my boss says I talk too much to coworkers

A reader writes:

My boss told me I’m being too chatty and I don’t know if I’m being unreasonable.

I first started my job two years ago. We are a small office of 15 and do a lot of behind-the-scenes work. We don’t interact with the public at all.

It was a literal tomb when I started and I could go the whole day without talking unless I forced people into a conversation. I previously worked for an office with an extremely collaborative environment. Here we are very siloed in our positions so collaboration doesn’t happen, and truly no one spoke to each other. Now, after working on the office culture for two years and having a new hire who is also more extroverted, it is a much more typical office environment, albeit still a little too quiet in my opinion.

My boss pulled me into her office and let me know that she thinks the chit chat is getting out of control. She’s currently the only one who has an actual office with a door. The rest of us are in cubicles. She said that yesterday she almost had to shut the door three different times because she needed quiet space to think and we were being distracting to her by talking about various things in the open office space. I would say 75% of our conversations are work-related.

She asked me if I had noticed an uptick in the chit chat and I said, “Honestly, it’s the most comfortable and happy I’ve felt in this office space since I started almost two years ago.” She responded with, “Well, yes, it was a really hard transition for me too when I first came to the office and it was so quiet 20 years ago, but I adjusted.” She made it clear that no other staff member had complained. I asked if it was related to productivity and she said she wasn’t concerned about that.

I came from an extremely talkative and collaborative environment, so I don’t know if I’m being unreasonable. Are most offices like this? Is there anything I can say to our boss to change her mind about why some talking is okay? Is it a lost cause and I just need to adapt or leave?

I wrote back and asked: “How much work-related conversation would you say there is in an average day? How about non-work-related?”

I would say maybe 15 minutes total combined in a workday is non-job-related chat (how are the kids, here’s a short funny story about my dog, etc).

On an average day, there’s maybe a total of 30 minutes of work-related chat. Like the non-work conversation, it’s often done in short 2-5 minute snippets. “Hey, do you have that invoice for me? I can’t find the receipt.” “Can you tell me what line item I need to take these supplies from?” “Will you explain the background of this grant for me.” Etc.

This is new because previously the person holding the position was only in one day a week. So all work-related conversation was mainly done through email to keep a paper trail. When that person was in the office, there would be the same work conversation happening now, but it was only one day a week.

This is one of those letters that demonstrates the importance of follow-up questions.

I was all set to tell you that when you come into a space where the culture is quieter and you’re asked to keep the chatting level down, you’ve got to respect the norms of the space you’re in — even when it feels too quiet to you — and that your preference for more talk doesn’t trump other people’s preference for more quiet. And that’s true, and I’m still ultimately going to tell you that.

But a total of 15 minutes of non-work-related conversation per day in few-minute blocks here and there isn’t excessive. Connecting with the people you work with, asking about how they’re doing, hearing a quick story about their kid or their dog — that’s part of working with other humans. It’s part of how people form relationships at work — and even if we only care about productivity, relationships help people be more productive over the long run. Those connections keep people engaged in their work and satisfied with their jobs, and they encourage people to share information, collaborate, and go out of their way to be helpful (which can make things far more efficient).

And the work-related conversations you describe sound pretty necessary! I suppose you could put all of that in email, but it can be much more efficient to ask a quick 10-second question on the spot and get an immediate 10-second answer, rather than having to pause what you’re doing and wait hours for a response.

So your boss sounds way outside typical norms for how much talking she expects to hear at work.

That said, I wonder how the other ~15 people feel. You mentioned you come from a very talkative environment, so it’s possible your norms are calibrated differently than theirs, and that the changes you’ve made to make the office feel more comfortable to you (forcing people into conversations and “working on the office culture for two years”) are actually making it less comfortable to them. To be fair, the numbers you’ve given here don’t really support that — but sometimes people can under-estimate that kind of thing (and the fact that your boss talked to you about the chatting rather than to everyone could indicate that’s the case). So it’s worth checking in with them and seeing what they think.

That’ll give you some good grounding in whether or not your boss is being unrealistic. If a lot of people tell you things like like “yeah, it’s gotten pretty distracting” or “I don’t mind having quiet,” then this culture just has very different expectations than the ones you’re bringing to it. In that case, as ridiculous as it might feel to you, I do think you’d need to rein in how much chatting you’re doing — both because your boss has directly told you to and because your coworkers sound like they’d prefer it too.

But if everyone else seems baffled by the idea that there’s excessive chatting happening, it might be worth going back to your boss and saying something like, “I’ve made a point of paying more attention to the chatting since we talked, since I really don’t want to be doing anything disruptive. I’ve noticed most of the chat is work-related, because it often helps to get an quick answer to something rather than waiting hours for an email response. I can certainly switch to email if you feel strongly about it, but I wanted to make sure you know that most of the talk you’re hearing is truly about work rather than social chatting.”

Of course, even if your boss is the one in the wrong here, ultimately it is her prerogative to tell you that you need to keep things quieter. And if trying to clarify things with her doesn’t result in any change to her stance, you’d need to decide if you can live reasonably happily in this very quiet culture or not.

{ 434 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    The letter-writer has clarified here that “forced people into conversations” wasn’t the right word choice and that that’s not what she was actually doing — so I’m asking that comments not harp on that point.

  2. new in academia*

    When I moved to my current post 2 years ago I was really taken aback by how quiet my building is. I’d say it is on par with library levels of quiet. It is easy to hear through walls, so people have conversations in hushed tones and only listen to music/etc. through headphones. It is not unusual for people to shut their doors in a huff if a hallway conversation gets too loud. Now I’ve grown used to it and kind of relish the quiet, but I think if the building were louder overall I’d enjoy the hum of activity around me. We’ve had people that sit in especially quiet corners of the building with no one around them leave because they found it too isolating.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      Ugh, I switched from a library-silence work culture to a “chat all day and bug people with minutia” culture and it is ROUGH. I miss people whispering on their phone calls.

      1. loudoffice*

        Same. I work at a company that has a literal open door culture meaning that no one closes doors, people shout on conference calls with the meeting room door open, people laugh raucously all day all around me. People make fun of me for having to concentrate on work. I don’t know how they get anything done, and to be fair, the expectation seems to be that you *don’t* need to get much done.

      2. Kate H*

        I want this so bad it hurts. When I started at my job, it was dead quiet all day and I loved every damn second of it. There would be the occasional phone call or quiet work-related conversation but I could go entire days without saying a word.

        And then our VP decided our team was “too quiet” and moved us to the other side of the building. Right next to customer service, where people are always on the phone or having loud conversations across the hallway to each other. And then the team next to mine doubled in size, including three new team members that sit behind me and Talk All Day Long. Our work is often tedious so I get through the hours by listening to audiobooks and podcasts. If someone nearby is talking, my brain zeroes in on their voice and I have to pause whatever I’m listening to or I won’t hear any of it. I don’t want to ask them to stop speaking when it’s not work related (which is 25% of the time to 100% depending on how busy they are) because I know it’s how they cope with the work but I’m slowly losing my mind.

        Did I mention we’re also right next to the rec room where our VP likes to play ping-pong and scream? And then he comes out and makes fun of us for being too quiet?

    2. Filosofickle*

      I had a 9 month temp job in an incredibly quiet place I called Zombie Cubeland. I hated every second of it.

      It was a creative / design department, which is what made it so unusual. This was the meekest, quietest, most downcast group of creatives I’ve ever seen. Luckily, I was depressed over taking this lousy job out of desperation, so I fit in. :)

    3. Thankful for AAM*

      Lol, I think many people have not been to libraries lately. They are not at all bastions of quiet. They are pretty raucus community centers with some quieter spaces.

      A coworker’s supervisor does not allow any talking at all. Not even work related. Its insane to me.

      1. Coppertina*

        Yes! I had to go to a DMV office in a city 2 hours away to get my RealID license before my old license expiration date. I got there way ahead of time per plan, so to kill time, I hung out at a nearby library branch I’d scoped out in advance. There were several kids playing Fortnite on the computer and bantering amongst each other, not being particularly quiet about it. I’d have bailed right away but it was 104 outside and I was enjoying the AC.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        My local library branch is so noisy I will only go there to pick up books on hold; there is no possible way I could actually concentrate on reading.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          However, I work in an actual library and, yes, my coworkers and I can spend nine hours together in a shared office and hardly say anything to each other all day. And we like each other. But even 15 minutes combined sounds like a lot from this end.

    4. Des*

      My last job we went from a year in a loud open-concept office to a quiet one with cubicles segregated per team, and while my workload didn’t change, I was able to complete the same amount of work as I could in a day by by 10am. That’s when I realized how valuable quiet time to focus really is.

  3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Alison’s points about cultural expectations are spot-on. It should come as no surprise that the library world is a very attractive career path to people who like it really quiet!!

    1. Ellen*

      I think that, e0ven if I enjoyed a really quiet environment, I could cope with 15 minutes of chatter in 8 hours of shift. That boils down to less than 1/30 th of the time I’m there.

      1. LibGuideMeIntoTheWeekend*

        I’m here to tell you as a librarian that in libraries we talk much more than 15 minutes a work day!! We’re really a very collaborative and chatty field except in the spaces we’ve designated to be quiet for our patrons’ benefit.

        1. Shhhh*

          I just had a 45 minute-or-so-long conversation with one of my fellow librarians about something we’re working on, and that’s very much a normal thing.

          Also, I love your username!

          1. LibGuideMeIntoTheWeekend*

            Ha, thanks! Yes even here in the cataloging cave we have regular scheduled meeting and unscheduled conversations throughout the day and week. So even those of us extra plagued with a reputation for silence are, in most workplaces (obviously not all) more normal than outsiders might think.

        2. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

          Yup.

          Though I was an intern on team in an academic library (team focused on web development and scholarly communications) where we used online tools to chat more than chatting by voice. Even when standing next to each other.

        3. Cafe au Lait*

          YES. The idea that libraries are quiet, solitary spaces is an archaic, outdated stereotype that’s hurts libraries. We’re dynamic and collaborative spaces. Our ultimate aim is the sharing of knowledge and sometimes that can only be done through discussion.

          1. PlainJane*

            I don’t know that it’s destructive–the idea of holing up in a quiet, beautiful reading room (like Bates Hall in Boston) as a patron is very appealing, and that’s why a lot of people want to come in–but yes, it’s definitely not the case.

            1. Anonapots*

              It can be destructive since a lot of smaller towns are choosing not to fund their libraries. If you have a reputation of being stuffy and boring places nobody wants to go to, there is a good chance your taxpayers won’t want to fund you.

              1. PlainJane*

                Actually, I’ve seen it go the other way–‘The point of a library is to be quiet and a good place to study! Why would we fund it if it’s just a playroom?”

                So it can go both ways.

            2. tamarack and fireweed*

              Our library has several quiet spaces of varying degree of quietness – two enclosed quiet reading spaces on the side of the main space, one with desks, one with armchairs; a section of the main space that is designated as quiet, but gets the overall traffic commotion, plus two meeting rooms that can be booked. The main, unmarked part of the floor however is not quiet, though people nearly always behave considerately in practice. Best of both worlds.

          2. Emily K*

            I think it still depends. My local library is still “archaic” in that sense (and a few others, it’s badly in need of a renovation). Literally 3 of the 4 rules posted are variations on “no talking:”the library must be silent; students looking to discuss schoolwork cannot do so in the library; private tutoring and business meetings cannot be held in the library because there are no meeting rooms and the floor is to remain silent. (The fourth rule is “no unattended children.”)

        4. PlainJane*

          I was going to point that out. No workplace I’ve been in has been chattier than a library. Also, being public service, you’re hearing service-related conversations all day. It’s definitely not a leave-me-to-myself workplace.

    2. Mary*

      It surprises me, actually–the stereotype of libraries is that they’re really quiet, but in practice, you don’t tend to go into library work unless you like interacting with people!

