I can be less negative, but it’s that much harder when folks around me are negative as well.
        What I’m doing now is just to be really thoughtful in how I interact with these folks. I don’t respond to really negative gossip at all, which seems to shut it down. Other negativity I try to be neutral or redirect the conversation. But I know it affects the morale of our whole group, and I’m struggling not to let it influence the environment of my direct reports too much.

  9. Long Time Lurker

    I worked on a team where we went through three managers in two years, and it was the personal connections among the team members that kept things going. And yeah, a lot of that chatter was about baseball and one of my colleague’s dating life, but it was also about how to approach issues that came up, and myself and another team member mentoring a younger colleague who felt out of his skill set with some tasks he was given. We all did our work well (and covered for each other when someone couldn’t handle something). But the camaraderie and friendships made the workplace welcoming and helped us all deal with the stress of management changes. How do I know? Well, that was 15 years ago, and my young colleague, the one who was so stressed out when he started, is now a manager there, though most of us have moved on. The last time we chatted he said he wanted his workers to have the friendships and fun that we had together, because, as he put it “I would have quit if I didn’t have you guys, and I never want my people to feel like it’s wrong to reach out and have friends where they work. There’s a lot of stuff nobody comes to the boss with.”

  10. Fiddlesticks

    More than anything else, I’m curious how this boss knows that her employees are sending all these personal emails to each other. Wouldn’t she have to be literally standing behind their desks to see the “To” and “From” lines on the emails, and the subject matter involved, in order to know that Imogen and Fergus are emailing each other and the topic is not work-related? And then maybe get IT involved to see exactly how many they’re sending for the behavior to qualify as “all day long”?

    Emailing isn’t like standing around chatting in the halls, where it’s totally obvious that you just spent the last half hour goofing off and not working on the Simmons account.

    1. Shut up already

      Yeah, this. Why is silent chattering bothering anyone, provided these people are getting their work done in the meantime?

      1. Fiddlesticks

        Yep. If their work is getting done on time and correctly, I really couldn’t care less (as a boss or as a coworker) how often people email each other during the day. It’s silent and doesn’t disturb anyone else. It’s the people who stand around talking so that others can’t concentrate, or who are always making loud personal phone calls from their desks, who drive me nuts.

    2. Amethystmoon

      Yeah, the only way I can see the boss knowing about it if someone was trying to get the other coworker in trouble and blind-copied the boss, or took screen shots.

  11. Lucy Preston

    Chatting definitely helps with work relationships. I’ve seen the chattiest people form the strongest bonds.

    I’ve often wondered how managers form bonds. I’ve seen so many things here about managers avoiding of camaraderie with employees. What do you do when you’re the only manager at a certain level and there’s no one else to develop that type of relationship with?

    Also, I’ve seen the downside of chatting, where it does indeed affect workloads. One office that I worked at was old-fashioned in that the assistants were the ones to send out all emails and reports that managers created. The managers would spend so much time chatting with other staff that they would rush to get stuff done at the end of the day, and then dump stuff on the assistants at 5:00 as they rushed out the door.

  12. Queen_of_Comms

    Excellent response. I was encountering similar issues with one of my team members. My immediate thought was to pull his browser history, but thought better of it.

    My approach was to tighten his deadlines. If I normally would have given him 5 days for a project, I shorted it to 3.5 or 4. Then I held him accountable to the deadline. Simple. The issues with chatting and killing time on sites like Twitter and Reddit disappeared.

  13. Booksalot

    Constantly chatting back and forth on e-mail would be a major problem at most places I’ve worked, since e-mail is discoverable. Of course, that’s very YMMV.

  14. AnotherCorporateStooge

    what in the actual duck. I totally agree with Allison — there is no reason you, as an educator, should be contributing that much, or really any at all, towards your supplies. I really want to know what school or what county this happened — this is absolutely unacceptable.

  15. MOAS

    ah the social coworker. My office is very social. A huge value is placed on being nice to one another, and warm and friendly. You don’t have to be best buds but if you’re the type of person that doesn’t’ enjoy any non-work interactions, it wouldn’t be a good fit. So, I am all for people being friendly to each other.

    But with that being said, there’s still limits, that are way easier to cross–and I have been on both sides. As a manager, I think it’s way harder to enforce when someone’s doing something that’s part of the culture but they’re doing too much of it.

    Ex/ We had one guy who was always around talking to people. When his manager talked to him, he apparently turned it around on others, “but so and so is doing online shopping!” They toned it down but they eventually quit. Another person literally spent all day long walking around talking to friends, IF they ever came in to work. Unfortunately their managers never told them to cut it out. Their last manager put them on a PIP (for that and other reasons) and they got mad at being held accountable and left.

  16. F3dup

    As someone with a massive workload sitting next to someone in the same role with half my workload who loves to chat, if you have time for excessive socializing, you have time to help with someone else’s work.

  17. Amethystmoon

    I still remember one time when I was a temp, about 12 years ago, that our entire team was yelled at in front of everyone for chatting (even though not all of us were talking). IMHO it’s one thing when it’s at lunch or on break, but it shouldn’t be happening incessantly during the day. If it’s that slow, managers should look at reorganizing workloads.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      The thing is that not everyone gets a lunch or a break, when they do, they’re not always synced up with each other.

      Not every place is packed to absolutely capacity, nobody here has 40hrs of work a week who isn’t the CEO and they only work longer hours because they have so many duties that they can’t put on anyone else [I took everything off their plate as soon as I could because jeez, they were doing some really mundane nonsense while I was suffering filling my time at my desk.]

      So the other option would be to reduce staff and run closer to full capacity, that leads to burnout and higher turnover.

      Its better to just let everyone work at about 80% and have that 20% to chit chat or whatever, cultivate a culture of helping each other out when it’s possible and then seriously, just being adults and managing your time wisely. If someone is really having a problem and there’s productivity issues or disruption issues, then it’s a different thing to address.

      Managers who opt to reorganize workloads tend to then punish those of us who are efficient and good at our jobs. Then we leave because ef that nonsense.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      People aren’t robots. If excessive chatting is keeping you from getting your work done, or disturbing others then yes it needs to stop. It’s unrealistic to expect people to only chat during lunch or breaks.

  18. Hot Chocolate

    As a superstar temp I had a manager tell me off for reading news sites once I had finished all my work, asked for more, and completed that, too.

    So I slowed down my productivity to match everyone else. No further comments. She would rather I just meet targets and was always working rather than blasting past them and having some down time AT WORK, THE SCANDAL.

  19. MommyMD

    You calmly address the issue, don’t skirt around it, and tell each individually that work hours are for work and they can socialize during lunch and breaks.

  20. Grand Mouse

    This reminds me of when I worked retail (as cleaning staff) I saw the people in the shoe department absolutely buried and I told them they were doing great. The manager snapped at me to stop distracting them and focus on my own work (I was working?) and it was really offputting. She didn’t last long there.

  21. Cherries on top

    Also I wonder: if you happened to make friends at work, would that be so horrible?

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