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        So true! One of my instructors commented that she hates seeing letters of recommendation for students applying that read, “she’d be great in a library. She’s so quiet.!” She said, I don’t want quiet. I want radical referencers and outgoing people!

      2. Slibrarian*

        Seriously. Being a librarian is SO MUCH TALKING. I get my fill of talking at an academic library and sometimes when I get home I want some no talking time so bad I could cry.

    3. Johnjx on Hancock*

      As a librarian, I can tell you that it is much like any other office environment unless you are sitting in one of the areas designated for quiet study. We are often “shushed” by the patrons!

      1. LibGuideMeIntoTheWeekend*

        I went into cataloging because I got shhhed working in public services, hahaha. Now in the “back 40” its much like any other office job, and since I work more often than not with our electronic resources I think people who’d want to hear how cool and bookish my career is would be sorely disappointed to know I’ve got a boring brown cubicle, file folders, and computer just like most everyone else. I get to listen to audiobooks or videos basically all day though, that’s a nice library-ish perk!

    4. Oaktree*

      Incorrect. Most librarians are introverts, but we are not necessarily quiet. My office (I work in a special library- corporate, in my case) is not particularly quiet, though of course there are periods without conversation.

      Stereotypes about libraries and librarians abound… I can also tell you I don’t “get to read all day”.

      1. Allypopx*

        Most of my library friends (in my general demographic, so urban and under 40) are extroverts! They love getting people hyped about books and talking to them about what they’re reading.

        My librarian MIL would prefer no one talk to her ever. I think it’s as diverse as anything.

          1. PlainJane*

            Not really. There’s not a choice. :D But I find I enjoy the challenge of programs, and the adrenaline hit of doing something I kind of fear!

          2. Tenebrae*

            Eh, you can’t always do that. And introverted doesn’t necessarily mean antisocial. I know quite a few introverts who are warm and funny and engaging while doing programming. They just need to rest afterwards.

    5. Oxford Comma*

      We’ve been told to keep quiet by the patrons. Most of my coworkers are very extroverted and we definitely have more than 15 minutes of non-work conversation per day.

    6. Highly Caffeinated*

      Office environments different a lot between libraries. I had one job where the “shusher” who needed silence ended up becoming a problem because the culture was very chatty. Also as other people mention many library workers have had the experience of being shushed by patrons.

    7. Sarah-tonin*

      nooooo, libraries are not quiet spaces, unless there are spots where they have to be. I work at a couple different public libraries and people are talking and/or the kids after school are being loud. sometimes both.

      libraries are changing, and even though they used to be quiet spaces, they’re not anymore. and I talk with my coworkers throughout the day, not always on work topics.

    8. I edit everything*

      True fact: the loudest people in my library are the reference librarians, to the point where if I go to the library to work, I choose the table the farthest away from them.

  4. Detective Amy Santiago*

    That said, I wonder how the other ~15 people feel. You mentioned you come from a very talkative environment, so it’s possible your norms are calibrated differently than theirs, and that the changes you’ve made to make the office feel more comfortable to you (forcing people into conversations and “working on the office culture for two years”) are actually making it less comfortable to them.

    I wonder if some of those other ~15 people complained to the boss about OP forcing conversations. Especially since it sounds like they were all employed there for 2+ years.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Yes, this is what occurred to me.

      I need a lot of quiet at my job for best productivity. I don’t mind work-related conversations, but my erstwhile teammate wanted a lot more chitchat than I did. I was never quite rude enough to cut her off entirely, but I absolutely resented having her pop up over the cubicle wall just to tell me about this silly client email she’d gotten or whatever. Leave me alone! I’m trying to write something here!

      1. Observer*

        Except that even in the original posting, it doesn’t sound like that’s what is happening.

        The OP’s clarification indicates that it really is just the boss being unreasonable.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Now that you mention it, that does sound plausible, especially since OP said the boss only spoke to her. If chatting in general was a problem, I imagine the manager could have addressed the group either through email or a brief stand up meeting.

      There’s also the possibility that with all this new chatting happening in the office that it’s not necessarily excessive, but just loud. I worked with a lot of people at my last job who did not understand how to modulate their voices and were much louder than they thought they were (like, I could hear entire conversations they were having around the corner). All you need are a couple of people who are just naturally loud talkers to start talking to one another, and then the sound escalates. I could see OP’s manager singling her out here in this scenario as well because she’s the one who started everybody talking in the first place even if she’s not one of the loud talkers.

      1. londonedit*

        OP has also said in their clarifying comment further down that another coworker was also apparently spoken to by the boss and asked to tone down the chit-chat, so it does seem like it’s a ‘this boss wants a particularly quiet environment’ situation.

        1. Wired Wolf*

          Myself and another female CW are dealing with this as well. I can talk with male CWs, but as soon as us ‘girls’ are seen even working together look out (we both got dinged for “talking together too much” on our respective reviews six months apart). Once the two of us were simply walking to the warehouse at the same time and the male manager came up with “now I don’t want you two working together too much okay”. If I’m helping her in the warehouse (safety related) a male ‘supervisor’ is always lurking checking up on us.

          CW is now afraid to even ask me anything work-related. Our work environment is not quiet by any means.

        1. Yorick*

          I wouldn’t throw the coworkers under the bus, but I wouldn’t pretend none of them minded if they did! If I really didn’t want to say there was a complainer, I might say something like, “I’ve gotten a sense that some coworkers would rather have more quiet time.”

        2. Indigo a la mode*

          But a good boss also won’t take their personal preference and impose it on people without just cause. If people had complained, the boss would be trying to solve an existing problem. If they hadn’t, it’s overbearing, especially since the boss can control the amount of noise they hear by closing their door.

          1. Emily K*

            I definitely chuckled a little to myself at “I almost had to close the door” as a problem. “I almost had to use a resource readily available to me, for its intended purpose.”

    3. Jesse*

      I can safely say that this is a possibility, as I’m that complainer (probably not the same workplace, though). There’s no particularly good way to do it directly, so I end up taking it to my boss as a general work environment issue.

      My spouse and I have co-workers that seem to think that they’re hosting a morning radio show or something and need to constantly fill the dead air with personal chit-chat, which isn’t conducive to anyone’s work. (Everything we should be handled via email for record-keeping purposes, so even out-loud work conversations should be minimal.)

      1. Observer*

        Do you consider 15 minutes or so of general chit-chat to be the same as “constantly fill the dead air with personal chit-chat,“?

        1. Des*

          They are likely heavily underestimating the 15 minutes, and even if it’s truly 15 min total on average, if they spend 30 seconds every 5 minutes saying a few sentences I just spent 1.5 hours being distracted from focused work. Every interruption in my line of work means I need to spend the next 10 min getting back into it.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        So personal chit-chit is out, and work-related discussion is also out. Would your ideal office be one where everyone was silent almost all the time? People sit silently and email other people who are sitting in the same office, also in silence? And then go home?

        This isn’t meant to be antagonistic, I’m really trying to understand where people are coming from on this. This is really different than anything I have ever experienced.

        1. Emily K*

          I worked in an office that was silent about 90% of the day, but we were all constantly chatting on iMessage or whatever the program on Macs is called. I sat in an open room with 3 other people and had ongoing chat windows with all 3 of them all day long in addition to my colleagues in other parts of the building. Very rarely did we speak out loud even to the people right next to us. This just sort of happened naturally; nobody ever complained about noise or said they needed it to be quiet. I think it was partly that we all focused better when it was quiet, but even more than that I think people just preferred being able to chat without our boss overhearing our conversations (her office was off the room we sat in). There was usually a bit of a stir around lunch where folks would be a little chattier as they were going out for food or using the kitchen, but I really don’t recall ever having any extended conversations out loud – just that I had about a dozen chat windows that I tabbed between all day long.

        2. Des*

          People lower their voices so that what they are saying is audible only to the person they are asking the question. People congregate in the hallways and play areas outside of the quiet work areas, and hold meetings with closed doors. It’s not at all that we don’t talk, it’s just that we are respectful of other people’s quiet spaces.

          (To me it sounds like the OP is involving the entire office who have no choice but to participate because everyone is talking. )

  5. Lana Kane*

    I also wonder if the annoyance could be related to volume. When an office is mostly quiet and then talking starts, it can seem jarring. If the tone/volume of the voice doesn’t adjust to the level of silence (meaning, keeping your voice down a bit lower than you’d normally speak in), it can give the impression of noise. Might be something to consider as well.

    1. Sophia L.*

      I had the same thought. We had a loud talker come work for us for a while and it was distracting for everyone, even if she was on topic.

        1. Elenia*

          This is exactly what I thought of. There are some people that seem unable to change the pitch/tone of their conversations and speak everywhere like it’s a normal conversational voice. My husband and I are very good at pitching our voices low, so we notice it all the time, and I really have come to the conclusion that mostly they have a hard time helping it. They don’t mean to be rude, it’s just the way they are. They can modulate their voices, however, but they have to think about it more often. I would try to pitch my voice much lower and consciously make an effort.

          1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

            I agree. I have a friend that just seems to have no volume control no matter the location — in a church, in a library, in a spa. She’s quite nice and isn’t throwing F bombs or anything that would be inappropriate for a general audience, but she’s LOUD. Unfortunately, she also really gets hurt/offended when told to lower her voice. She’s been told that since childhood and it really seems to trigger a lot of shame and feelings that she, or what she has to say, isn’t important. She very much knows she’s loud.

            1. JustaTech*

              It’s possible that the loudness is related to minor hearing loss. If you have a hard time hearing yourself then you’re likely to speak louder just to get to what you think is “normal”. There was a girl in my dorm in college who had a very loud speaking voice (in a building with some very strange sound-carrying properties) and we eventually figured out she wasn’t trying to be annoying, but she had some hearing loss so what she considered a conversational tone was pretty loud.

              1. Queer Earthling*

                Yeah, I don’t have hearing loss but I have sensory processing issues, and I often have trouble judging how loud my voice is vs. ambient sound. It’s a little embarrassing to be told that I’m shouting when I thought I was speaking normally, just because I worry about being perceived as annoying or rude when I’m actually just wired funny.

                1. K*

                  I have this problem too – with sensory issues and moderating volume, particularly if there’s background noise. I’ve been shushed all my life by family and I do hate it. The thing is, my children shout too and it triggers me! So I do have concerns about how to help them with this in a tactful way. I don’t always do so well.

              2. Helena1*

                Coming in to say this too – I’ve been deaf since childhood, and my husband and kids always tease me that I can’t whisper (I either stage-whisper, at normal volume, or silently mouth words. Nothing in between). When my son first learned to whisper, my husband was like “See, even a two year old can do it!”

            2. DrN*

              One thing that might be pertinent to OP is that people have very different voices, including volume levels, in addition to different expectations about office culture and different personalities. Since the boss is actually in charge in this case, and seems to possibly prefer very quiet voices, her preference might mean that those with a louder voice need to avoid conversation. In general, though, I think people should think very carefully before critiquing other people’s voices, and that includes volume. It is often essentially asking someone to control something that is part of their identity (and sometimes not within their control) to fit your expectations.

              1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

                I don’t know. I mean, that sounds an awful lot like working around a missing stair instead of fixing it. Avoiding people who violate social norms and refuse to exhibit self awareness and self control is a normal and necessary part of civilization.

                1. Kiki*

                  But it’s not something that all people can moderate. I had a roommate (who is still my dear friend) with a voice that wasn’t incredibly loud, but it just carried like nothing else. He really tried his hardest to keep his voice down, but even his whisper carried across quiet rooms. It was really hard for him to know he was annoying people while he was trying to just speak with people.

              2. TardyTardis*

                I had to learn to modulate my voice levels, and it was a revelation to me–I now just have to remember which situations to use which sound level (my son can modulate, but has to be reminded when to do it, and his voice gets back louder fairly quickly anyway).

            3. Emily K*

              My best friend growing up talked normally in person but virtually SHOUTED every time she picked up a phone. It was actually really hilarious to me when she’d answer a call in my presence and then cover the mouthpiece to relay information to me or ask me something and then return to the call because her volume would change so dramatically depending on whether she was talking to me or through the phone.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Ooh good call, this could be a factor that would describe the discrepancy – and OP might be completely unaware of being a loud-talker (the loud-talkers in my life never know when they are doing it).

      2. Another Millenial*

        Oh my goodness, we have a generally talkative environment, but there is a person who talks loud and even in this noisy environment it is jarring.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Should have kept scrolling before replying because I said the same thing above. This is possibly more of a volume than frequency issue.

    3. Venus*

      Shared workspaces are becoming more popular these days, as a cost-saving measure. As a result, one conversation can impact a lot of people. One way to address this is to have shared spaces such as lunch rooms, where people can chat without affecting others. With work topics it seems reasonable to notice one’s volume (as Lana suggests) and with personal conversations it might be an option to try and have them during a lunch or coffee time, away from desks.

      1. Oxford Comma*

        Or they could move away from open office environments and go back to some semblance of privacy and give people cubicles or offices. It’s not like they have proved to be as successful as everyone claimed they would be.

    4. Annony*

      I was wondering the same thing. Making a conscious effort to make the conversations quiet may fix the problem. Another thing with an open office plan is to make sure that you are right next to the person you are talking to and not a couple desks away, even if it is a quick comment or question. The sudden noise can be jarring, even if it is brief.

    5. Pilcrow*

      I was thinking about volume as well.

      Another thing to consider is acoustics. Sometimes sounds can do weird things in open spaces like be muffled in one area and magnified in others.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        That’s a good point and it’s not always obvious. In my office, we can clearly hear EVERYTHING said in the conference room that is several doors down — it comes through the air vents; the people in open cubes just outside of the conference room say they don’t have a problem. I can also hear the HVAC equipment on the roof — 2 floors up — because I sit next to a structural support concrete pillar; almost no one else can hear the hums, knocks and whines. Perhaps the boss’ office is in one of those spots where sounds converge.

        1. JustaTech*

          Yup, air vents do weird things to sound. In one office I couldn’t hear the people directly next door on either side, but I could hear everything the person two doors down said on speakerphone.

          Also, for some reason there is *zero* sound insulation between the men’s and women’s bathrooms on my floor, to the point that I once heard every detail of a phone call a coworker took with his contractor.

        2. Quill*

          My high school had a theater with reverse acoustics.

          You could hear a sneeze in the lighting booth on stage and barely hear the stage in the lighting booth. :)

        3. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Post a sign! Some day it could be employee-related or otherwise confidential.
          Want to feel a little better? My old area was on the opposite side of a solid wall from the men’s room and voices carried. We posted a sign after two managers were having a NSFW conversation …the woman who overheard turned beet red, made up the sign, and got a male co-worker to post it.

    6. Green*

      I wonder if other employees have complained and the manager is addressing this with OP, as other employees have named OP as the problem? (OP – don’t believe they wouldn’t do this).

    7. yala*

      I was thinking that myself. We used to share space with another department, and they were just…loud. Even when it was business related. They were all very nice people, but since they were right behind me I was very glad when they were finally moved.

    1. introverted af*

      My feeling exactly. LW, definitely consider if your coworkers actually want this conversation still.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      YES.

      Do not force people into conversation! If the conversation would have to be forced to occur, maybe consider that it’s just not necessary or desirable?

    3. Heidi*

      This also made me uncomfortable. The OP obviously doesn’t think that it’s as obnoxious as it sounds to some of us. Perhaps that’s the crux of the issue here. This particular workplace may have attracted introverted people who truly prefer to work in complete silence. But regardless of all that, if a boss tells you to tone it down, usually the best course of action is to tone it down.

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        I do also think it could just be a one-off word choice. If the previous person communicated exclusively by email and OP was in the office, I understand that she may have just meant she had to train people that she was available in a different way.

    4. Tomato Frog*

      Eh it doesn’t have to be the worst thing. I entered a similarly quiet environment and was the one who went and struck up conversations. I’m an introvert, I’m not seeking out constant entertainment, but sometimes the quiet is at the point where it’s neither helpful nor healthy. When I started at my last job (also in a library!), people kept to themselves to the point that new employees felt totally isolated (I felt this and heard this from more than one new hire), and people failed to share useful information about projects that could have helped to make up for the fact that our bosses sucked at communicating. It was a healthier environment after I began “forcing” conversations — people knew what was going on with each other, newbies weren’t left to struggle in silence, and people were more in the habit of going to each other for advice rather than spinning their wheels.

      I think the risk that you’re occasionally irritating a coworker is not so bad as the risk that you’re leaving a coworker to feel cut off from their peers.

  6. Millennial Lizard Person*

    My immediate reaction is that boss is complaining a lot for having to “almost” shut her office door. She has an office door, and everyone else has a cube? Boo hoo, she can shut her door for a bit. But I say that as someone who really values the casual chit-chat with my coworkers. I’ve worked jobs where you only interacted with 1 other human for max 10 minutes out of the workday, and I found it really isolating. Sounds like your boss would enjoy that, especially since she’s worked in the Silent Office for 20 years.

    Check with your coworkers. If literally everyone else appreciates the silent tomb, then tragically, you’re the outlier.

    1. TiffanyAching*

      This was my reaction. Like, half the point of an office is so you can close the door if you need quiet/focus. It’s not like the others have doors they can close when they need to talk, so boss can close the door if she needs quiet.

    2. Maria*

      It is the boss’s job to look out for the interests of people who don’t have doors too, keeping in mind that the people most bothered by being forced into conversations are also the least likely to speak up and complain about something. I also think the volume may be a contributor. When you need to ask a work related question, get out of your seat and walk over to the person so you can speak quietly. Asking from your desk has the effect of drawing in others and extending the conversation.

      1. Ann O'Nemity*

        I was thinking something similar.

        “I almost had to shut my door” sounds a lot worse than “I almost had to shut my door, so I imagine others were distracted too.”

    3. Goliath Corp.*

      Exactly – seems like the door is there for a purpose?

      I’ve worked in very quiet offices and understand that other people’s conversations were a lot harder to ignore, but I’m so much happier to now be in an office with a bit more background noise. It’s actually easier to tune out and makes it a much friendlier and collaborative environment.

      For the record, I also worked in a library system for ~10 years, and it was pretty chatty.

    4. Yarrow*

      I second this, as a person who does work in a library and does want it to be silent all the time. I’d love to have a door to shut. I’d just smile and shut it and enjoy the delicious privilege of being able to shut out one’s coworkers when one needs to.

    5. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes, that seems pretty obnoxious from the boss imo. It’s a pet peeve of mine when people ask others to be quiet when they could first try shutting a door or a window, and only ask others to change their behavior if that isn’t sufficient. If the boss has some things throughout the day that require total concentration and needs silence, then that is one of main purposes of an office and she should take advantage of it!

      Unfortunately I don’t know if there’s really a good way that OP can say any of that…

    6. Jean*

      Thank you. Like, ooooohhh, you A L M O S T had to shut your door? Just shut it if you need to. Problem solved.

    7. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Based on the letter, it seems the boss is one extreme and the OP is the other. I went from working in a 900+ employee headquarter building to a 4 person office, with the rest of the company in multiple locations situation, so even as an selectively social person I get it. I’m not sure if polling the rest of your office will do any good though because if the boss wants it mostly quiet, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it.

      I’d also suggest documenting the time spent chatting – you may be underestimating the time spent chatting (whether it’s personal or work related). If it is how you describe, I agree that your boss is being unreasonable, but I’m not sure there’s much you can do about it or that this is a hill to die on.

    8. Burned Out Supervisor*

      Word…I would love a door sometimes, but it’s nice that the team wants to chat with each other. It builds a good team rapport and engagement with the work can be better (assuming people want that).

      1. Windchime*

        I don’t mind the hub-bub of an office where people are quietly discussing work, keyboards clicking, copiers running…that kind of thing. I don’t even mind occasional personal interactions and goofing around a little. What gets under my skin are the people who are LOUD. There are people in my office who have to holler everything at top volume. I wonder if maybe volume is an issue here and not quantity of chatting? I know others have suggested it, just chiming in that this is definitely something that would bother me.

  7. Shadowbelle*

    I don’t know how to respond to this letter. On the one hand, the expression “forced other people into conversation” sent my hackles up so severely that I bristled like a distraught porcupine. On the other, having to work in complete silence as though you were in a convent of Poor Clares is ridiculous.

    I might ask what the volume is of the conversations when they occur? Maybe make a point of keeping your voices down? The team that has the next section of cubicles to mine is so loud that I sometimes cannot hear the person I’m speaking with on the phone, because of the acoustics of the building and the fact that they speak in normal voices, and while standing up.

    1. Kiki*

      I feel like a white noise machine might actually be helpful? If the office is like a library, it might be impossible to talk quietly enough without getting into the weird whisper zone (and in a silent room, whispers can be just as distracting or more so than talking). As much as I sympathize with the need for quiet, I do think sometimes people can get carried away with silence in offices (especially open offices, where it is largely impossible). I do think it’s worthwhile to push back on expectations that the office stay silent and maybe look into solutions that would allow for a touch more collaboration/ chatting. Maybe having designated communal spaces where noises will be least disruptive to people? Designate a conference room or two for collaboration and chatting?

      1. Emily K*

        Yes, it’s like a weird “uncanny valley” of sound. If there’s a constant low din, individual conversations just melt into it and the overall effect is like white noise. It’s intermittent noise on a silent backdrop that is especially distracting for most people.

  8. ACDC*

    I worked a contract position in a department where no one talked. I would go days without speaking to another human at work – not even a good morning/good evening – complete silence. It was horrible and I politely declined when they asked to extend my contract.

      1. Kendra*

        +1

        This reminds me of the long-standing (friendly) argument I have with my sister over whether or not Simon & Garfunkle’s “I Am a Rock” is a sad song. Every extrovert I’ve shown the lyrics to agrees with her that it is, but the introvert vote is a little more spread out (“I have my books/ And my poetry to protect me/ I am shielded in my armor/ Hiding in my room, safe within my womb /I touch no one and no one touches me…” yeah, sounds like introvert heaven to me…).

    1. Burned Out Supervisor*

      I wouldn’t completely mind silence, but not even a “hello” or “goodbye” is creepy.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        Yeah, that would make the place seem really uninviting. Quiet I’m totally down with, it’s why I like the out of the way corner my desk is currently located, even if it isn’t in the best part of the building, but completely ignoring the other human beings in the room at all times, to the exclusion of saying good morning or waiving good bye, would be creepy to me.

  9. Lady Jay*

    I have some empathy for the boss here, as I am super distracted by noise, especially people talking. If there’s a conversation in earshot, it’s almost impossible for me to do deep work.

    But! I take care of this by choosing quiet spots to work and using headphones. Since the boss has an actual door, the easy solution here is to close it. If she’s worried about seeming unapproachable, a cute sign (maybe, “Knock, friend, and enter” or the like) would do the trick.

    1. Jurassicgoddess*

      I’m pretty quiet at work, my job requires a lot of attention to detail and contemplating math and formulas, and when I’m focused, I’m quiet. Most of my coworkers are chattier than I am, but we’re good, because I can do a few minutes of chat here and there as long as they’re not constantly stopping by my office and mostly they’ve come to expect me to chat when I’m not at my desk.

      I also have a couple of coworkers who (when they are in the office) make their presence known by: whistling/singing constantly, literally unless they’re talking, shouting conversations at each other, belly-laughing/shouting with the owner, and having riotous meetings in the room next door (leaving the door open, of course!). They are in my head, the Noisies.

      My predecessor had her door closed 98% of the time, which was a problem, as she was seen as unapproachable and an obstacle to business moving forward. My boss prefers that my door be open as much as possible, but I need, when the Noisies are in the office, to close my door. To help maintain my rep as approachable and ready to help in my area….I pop a sign on the window next to the door, that says “It’s loud out there, please open the door if you’d like to chat!”

      The Non-Noisies are still taken aback by the closed door, so I try to pay extra attention to whomever is walking by, and smile. If they need me, I wave them in with enthusiasm, to offset the barrier.

  10. TimeTravelR*

    Could OP be underestimating the time spent? I used to work with a woman who was “so busy” all the time she just didn’t have time for chit chat, but she could waste 45 minutes every morning talking to a colleague about her family issues. I often excused myself shortly after these sessions started but I could hear them from my office. I didn’t mind, because I could just shut the door. I’m not saying that OP should be expected to work in silence, just to be more aware of how much actual time is just chit chat rather than work.

    1. MsSolo*

      Yes, this occurs to me. It’s hard to imagine anyone considering closing their office door for a conversation that lasts two minutes – by the time you’ve decided to do it the conversation is over. It might be worth noting the timings of some of the conversations to check whether OP’s calibrated their chat-timings correctly.

    2. EPLawyer*

      Most chit chatters completely underestimate how much time they chat. If it is to the level of the boss addressing it, it is more than about 30 minutes in an 8 hour day.

      Also, OP, you are not the boss, changing the culture is not your job. I know if I worked in a silent office and someone came in and started chit chatting, I would be irked. Some people like silence.

      (yes I have stated before why do the introverts always have to give into the extroverts and “make an effort to be more outgoing” why can’t the extroverts make an effort and be less talkative?)

      1. AnonEMoose*

        If I had $5 for every time I’ve asked myself that question…I’d be retired to a nice little village in Ireland or somewhere. It bothers me SO MUCH that introverts are routinely treated as somehow deviant, and needing to be “more flexible” or “more approachable” or “not so stand-offish.”

        Why aren’t extroverts taught, instead, to respect our boundaries and give us time to think once in awhile? And not interrupting or talking over us when we do talk would be a very nice bonus.

        1. Quill*

          Society always tells the person who has boundaries to relax them and the person who pushes boundaries that they’re fine, on this and many other subjects.

        2. Triple Threat Diversity Hire*

          I find this so interesting… maybe it’s just where I tend to hang out on the internet, but my experience has been very different. Over the past decade or so, I’ve seen countless articles and advice pieces focused on serving introverts’ needs, and could count the number of things I’ve read that focused on extroversion on one hand. Extroversion seems to be just as poorly understood, because not respecting boundaries and interrupting/talking over others aren’t features of an extrovert, they’re just boorish. It’s possible to be either an introvert or an extrovert without being a jerk, by applying a bit of compromise.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            Because until recently, society has largely been structured around extroverts? It’s a bit like saying that you’re seeing all these articles about women, and not so many about men, in a way. Because society still considers men as “the default” and women as “the other.”

            It’s the same thing with introverts and extroverts. Think about qualities that are often praised: “outgoing, friendly, loves people” as opposed to “shy, quiet, reserved”, which are too often stigmatized.

            1. AnonEMoose*

              I wanted to add that I do know that it’s entirely possible to be extroverted and shy at the same time…but it is a misconception many people have that introverts are shy. I’m an introvert, but I’m not shy…but when I’ve had enough of being around people…I’m DONE.

            2. Triple Threat Diversity Hire*

              I understand what you’re saying about default vs other, but the reason I commented that I find it interesting is because “extroversion as default” hasn’t been my personal experience. I’m not doubting that it is what some other people do experience! I work in a field where the average personality could be described as “bookish”, and have heard many more comments along the lines of “ugh, X is so chatty” or “Y is really sales-y, gross” than I have heard comments about people being too shy or reserved, which echoes what I tend to see on the internet as well. You need people at all places on that scale to compromise a little to create a functional work environment – where it goes wrong is when someone (on either/side) refuses to compromise (ex. requesting total silence in the workspace, or consistently going around interrupting people), or when someone is treating their workplace interactions as personal and not work.

        3. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

          I’m an extrovert who is very attune to body language and energy levels. I would never start loudly babbling around quiet people. I have trouble focusing when there’s a lot of chatter myself. I think you’re talking about not being able to read a room, which isn’t the same as being extroverted.

    3. Old Biddy*

      I wondered the same thing. I’ve known a few chitchatters who talk for a few hours a day as they work.

    4. SilentGirls*

      Totally agree. I share an open office (not even cubicles!) with other five people and some of them have no idea of how much chit chat they do… When they’re not occupied, they talk all time long about whatever issue they want (children, family, gossip, politics, beauty, food, trips etc.), and they’re really loud. It’s really annoying. and prejudicial to the work and productivity. Even thr prople who use our services show some annoyance about it… AND whenever someone tries to address this issue, they get really aggressive… So, I would really tell you to do an exercise to pay REALLY attention to what your co-workers are thinking about all of these. I comprehend everyone has their own preferences snd think we all must respect each other, even if they don’t live life like we do.

    5. User 483*

      Probably. Since OP does show tendencies towards speaking in hyperbole (not judging, just noticing) with using “a literal tomb” and “forced people into a conversation”, I think it is highly likely that the “maybe 15 minutes” is also a hyperbole and it would be very likely to be more like an hour or longer. Especially as the OP is an extrovert and comes from a more talkative environment, it could be very easy for an hour’s worth of chat to seem like barely any time at all if it is spread throughout the day.

    6. Zip Silver*

      Yeah, if I were OP, I’d start timing myself on the chit chat and see if it truly is that short. People typically aren’t great at estimating time, and she could be off base.

      Very similar to how customers will say “I’ve been waiting 20 minutes” when the front reception is away from the desk for 3.

    7. Rikki Tikki Tarantula*

      That was the first thing that occurred to me. I know some talkative people, and the gap between how much they think they talk and how much they actually do talk is fairly wide – maybe not Grand Canyon wide but getting close.

    8. One of the Sarahs*

      I wondered if it was 15 mins for everyone or 15 mins per person – so if person A chats to people B, C and D for 5 mins, but each of them also talk to different people, that adds up.

      Plus I wonder if where they’re chatting is an issue – if it’s by the kettle, that could be fine in some places, or annoying to Jane who has the desk next to it, etc etc

    9. ellex42*

      I was scrolling down looking for this comment.

      My coworkers would say (and have said) that they hardly spend any time on personal calls. I don’t know what their definition of “hardly any time” is, but 5+ calls a day, even if each one lasts less than 5 minutes (and it’s more like 5-10 minutes, sometimes longer) isn’t what I’d call “hardly any time”.

      I have little doubt they’d tell anyone the same about non-work-related chitchat, but the chatting can go on for half an hour or more, multiple times a day. And there is of course that one coworker (one near me, and others in earshot), who is seemingly unable to not talk for more than 15 minutes at a time and makes various noises even when she’s not talking (whistling, humming, foot tapping, fingernail/pen tapping, mouth noises [I’m sorry, but beat boxing is not an office appropriate behavior]).

      It’s easy to lose track of time when you’re engaged in conversation, but a little mindfulness (and courtesy towards coworkers who are trying to concentrate on their job) goes a long way. And I’d like to point out that, although I often do wear earphones at my job, even loud music doesn’t entirely drown out the chatter.

    10. TardyTardis*

      Oh, I was in the cube next to her! I nicknamed her ‘General Hospital’ since she had a ton of relatives, many of whom came down with stuff or had accidents, and had to keep the rest of her family posted on everyone’s condition.

  11. OrigCassandra*

    So, OP, I’m going to guess you’re presently in the cataloging department for a multi-library system/consortium. (Could also be e-resource management, interlibrary loan, few other things, but I’d bet heavily on cataloging.) I’m also going to guess your prior library workplace had a relatively small staff, such that each employee wore several hats — that is, even if you were The Cataloger at that library, you probably also spent time at the ref desk, maybe circ too, maybe even storytimes or other events.

    Librarianship has a rep as a profession for the introverted and quiet-loving. That’s often a vast, vast misapprehension, of course, one I take every opportunity to warn my library students away from! (I’ve never met a quiet children’s librarian, for that matter.) Cataloging, however, is a not-uncommon career choice for folks making an explicit decision that they don’t want the focus of their work to be interacting with people.

    Cataloging (especially original cataloging) also takes a lot of mental effort, and in these budget-straitened times, expectations of records-completed-per-day have gone up — way up. I agree with Alison that you should check in with your colleagues, but be prepared to hear that you’re interrupting their focus. And be prepared to read between the lines; Library Nice is an actual thing, so your colleagues may not feel comfortable being straightforward with you about it. You might ask your boss whether that’s a concern (don’t ask “has anyone complained about me?” because that’s a little too on-the-spot).

    Sooooooooo… yes, I think you’re likely going against the grain here, and you’re not going to achieve the culture change you’d like to see. This may not be the workplace for you, I’m afraid.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Just an FYI that the OP just asked me to remove her field from the letter, which I’ve done. I think it’s fine to leave the comments referencing it (as opposed to in the main post), but I wanted to note it for people who are baffled by the assumption about her field.

    2. saby*

      Yes, this reminded me of a joke one of my library school profs told: everyone in a cataloguing department is quiet, but the folks who have the books stacked around their desks like barricades are former reference librarians who Just Can’t with human interaction anymore.

      I work in e-resource management and my department is quite loud, partly because someone is always on the phone (with vendor reps, consortium reps, various committees, users troubleshooting access problems, etc.). That said. We recently hired a new person and their previous manager wrote on their reference that this person had a very loud and distinctive laugh. That seemed like a weird thing to include in a reference to me, but it turned out to be true — I can hear them laugh from 10 cubes away. Definitely the kind of thing that would stand out in a quieter environment, even a reference desk.

      1. Kendra*

        That’s the kind of thing that, if they were doing it while I was copy cataloging or doing any other kind of paperwork, I would think was pleasant background noise. But if I was original cataloging? My reaction would be PURE MURDER. I can’t even describe how intense my focus has to be for that; it’s the only thing that’s ever led me to actually shut a door in a coworker’s face (we normally got along just fine, but that day was not my best as a coworker). So yeah, definitely understandable to put it in the reference in that context!

  12. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

    I wonder if your campaign to create conversation are what your boss is reacting to, rather than the actual amount of conversation occurring. In other words, you mentioned trying to force conversations and making concerted efforts to change the culture — could it be that your boss is mainly objecting to you being the perpetual conversation-starter?

    If that’s the case, I think you may want to back off a bit on that front. Organic colleague chatter is one thing, but if you’re the one always instigating conversation, then there’s some room to change.

    1. hbc*

      If I had to place a bet on the irritation source, this is where I’d go. If there are a total of 45 minutes of talking at work in 2-4 person conversations, if OP is involved in ALL of them, it’s going to feel like “OP sure talks a lot.” Being involved in 100% of 10 conversations is going to register as chattier than being involved in 50% of 30 conversations. The impact goes way up if OP is often the one breaking the silence.

      1. Free Meercats*

        I’m thinking this may be the problem boss has with both the OP and the other person who got talked with.

        We had one operator who had to be involved in any conversation that happened within his earshot; if there were several, he’d make the rounds. And he was a Loud Howard.

    2. Myrin*

      Yeah, that occurred to me as well (although, to be fair, I don’t get the impression that the examples OP lists of conversation now happening are all started by her).

      This is the very rare letter where I honestly don’t know whether I should lean more in one direction or more in the complete opposite direction. Let it be said first that I don’t seem to have a fixed personality when it comes to chatting – I can happily talk all day long but I can just as happily sit in silence all day long, so I’m not really personally in favour of one environment over the other.

      Additionally, what OP describes in her follow-up – both the kinds of talks and their lengths – sounds perfectly reasonable to me even if what you prefer is a very quiet environment. In fact, I realise now that up until this point, when someone said “people don’t really talk to each other a lot at my workplace”, I automatically assumed a situation like the “after” one here; I apparently exempted shallow chitchat and one-sentence workrelated questions and didn’t even think of a “before” scenario where there are literally no words spoken at all.

      But with all that being said, I’m really raising my eyebrows at some of OP’s phrasings and the attitude therein – it’s very… shall I say “overconfident” to me for someone to come into an established group as a non-senior person (which it doesn’t sound like OP is, although I could be mistaken) and actively try to change an existing atmosphere everyone seems to be content with. OP speaks like it was her explicit instruction upon hiring to change this workplace’s chattiness-level – she “forced conversation on people” and “worked on the office culture” which carries a sound of authority with it that I’m not sure OP has.
      I don’t know how relevant that ultimately is when the talking-out-loud level in this place of work still seems to be really, really low at the end of the day, but I feel that it needed to be mentioned regardless.

  13. Sharkie*

    Sorry If I am missing something- are you the one starting all the conversations or are other coworkers starting them as well? Maybe this is just a weird boss thing and she doesn’t like that it is changing.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      I think after two years, with OP’s subtle influence, the dynamic has changed. Following OP, people thought “Oh yeah, I guess I could get up and walk over and ask…, or I could turn to coworker and say…” and now it has become normal operating procedure.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I think it’s key that these are primarily work-related question/answer sessions.

  14. I Love Llamas*

    I agree with Alison that LW might be under-estimating the chitchat. The only way to know for sure is to keep a log for a week or two. I am a chatterbox, but I tamp it down at work. I work in a cubicle in an isolated wing that holds the company’s senior leadership. When I started, it was tomb. Now with some staff changes, it is a bit more interactive, however, we have days when we are all quiet little mice. Another reason her boss thinks it sounds so noisy is that there is no sound masking (aka white noise) to dampen the voices. Even a fan might help.

    1. Wannabe Disney Princess*

      Yup. I second this. I’m in a similar office environment to yours. A few days ago we all got swept up in a conversation. I could have sworn it was only 15 minutes. Until afterward when I went digging in my email looking for something. I’d sent an email just prior to the conversation….it had been an HOUR. And, honestly, if you had asked me I would have sworn on my life that it wasn’t that long.

    2. annakarina1*

      Yeah, I doubted that it was “only” 15 minutes, and likely longer or louder than she realized.

  15. Sloan Kittering*

    I might suggest that for a few days you keep a log of how much work related and non work related conversation is happening, TBH. I wonder if your estimate is accurate and also what your bosses’ estimated answer would be if Alison were to ask her – I bet they’re not aligned. It would be good to know precisely so you can continue the conversation with your boss (but you don’t want to seem too neurotic, and this is a neurotic thing to do – maybe try a line like, “I tried to keep track yesterday of how much non-work-related chat was happening, and I only found five minutes total”)

  16. An Editor*

    I’ve been working in my current department for eight months and my coworkers are pretty quiet or speak at low and average volumes. People also use headphones for portions or all of the day and listen to podcasts and music. One of my coworkers told me she came from a company where she was one of the chatty ones and so she had to adjust when she came to our department.

    OP, when you’re the newer person, you can’t really walk in and change an office culture unless that is what you were hired for or are senior enough to do so. “Forcing conversation” tells me you tried a little too hard rather than changing your style.

    1. OP*

      OP here, I completely understand what you’re saying, but I’ve been here for two years! I try to be very respectful and if I have a question I get up and walk over to the person’s desk, I’ve definitely adjusted how much I’m talking, wear headphones when I need some noise, etc.

      Volume control I will try to pay specific attention to in the next few weeks. I feel like we’re typically pretty whispery since the space is so quiet, but I’ve never actually kept track of how much I’m getting up, etc. I’ll report back!

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          That’s in the initial letter — she can, and her predecessor did, but it slows her work down.

          1. SilentGirls*

            Hi. That’s something tricky, because her interruptions might me slowing down someone else’s work. This happens to me because I can say I am the silencest and we have a very loud and talkative one. So, she really thinks it’s faster for HER work to ask things and keeps interrupting people on the phone, whatsapp and telephone. This is VERY difficult for me because every interruption costs me a lot of time and energy to reconcentrate and it really slows down my work (specially when doing reports or other documents). I would totally prefer to deal with all this small issues by mail. At the time we are learning how to work together (me being a little more chatty and her being a little less interrupting). I do not see this as ideal to my preferences, but I hope we can find our good way to work

            1. Koala dreams*

              I thought about that too. It might only take 2-5 minutes to ask that question, but if the other person is doing work that requires a focus, it can be really hard for them. In an open office, it’s very common that people are mismatched when it comes to types of work. Someone will be working on detail-oriented things that require a lot of concentration, and someone else will work on collaborative work that requires discussions and lots of back and forth.

            2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Yup, this is what I find challenging about the in-person interruptions. Person A walks in to person B’s cube to ask about something that person A had been working on and researching all day, so to person A this seems a quick and easy question. But person B has not worked on The Thing Being Asked About in a year, has no answer off the top of their head, and would need to do quite a bit of digging to get it. Meanwhile person A is standing over person B expecting their answer!

            3. Emily K*

              I wouldn’t be able to even count how many times I’ve started to chat a coworker to ask them to do a thing for me, because I can’t proceed with my work until it’s done, and then realize just before I hit send how annoyed I myself get when people chat me with “can you ____ real quick” requests more than very, very occasionally.

              Asking for information I can answer off the top of my head or giving me a heads-up about something time-sensitive is fine, but I really dislike people trying to essentially “assign work” via chat, because there’s only 3 things I can do from there: 1) drop everything I’m doing to do that task, 2) lose the information and end up forgetting to do the work, or 3) copy the information over into our project management tool where it should have been sent to me in the first place.

              And yet I constantly catch myself doing or almost doing it to other people! I think when you’re in the middle of a project you just kind of forget that your coworkers have a work life beyond the work that overlaps with yours and you’re unconsciously thinking of them as “the person who does X, and I need X done,” instead of really conceptualizing them as having a full workload that they need to strategically fit X into where it makes the most sense for them, even if X only takes 5 minutes. I’m usually able to realize at the last minute and switch to the project management tool, but occasionally I hit send on a request and then almost instantly feel so guilty about it!

      1. Pilcrow*

        “I feel like we’re typically pretty whispery since the space is so quiet”

        This remind me of an older letter here about music in the office:
        update: my new coworker wants to forbid music in the office
        “She said she wouldn’t mind music playing in the office if it came from her own computer — apparently straining to hear the quiet music from my desk was the cause of her irritation.”

        Sometimes a faint noise or whisper can be more irritating than regular volume. May be something to look into.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          That’s another good point. Excessive whispering can start to sound like buzzing to my ears after a bit, and I have to put on headphones to block it out – it sets my teeth on edge.

      2. Faith*

        Are you paying attention to what the other person is doing when you go to *their* desk? Because my number one pet peeve is people coming up to me when I’m obviously in the middle of my work (which has several steps that have to be done in exact order) to ask me a quick question. It completely destroys my focus–which is fine if it’s time-sensitive, but really not if it’s something I could get via email (which I check every hour). Every mistake I’ve made while in that workflow is something I can trace back to being interrupted by a question from someone who “just needed a quick answer”.

        Like, I love talking to my coworkers, etc., but them coming to my desk for things can be maddening if I’m in the “cataloging zone”.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Another good point. OP, consider not only the actual time you spend talking, but also the volume (either too high or too low) and what your coworkers are doing when you get up to talk. You could be disturbing others without realizing it.

  17. Jaybeetee*

    LW, I feel your pain – a little shy of two years ago now, I moved to my current job, in an archives environment, and most of the day is like, well, studying in a library. On top of that, when I started my team consisted mostly of middle-aged men who spoke a different first language from me (I’m a woman in my early 30s), so… I didn’t exactly fit in effortlessly. Since then, the demographics have changed a bit, and I’m on friendly terms with colleagues, but I wouldn’t say I’ve made any “work friends” since being here, and yes, sometimes I can go all day and barely say two words to anyone. To exacerbate this, I live alone, and while I love my cats, they don’t provide the most stimulating conversation either. Luckily I’m a more introverted personality anyway, but it does get a bit much at times.

    That said – Alison is right that you need to gauge your colleagues here. No good coming into a workplace and trying to change what everyone else is happy with to suit you better. If everyone likes it quiet, the best thing you can do is adjust. Listen to podcasts, books, or music while you work if you find the silence distracting. Shore up your social life outside of work (again, as someone who lives alone, this has become a big one for me, to actually get out and see friends and family on a regular basis – if I also stay home all weekend, I REALLY start to feel isolated). Perhaps get involved in some clubs or activities on your lunch break or after work to get some socialization in.

    Your colleagues may or may not agree that the current level of conversation is reasonable or necessary (it’s possible you’re lowballing the numbers here) (also, it might help to ask your boss if there was anything specific that distracted her, such as laughter or talking over each other, or if it really is just brief exchanges that bother her), but whether they do or don’t, the unfortunate reality is that if the boss wants the place to be a tomb all day, you can only push back on it so hard. If you can’t stand it quiet, and your boss can’t stand a low level of noise, you may need to ask if this is the right place for you to work.

  18. T. Boone Pickens*

    Oh man this is going to be great! So rarely do we get a letter that will split the lines of demarcation on AAM!

      1. Emily K*

        There was a letter a couple days ago (and I probably don’t even have to mention which one it was) that had a single line in it that I read and instantly thought, “Ohhhh….the commenters are going to eat this person alive!”

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Hah! I was just thinking that the other day, that it’s fun when you get a letter with several different (generally equally reasonable) takes from the commentariat. If I had time (which I don’t) I might try some kind of project about what letters tend to create a lot of toplevel comments versus ones that generate a lot of long discussion threads.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Forget splitting the commentariat, I’m having a personality split! On one hand, I think there’s value in making personal connections with coworkers via small amounts of small talk over the years. On the other hand, I cannot wrap my brain around “talkative” and “collaborative” being synonyms. Must be a very different field from mine. If everyone around me and my teammates is yakking about things that can be discussed via IM (work) or not at all (coworker’s son’s wedding and married life to the point where they now have two kids and it was quite the journey/stolen from one of the commenters on here), to the point where we cannot hear ourselves think, then we cannot get our work done and how is that collaborative? Small talk when everyone is waiting for the microwave, coffee etc is perfectly okay, but that’s not being collaborative, that’s just getting to know your teammates better.

      We are more on the “library” side of the chatty – quiet spectrum. But our teams are spread across different buildings, remote workers, and offices located in several different states and times zones, so, out of necessity, most of our collaborative work is done by phone meetings and IM. Which is exactly the way I like it.

  19. OP*

    Hi! OP here. “Force” probably wasn’t the best use of language for me to put. A scenario would be me saying Hello to people as they walked by my cube in the morning or asking “How was your weekend?” when we both stood at the microwave. I wouldn’t ever force myself into people’s cubes!

    As far as the workers, everyone turned over within 6 months of me joining the team. Each of us replaced someone who had been here for 30+ years. The office culture has naturally become more conversational since we’re all similar ages and have similar interests. I recently mentioned in my review how much I’ve valued the camaraderie that has developed and the boss agreed with me that the change in culture has been nice. I’ve since found out that she did pull in another coworker and have the same coversation with her about her being too talkative.

    1. Jennifer*

      I said as much below about the “force” thing. I thought people were taking that a bit too seriously.

      1. valentine*

        the boss agreed with me that the change in culture has been nice. I’ve since found out that she did pull in another coworker and have the same coversation with her about her being too talkative.
        I think she (1) has not adjusted and doesn’t want to (2) is parroting something she thinks sounds positive (the change in culture has been nice) or (3) wants the benefit of the culture change without the talking (and possibly the movement) or the sacrifice of closing her door (Is being an open-door person important to her?). I think she’s using chitchat to refer to all talking and is comparing talk versus tomb, not work versus nonwork.

    2. Dragoning*

      Honestly, I can still see trying to walk to the bathroom or the cube or a file room or whatever, and being called over to talk about the weather or my weekend, and wincing.

      1. Dragoning*

        (The point being, be very aware that you might be trapping people by social niceties and if you’re talking more /at/ someone than /to/ them)

        1. Not for academics*

          Yep, this. Regardless of whether “forced” is the right word, that’s still what you’re doing. People walking by your cube are doing it because they’re en-route to somewhere. A polite smile and nod will signal that you’re open to conversation if they choose without your having to stop someone for some small talk.

      2. Jennifer*

        That’s part of living on the planet with other people. If they trap you at their desks for such a long time that it interferes with your work, that’s an issue. But a minute or two talking about your weekend or the weather is not a huge imposition. I’m saying this as a fellow introvert. It doesn’t give you a pass on basic social niceties.

        1. Dragoning*

          I don’t think of it as a “social nicety” thing. I think of it as “I’m busy, I don’t have time for this.” “Oh, hi, nice to see you” while I keep walking is one thing. Trying to rope me into a conversation is fine on, say, the afternoon before the Christmas holiday, because we’re not doing much of anything anyway, and work is slow.

          But getting sidetracked into a conversation on a way to, say, a meeting, or back to my desk from the bathroom when I have a plateful of things to take care of, but I need to be polite and let them talk to me for five minutes, is frustrating. Which is why I added the comment about “be sure you’re talking /to/ someone and not /at/ them.”

          1. Jennifer*

            In that case, all you have to say is, “Sorry, I’m rushing off to a meeting!” and keep walking. I wouldn’t describe someone wanting to talk to me about my weekend is frustrating, and I can use my words to tell them politely I don’t have time to chat if I’m rushing to the bathroom or have a ton of work.

              1. Dragoning*

                I thin it’s frustrating because I view it as “being interrupted when I’m busy” even if I happen to be busy while in motion.

                1. Washi*

                  Honestly, I think the onus is on you to say “ooh, could this wait a minute/30 mins/till tomorrow/can you send that to me in an email?”

                  People are going to try to talk to you at work, and everyone has different preferences around this stuff. Some people might say “why are they sending me a whole email/meeting invite when asking me would take 5 mins and require no coordination?” This is why I take a notebook everywhere to write down the random stuff people stop me to say – sometimes you have to either be a little flexible or if you’re busy, just say that!

                2. Dragoning*

                  @Washi I’m not OP, I’m not the one with a problem. I actually do talk to my coworkers, despite what everyone seems to think, and don’t hate doing so, either. But there are limits on that, and things can still be frustrating even if you handle them well.

                  I am expressing a caution on some things that were clarified in a follow up comment people are largely ignoring.

                3. Close Bracket*

                  People who take a more functional approach to interacting with others are bound to feel the way you do. I am also very functional in how I socialize, and I appreciate this view point. If I recall correctly, we are both spectrum people, and this is very characteristic of spectrum people (although it’s not unique to spectrum people, many allistic people are also function socializers).

                  However, the people who do this kind of thing *do* see it as a social nicety, and it will improve your interactions if you see it from their point of view. You don’t have to chat if you don’t want to chat. Seeing things from another person’s view point doesn’t mean you have to do things their way. It does mean that you have to recognize the role that social grease pays for people and give an unresentful acknowledgement and return of their greetings. You can keep walking/working as you do this.

                4. EventPlannerGal*

                  @Dragoning It just seems like you’re taking this opportunity to talk about your annoyance at an almost completely separate problem. Being roped into an extended conversation while you’re snowed under with work the last day before Christmas is not the same thing as 15 minutes of office chitchat per day.

                5. Emily K*

                  Just keep walking while you reply! I’ve found that people will rarely ask questions that require actual answers if you don’t slow down. Remember that “how was your weekend?” “what’s up?” or “how’s it going?” don’t require real answers unless it’s a genuine friend asking you in a social setting – when coworkers ask those questions they’re mostly expecting to hear, “Fine, thanks” in response.

                  It’s true that polite convention would say you should ask, “and you?” which does give them an opening to talk your ear off if they’re a talker, but if you’re in motion and it’s obvious you’d have to slow down or stop to be able to get the question out and hear their response, you can get away with not asking, “and you?” As long as you occasionally complete the social ritual when you’re not in motion you’re not going to come off rudely if you don’t do it when you’re walking past on your way somewhere.

                6. Emily K*

                  Also – when you’re in a REALLY busy period I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of responding to “how’s it going?” inquiries by sort of inhaling deeply, making a “what a crazy day!” facial expression, and saying in a cheerful tone of voice, “busy busy busy!” as I leave the scene of the crime. Like I’m doing my best Shruggie impersonation: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ “Mondays, amirite??” And then I’m gone.

            1. Lavender Menace*

              The thing about people is that we’re all different, and what one person finds frustrating, another one might not.

              You may not find it frustrating that someone wants to waylay you on the way to the bathroom for a quick chat. Others may. The fact that you can use words to get out of it doesn’t necessarily make it less frustrating.

          2. Goliath Corp.*

            But that’s not what the OP describes, and we ought to take letter-writers at their word — what you’re describing sounds like a projection of your own experiences.

            A “hello” in the morning and “how was your weekend?” at the microwave IS a social nicety. If you’re getting roped into conversations that you don’t have time for, you can just tell the person that you’ve got to back to work.

            1. Dragoning*

              I clarified later that I kind of merged those two examples together–that’s on me, and that’s fair.

          3. LGC*

            I mean, there’s a difference between five minutes and one minute, I think – and I read Jennifer’s comment as being more like one minute.

            One thing I’m also trying to learn is that those conversations are productive, too. Sometimes, it’s worth it to take a (forced) break from work – set the occasional boundary, but then also listen to Jane talk about her couch to 5k sometimes.

          4. TootsNYC*

            then it’s on you to send the right signals.

            Short answers, absent-minded tone of voice, keep walking.

            or flat-out say, “I can’t really talk.”

            I think the OP is not waylaying people to chat on their way to a meeting.

            Almost all of us (and I would include the OP because of her willingness to be self-aware and write the letter) can pick up those clues.

        2. Goliath Corp.*

          Exactly – tbh, people who want zero interaction with their coworkers should probably look for remote positions.

          You also don’t have to engage beyond general politeness! If it’s more than a hello (which is all the OP describes), you can always just tell the person you’ve got to grab a file or are on your way to the bathroom, etc.

      3. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        Can I just share here for a minute the living nightmare I experienced last night? Went into a shop after work, needed the restroom, asked a customer who directed me. She later spotted me in an aisle, asked if I’d found it. Yes. She cornered me in the aisle for 25 minutes with details of her running out of gas (it just happened, so yeah, I get it) which led to son in law had used all the gas. Oh, ok. Want to hear everything about the wedding and subsequent marriage? They have two kids now, so it’s been a journey. 25 minutes…
        Oh, and I was at the wrong store.

        1. Yavie*

          Honestly, that’s on you. Say “Oh, that’s awful! I’m afraid I have to go, though,” (or some similar generic comment) and then walk away. Nothing was actually stopping you except your own unwillingness to set boundaries and enforce them.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            + 1

            When people in the store try to stop me for conversation, I smile and say, “That’s nice,” and keep walking no matter what the topic is, lol.

          2. Antilles*

            Yeah. The limit of social niceties requiring you to listen is…like 15-30 seconds. Beyond that, you’re free to bail on the conversation with a polite “sorry to hear that, but I need to get going”.

          3. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            The first ten minutes were on me. I should have excused myself, but then morbid curiosity seeped in. I TRIED to make myself walk away, but it was like a Dickens novel, I kept turning the page.

            1. OhNo*

              Oh, goodness, I have done that before. There’s definitely a little part of me that wants to know how the story ends, so I’m always tempted to let the person keep talking. Even when I know I’m busy and have other things to do!

          4. LGC*

            In Karma’s defense, the kind of person that monologues for a half hour to a stranger about their life can be…pretty intense. I know a person like this. (We were friends but drifted apart.) She was hanging out with my neighbor and I ran into her in the hall. She launched into a ten minute tirade about her life immediately after we said hi. (To be fair she has gone through a lot in the past few months, but also she’s always been like that.)

            It’s possible to get out but they won’t make it easy.

            1. Kendra*

              I mentally call this type of person a “conversation octopus:” just when you think you’ve made your nice socially acceptable escape, they stick out another tentacle and reel you back in.

            2. Yavie*

              I mean, that’s why you walk away. Start turning as you start to say whatever your version is of “I’ve got to go!” Don’t stop moving, don’t make eye contact, if they keep talking once you’ve started to make your exit, that’s them being rude, not you. Interrupt them if you have to. You do not owe them your time. You can be both polite and firm about this.

              Honestly, if I’m in a store and not interested in chatting, I never stop moving in the first place. Wave, say thanks for the directions to the toilets or whatever, and keep walking the whole time. Same technique as getting past the people selling hair straighteners at the mall.

          5. Emily K*

            “Sorry to cut you off, but my llama is waiting to be groomed!”

            I actually read one of those “how to make friends and influence people” type of books once, where one of the major tactics they recommended was when you’re approaching new people, to open the conversation by declaring somewhere you have to be or something you have to do in a short amount of time that puts a short countdown timer on your interaction with them. A lot of people will be more guarded if they think that engaging you for one moment is going to rope them into an interminable conversation that it will take all their social skills and energy to gracefully extract themselves from, but if you preface whatever conversation starter with something like, “Sorry to bother you – I’m about to go to lunch myself – I just wanted to introduce myself on my way out.” or “I’m about to go check out that open bar/buffet situation – are you having a good time?” or whatever makes sense in context, people will relax and be more likely to engage with you because they know they’re not going to get stuck talking to you and regret giving you the opening.

        2. TootsNYC*

          this is on you. You have to develop the ability to say, “I’m sorry, I’ve got to get moving.”

        3. SaffyTaffy*

          @Hey Karma, Facebook Memories just reminded me that in 2012 a woman yammered at me in the supermarket about her dog for so long that my frozen broccoli defrosted. Then she followed me THROUGH the checkout line and watched me putting groceries away into my car. I really wish the DSM would classify this as something, because it’s definitely a thing or a predictable symptom of a thing, and it’s awful.

      4. Natalie*

        FFS, someone saying hello as you walk by their cube is not calling you over for a conversation. Dare I say, most people can manage to say hello back without breaking their stride.

        1. Dragoning*

          Sure, and I think I have clarified plenty of times already that I have no issue with that. Honestly, I kind of read the comment as “Hi, how was your weekend?” while walking, because that is endemic in my office, and personally it feels incredibly rude to not even break stride if someone’s asking me a question.

          A couple weeks ago, I was packing up my things at the end of my shift, coat on, keys out, and my manager kept saying things like “You’ve been quiet today!” “How was your weekend?” “Read anything good lately?” while I gave short answers to everything, because he’s literally my boss, but I was trying to go home and I get paid hourly.

          Some people actually do not stop trying to talk to you if you give them a quick acknowledgment and keep walking.

          1. TootsNYC*

            And you can say, even to your boss, “I’m sorry, I can’t chat, I have to get somewhere.”

            Use a friendly tone, smile, and go!

          2. Observer*

            In addition to what others pointed out, just because your boss isn’t reading cues, it doesn’t mean that the OP is summoning people or trapping them into long conversations.

        2. Jackalope*

          Clarifying that this is not directed at Dragoning (who has clarified their original comment’s meaning) but at the issue brought up by Dragoning’s comment: I am the kind of person who likes the chatty social niceties, but I’ve had many co-workers just respond to questions about their weekends and that sort of thing with, “Great!” or “Too short!” or something like that. There’s the possibility of trapping people in conversations but as long as the person asking the social nicety questions is paying attention and willing to respect the “Can’t talk now!” signals, my experience is that it usually seems to be acceptable even to the people who don’t want to engage.

    3. Sloan Kittering*

      Oh that’s good context, at least you know it’s not something super specific to you. Your boss may have picked a poor hill to die on here, but unfortunately if she IS the boss you might be kind of stuck. Remember from her perspective, she may also be thinking that what you’re counting as “work related” chat, and therefore acceptable, may still seem unnecessary to her if she knows those matters used to be resolvable without chatting, in the days of yore.

    4. londonedit*

      For what it’s worth, I also assumed that line was hyperbole – I imagined something along the lines of what you’ve described, that you’re always the one saying ‘So, how was your weekend?’ or making a bit of chit-chat while you’re waiting for the photocopier, rather than you literally trying to force people to talk to you.

          1. Oxford Comma*

            In the field the OP was in, that’s not uncommon. Hiring usually happens in spurts and is often to related to rare boom fields of funding so you end up with cohorts around the same age.

        1. Jennifer*

          Yeah, sounds like boss is actually the odd one out. The culture has changed because all of the employees are younger and more talkative. Boss is the one that needs to adjust.

          1. MCMonkeyBean*

            Especially since it sounds like “adjusting” in the boss’s case would take no more than changing from “almost” closing the door to actually closing it!

          2. Open Office Hell**

            Yeah but bosses generally don’t end up adjusting to their workers as often as they expect their workers to adjust to their preferred culture and style, because … they’re the boss.

            1. Jennifer*

              She’s outnumbered and fighting a losing battle, unless she wants to fire everyone for a silly reason and hire an entirely new (silent) team.

              1. Jackalope*

                Not to mention that this would be an extremely difficult thing to enforce since most people are used to at least some talking at work (esp. given that the examples the OP gave were largely work-related). You would almost have to hire seeking *just that one trait* to manage to get another office like that if the culture has already changed.

                1. Kendra*

                  With the field it sounds like OP is in, people often self-select for that particular personality trait, so it’s not as impossible as it might seem somewhere else. Think, say, an engineering firm; they’re likelier than some other places to end up with a staff full of people who enjoy math, even though they may not explicitly look for that, because that’s one of the things that pulls people into that field in the first place.

    5. hello*

      It’s interesting that she had this same conversation with someone else. Would you say this person talks more than you?

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Also keep an eye on how much you’re on the phone — whether it’s about work or not — and whether you’re using your standard tone of voice on the phone.
      I have a couple of co-workers who get weirdly loud when they’re on their cell phones. Some of them have speakerphone conversations on their cell phones in the large open hallway immediately behind my cubicle.

    7. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think the word you really wanted was that you’re initiating the conversations.

      You’re not forcing anyone, you’re saying “Hey how was your weekend?” and it’s perfectly acceptable to keep it short and confirm they’re not interested in elaborating. “Good, thank you *continues to wait for the microwave*”

      Forcing would be “How was your weekend?” “Good.” “Do anything fun?” “Nope.” “Are you sure though? You had to do something, right?!”

      Someone has to speak first, smfh. You just are one of those folks who take the baton without the awkwardness in between.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I wonder if she also goes first in the buffet line.

        (I do–I consider it a public service. At least, if everybody’s milling and nobody is stepping up. I also always stood first in the girls’ half of the recess line, next to the boys, because nobody else wanted to in 2nd grade.)

    8. bluephone*

      Honestly, I think OP’s boss would be better suited to a role at my company where it is literally tomb-quiet (despite not necessarily needing to be, i.e. we’re not librarians or watching a golf Master’s competition). Like, you often feel like you’re breathing too loud at this company. I don’t necessarily consider it a good thing–like several other aspects of my workplace’s culture, I think it contributes to us having a reputation as a company to join when you can’t/don’t want to hack it at other, better companies.

      1. OhNo*

        Not gonna lie, I work in a library and we talk way more than OP describes. Only 15 minutes of non-work chatting in a day? That wouldn’t even get us through the coworker’s dog’s latest antics or the goofy conversation the boss had with her wife this morning.

        You have my sympathy on the super-quiet environment, OP. That would drive me absolutely bonkers in short order.

        1. Bluephone*

          Same here and I tend to like quieter workspaces. But OP’s sounds like a weird nightmare, honestly. I’d be terrified to sneeze too loudly.

  20. hello*

    I’m curious as to how this goes and I hope you are able to follow up with us to let us know how it goes. It can be challenging going from chatty to non-chatty work environments, I’m sorry it’s still frustrating after 2 years.

    Could it be the volume level at all?

  21. Rainbow Roses*

    How loud is the talking? Most of the people in my open office speak in normal volumes but there are those who you can hear from the out of the way bathroom (heavy closed doors). They talk in a booming voice. They’re laughter is the outdated stereotypical “witch” cackle. The do not realize and even complain about others being loud!

    Please be aware of actual volume and the length of the chats. It may seem short because chatting means you’re enjoying yourself and don’t realize it was longer than you thought.

  22. Dragoning*

    This reminds me of my boss, an extrovert with a voice that carries, constantly complaining that our office is “like a library.” All right, but I we have low-walled cubes and a lot of us have very, very detailed oriented work that does not require much collaboration–and all his reports are introverts.

    Actually, Boss, I rather like the level of noise in our area.

    OP, if your company has an internal messaging system, you can try that–even for casual chatting conversations about someone’s dog, and definitely the quick work questions.

    It’s quieter. Some of us like quiet.

  23. Jennifer*

    The boss is overreacting. 15 minutes a day is normal. Essential actually.

    I think the “forcing people into conversations” was a bit tongue in cheek and not meant to be taken super literally. If you’re in a workplace where no one speaks, you would feel like you were forcing someone into conversation just by having some basic chit chat with them. But just saying “hi, how was your weekend,” isn’t forcing anyone into conversation. It’s being human. Let’s give the O the benefit of the doubt here.

  24. Lady Of Tropes*

    Maybe this is indeed the Case of the Unusually Chit-Chat Sensitive Boss, but as soon as I saw “forced people into a conversation,” my little introvert heart noped right out. Yikes. Just yikes.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I think we need to stop nitpicking on that word choice, and OP has already said it was probably not the best way to phrase it. Any chance we can get all introverts to please stand down on this point?

        1. Open Office Hell*

          Kinda feel like we’ve done a disservice in culture lately with all our “introverts-special-yay!” rhetoric. Now people are reeeeeal quick to be up in arms about their Special Cultural Needs as Introverts, almost like they want medical accommodation for it (and I do understand it can sometimes overlap with social anxiety, but that’s not the same thing people!!). I say this as someone who would identify as an introvert myself, in the values-neutral this-doesn’t-make-you-special sense of needing recharge time after socializing.

          A reasonably quiet workspace is nice. A reasonable amount of chat is generally bearable.

          1. Jennifer*

            Exactly. The whole “I’m an introvert, worship me!!” thing has gotten out of control. I’m an introvert too but that doesn’t mean I get to be downright rude to people.

          2. Sharkie*

            Yes this! I am an extrovert with mild social anxiety (yep it’s HORRIBLE) and the rise of ” Special Cultural Needs of Introverts” makes me feel like a jerk for saying Hi and being friendly and going through basic social interactions we were all taught to take part in. It really messes with my anxiety.

            1. Amy Sly*

              Amen. Just because we’re extroverts doesn’t mean we’re skilled social butterflies.

              And heck … at least an introvert can just stay home and read a book to recharge. Kind of hard to recharge when you’re an extrovert and no one wants to interact with you … or you’re “merely” afraid that no one does.

            2. Quill*

              I’m the worst kind of ‘vert – an extrovert with a fear of people – and honestly the culture of “everyone must always intuit everyone else’s communication preferences” is what gives me anxiety.

              You can always come out and actually tell someone you’ve gotta get back to your desk / prefer silence for times where you have to concentrate, and you should learn to do that because otherwise the only thing you set yourself up with is eternal conflict of norms and personal preference with other people. You’re not expected to read your extrovert coworker’s minds about what they prefer, so don’t expect them to read yours.

              Not to mention: many, many people have difficulty adjusting to a group’s shared social norms… just tell people what you need and they’re usually much, much better at trying it.

            3. LadyL*

              I’m an ambivert with a LOT of social anxiety that I try to cover up by being funny and chatty and animated…and then after a full day of extroversion I then need to go home and be completely alone to recharge.

              Which is why a) I agree introverts should be respected but it’s not like a medical need and some take it waaaay too far and b) I wish that introverts would stop assuming that all extroverted people are uber confident when I think just as many extroverts have social anxiety as introverts, they just express it differently (by “performing” for the crowd rather than hiding from the crowd) and most importantly c) I also think people take categories like that way too seriously. I think we are all a mix of both, some of us may be more one thing than another but nobody is all extrovert or all introvert at all times.

          3. LibGuideMeIntoTheWeekend*

            I would consider myself more “extroverted” and in a relationship with someone very “introverted” – they strongly value alone time and often prefer for me to take the lead in situations where we’re together in large groups (that aren’t our friends). That being said, they’re also one of the most seemingly effortlessly social people I know – they’re great at hosting, leading conversations, making everyone feel welcome, they’re very highly rated as a coworker that’s enjoyable to work with. They also hate the introvert narrative and say it’s just an excuse to not play the game of living in a society, so to speak. Just because they need more time to decompress after doing it, doesn’t mean they deserve or get a total hall pass from doing it at all.

            1. Indigo a la mode*

              I would put myself squarely in your partner’s category. I get a lot of “no way, you’re introverted??” from coworkers, but that’s because I’ve adapted to the social requirements of getting along in human society. I enjoy my relationships with my coworkers, am pleasant and social throughout the day, and then I go home to my dog and watch sitcom reruns or read quietly, social meter completely fulfilled.

              Introverted does not equal standoffish or lone wolf mentality, and just as extroverts should mind that they aren’t exhausting their conversation partner, introverts need to mind that they aren’t coldly brushing people off. That’s rudeness, not introversion.

              1. LibGuideMeIntoTheWeekend*

                Very early into the relationship they went to a wedding and called me on the way home and in response to my question “how did it go?”, they said “Oh, you know how after being ‘on’ for a few hours you just want to shut down?” and my genuine response was no, I didn’t know. Definitely opened my eyes and set a good precedent of understanding how to be a caring partner for an introvert.

          4. ElizabethJane*

            +1ooooooo

            Introverted and extroverted used to just be about how exhausting or refreshing you find social interaction. Introverts typically find it draining. Extroverts find it energizing. That doesn’t actually mean that introverts dislike it, BTW, just that it is more taxing and requires more of a recovery time.

            But lately people say “I’m introverted” and what they actually mean is “I have crippling social anxiety” and the two are not the same.

            1. LibGuideMeIntoTheWeekend*

              Well said! I actually had to hear it from a therapist before really accepting that my “extroversion” did not make me an “anxiety faker” because the two have become so intertwined lately.

                1. Amy Sly*

                  I had such an epiphany when I became an adult. “I’m not an introvert because I have no friends and so spend all my time alone … I’m an extrovert who was alone all the time because I had poor social skills and lived in the outskirts of a small rural town.”

                2. Quill*

                  Yup. I got through school by collecting introverts because I’m an extrovert with a fear of people and every time someone else who’s extroverted or who merely finds a certain type of outing their one thing that they prefer to be on for is like “why don’t you like concerts / conventions / other thing?” I always have to explain that crowds give me fight or flight response, the noise level gives me tension headaches, and my arthritis hates to stand in line.

              1. LibGuideMeIntoTheWeekend*

                Adding onto my own thought for anyone relating – I’ve realized that my extroversion actually exacerbates my anxiety, not cancels it out. I find it really easy to fall into a flow of conversation and be personable without effort so I’m not “manually driving” so to speak – then afterwards I second guess and nitpick everything I said and heard and go through the emotionally anxious rigmarole in hindsight. The Black Mirror episode “The Entire History of You” hit a little too close to home, tbh.

                Moving into a work environment where I don’t have to be social has been fantastic for my mental health which honestly surprises those that know me personally. Not needing to worry about those manual/automatic conversations throughout most of the day is a great relief to me!

            2. TootsNYC*

              there are SOME people who say “I’m introverted” when it’s really “I’m actually selfish and really don’t want to have to live up to the basic social contract, and everybody should accommodate me so I don’t have to do the work of figuring out how to be polite.”

              Listen, us extroverts have to make conversation with people we don’t like; we get all kinds of responsibility for public speaking, facilitating discussion, making conversation, etc., dumped on us.

              We all get our own “impositions” from our culture at large. Figure out how to cope with yours–spend some time and energy thinking and figuring.

              And if you don’t want to talk to anybody, stay home.

                1. London Calling*

                  Yes, words are pretty much failing me as well, RS. Polite words, that is. And some extroverts wonder why introverts see them as a loud self-absorbed pain in the nethers.

              1. Erstewhile lurker*

                As an introvert, I completely agree with all of this. It’s not a question of introvert vs extrovert, its a question of selfish vs unselfish.

                Yes we may have different needs/energy supplies, but its no excuse for being rude or leaving the other person to make all the effort. It becomes almost like a power play, “I’m too cool to do all the work”. Introverts do this to other introverts as well and its pretty annoying!

                1. Open Office Hell*

                  I hate the one that’s like, “I’m never going to come to your events (because Introvert TM) but you need to keep inviting me because I still like to feel included!!” – seen this as a meme on FB and instagram and I always roll my eyes. That’s not introverted, that’s … rude? Why should someone else put effort into a relationship if you can’t be bothered to put in any effort?

                2. TootsNYC*

                  I’m glad I’m not alone.

                  Listen, most introverts aren’t like that, by any means. Most of them figure out how to accommodate their own tendencies within the social construct. There are ways–I’ve seen them do it. And they don’t really complain about it, nor do they demand that all other people (extroverts and ambiverts) accommodate them at all times.

                  And most extroverts aren’t unsympathetic to an introvert. We just get pissed off when that small cadre of antisocial people claim “I’m an introvert and I don’t have any obligation to participate in small talk or conversations at a party or in the office.”

              2. Jackalope*

                As an introvert, I agree with TootsNYC’s comment. (Note that the “SOME” in her comment was crucial; I don’t think this is a fair description of MOST introverts, but it does describe some of them.) I have friends who are strongly introverted and we are happy to accommodate each other’s differing but similar needs for alone time. My extroverted friends are also generally happy to give me space when needed. But sometimes hearing people arguing that it’s rude and inconsiderate for others to expect them to shake hands when meeting, or they’re angry that a co-worker says good morning, or whatever, gets frustrating. I can understand not wanting to deal with those things, and even strategizing how to avoid them. It’s the part about being angry at the other person for simply extending the culturally appropriate ways to say, “Hello, fellow human! I, the greeting human, acknowledge you! Let us have a few seconds to be aware of our humanness.”

                1. Extroverted Bean Counter*

                  Yep. Any time there’s a letter about social niceties/chit chat/greetings or whatever on this site I always rub my hands together in gleeful anticipation and think “oh boy, let’s see what the Misanthropes of AAM have to say about this one!”

                  Being pissed off that someone dared to say “hello” to you as they walk past your cube in the morning is not introversion – it’s antisocial in the clinical use of the word.

                2. TootsNYC*

                  also note, I literally wrote (with careful word choice), “SOME people say ‘I’m introverted…'”

                  I didn’t even say “SOME introverts.” For all I know, they aren’t really introverts. Some of them are just snotty and lazy people hiding behind the label. Or they’re insecure and selfish (or lazy) about it, and they co-opt the term to excuse themselves.

                3. The Other Dawn*

                  I agree with TootsNYC, too. I’m an introvert, which means I highly value my alone time and that’s how I recharge after having been “on” for hours. Doesn’t mean I don’t like to talk to people, go to parties, etc. It just means that after I go out and socialize, I want to come home, lay in bed, and read my book while hanging with the cats for a bit (yes, I’m bringing the cats into this). I shake hands, I greet people at work (I’m a manager, so I’d come off as an asshole if I just breezed by my team every morning without a word), I engage in the chit chat before meetings, sometimes I force myself to get up and go ask a question of my team members in person so there’s a little face time, and it’s no big deal. I usually enjoy it and I feel like it makes me more approachable. I’ve seen other managers that don’t do these things and their direct reports talk about how they’re afraid to approach their boss with a request, because they seem “grouchy” or they can’t read them.

              3. SimplyTheBest*

                @London Calling, as an introvert, I agree with everything TootsNY just said. The amount of introvert worship that goes on in this comment section is maddening. You want to talk about loud, self-absorbed pain in the nethers, look no further.

          5. EventPlannerGal*

            Yep.

            Honestly, I got about two sentences into this question and was like “oh cool, here we go, let’s get ready for 100 comments about how the LW is a terrible ogre forcing poor helpless introverts into conversation like she’s lining them up to be shot at dawn”. And here we are! I appreciate that this site has a higher-than-usual number of commenters who very strongly identify as introverts, but I find it so wearying that the immediate response to any question about office chitchat (or really any social interaction at all) is always like this. It’s very alien to me and totally unlike anywhere I’ve ever worked.

            1. Avasarala*

              Totally agree. I’ve never seen this anywhere else and I must conclude that this site attracts every single person who thinks “other humans IRL are a burden but I must interact with strangers online!”

        2. WellRed*

          I’ll occasionally read a letter, see a word choice like this that I know is inadvertent and say “oh noooo, people are going to get hung up on that.”

      1. bluelights*

        nitpicking: “looking for small or unimportant errors or faults, especially in order to criticize unnecessarily”
        People responding to the idea of being “forced” into a conversation is not “nitpicking.”

        Also, whether or not the OP actually “forced” their peers into conversations, the tone of the letter is pretty consistent on the point that the OP has sought to change their office culture.

        1. Jennifer*

          The OP has stated that she was being hyperbolic. We need to give people the benefit of the doubt sometimes.

        2. Amber Rose*

          Seeking to change office culture is not inherently evil, particularly if people are not resistant to it.

          1. Washi*

            Yeah, and this cultural change doesn’t seem especially radical. If it’s about 15 mins of social chat and 30 mins of work chat, that’s 45 mins per day of talking and at least 7 hours of silence. I mean, if OP’s boss wants there to be even less speaking, that’s her prerogative, but I’m not going to necessarily ding OP for nudging the culture very slightly closer to the average office environment.

          2. Lance*

            It’s not, but I do feel it needs a certain level of care, and should be based on multiple peoples’ needs. Not saying that’s not what happened in OP’s case — I couldn’t possibly know — but just my two cents on the subject in general.

      2. Diahann Carroll*

        I’m an introvert, and I knew she was being hyperbolic. If she wasn’t, I presumed her boss would have told her in addition to keeping the work chat to a minimum to also stop forcing her coworkers to speak to her when they didn’t want to.

      3. AnonEMoose*

        How about we recognize that maybe some of this “this is what introverts need/prefer” stuff is a reaction to decades of being regarded as “weird,” “unapproachable,” “unfriendly” and so on? It’s not so much an “I’m an introvert, worship me” as it is an “I’m an introvert, please try to understand!”

        I really do feel for anyone with social anxiety – it’s awful, and it’s truly not my intention to make someone feel like a jerk for saying hi. But, you know, if I smile or say “hi” and turn back to my phone/Kindle…recognize that I don’t hate you…but I’m just not up for conversation right now.

        1. Koala dreams*

          Also, social anxiety is not related to being an introvert or extrovert. It’s not an either or situation!

          1. AnonEMoose*

            Also very true! I imagine it truly is a special kind of awful to be extroverted, but have social anxiety.

        2. ugh*

          Do you think that by this point, anyone who exists on the internet has not heard all this about introverts about a thousand times already? Y’all won’t stop talking about why you don’t want to talk.

  25. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    Perhaps the reason “It was a literal tomb when I started” is because that is how your boss prefers it, and everyone who wants a more chatty environment gets the same feedback and coaching when they’re new, ensuring the silence perpetuates.

    1. Decima Dewey*

      I lived in a dorm that was designated The Quiet House. That meant that we didn’t just have “quiet hours”, but people were expected to be quiet all the time. If someone knocked on your door and complained about your music, you turned it down. If your neighbor complained that you were walking around your room too loudly, you apologized and put on slippers.

      We had some people move in who wanted more of a quiet hours approach. It ended up with the dorm having a meeting. The consensus was that we did not want our Quiet House turned into a non-Quiet House.

      1. Sharkie*

        Oh dear god. How do places like this prepare you for life after that dorm? People make noise. It’s one thing to be respectful but complaining about walking? My floor squeaks every time I move slippers or no slippers.

        1. Close Bracket*

          Every single one of the people from that dorm now lives under a bridge bc they lack the life skills to survive in the real world. They are also howling mad from hearing the traffic noise. /s

          I assume it prepared them well for advocating for what they want and setting boundaries around what they will tolerate. It also gave them sensitivity toward the needs of others and the skills to graciously accommodate other people’s requests rather than getting defensive over whether their behavior is or is not a problem.

          1. Sharkie*

            Ok that makes sense. I am just thinking back to all the witchy girls in my dorm who complained that people were studying too loudly and their printer was too loud. If we lived in a dorm like that it would be hellish.

          2. TootsNYC*

            plus it may have helped them study, and helped them cope with the anxieties that accompany college life.

          3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

            Having spent my first year at college living directly underneath an avid DDR player, I would have gone for this quiet house in a heartbeat.

            1. Quill*

              The midnight Pianist in my first dorm was a mystery that I never solved and would probably have had Strong Words with if I had, except I moved in with my lab partner by halloween because I couldn’t stand my first roommate, which moved me to another building entirely.

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                There are probably multiple people from my dorm who could write about me on this subthread. The freshman/sophomore me was all about hanging around the common areas on Saturday nights, socializing, singing along and so forth.

                That said, we shared a suite with an older guy from a middle-eastern country, who was one of the few people in the building to own a boombox. He would wake up insanely early on a weekend morning (I’m guessing, being a lot older, he didn’t party as much as we did and so turned in early), put his home country’s music on, and turn the volume on the boombox way up. I would’ve moved to the quiet house and changed all of my partying ways just to get away from that fellow.

                1. Quill*

                  6 AM showerers and 11 pm showerers listening to Ke$ha in the bathroom. Why does the bathroom even have a CD player???

        2. TootsNYC*

          not everything is about preparing you for life after.

          This may have simply been about “being comfortable at home during a high-pressure time of your life.”

        3. Bostonian*

          FWIW, I lived in a quiet dorm in college for my last 2 semesters and loved it. And I’m not socially stunted, thank you very much. It wasn’t as military-grade control as you would think. In my experience, everybody was very reasonable, and I only once had to ask someone to be quiet who was playing Jenga on the (hard) floor with their door open past midnight.

        4. Tinker*

          I live in a place with no upstairs or downstairs neighbors because that’s a feature that I prioritized in making housing decisions — much as the people who decided to live in this dorm prioritized a particular approach to decisions around sound when they chose where to live.

          Yet, obviously, there are many housing arrangements where it would be routinely expected to hear walking from above. Do I need to hire someone to walk on my roof for pedagogical purposes? Or is it okay for my house not to contribute to my self-improvement in that way?

        5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          College does not necessarily exist to prepare us for life in our middle age, though.

          I assume they do less studying and homework now than they did when they lived in Quiet Dorm.

        6. Julia*

          Right? It’s much better to teach young adults that they can do whatever the hell they want in their own room, neighbors be damned! /s

      2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        My university had some special “theme” dorms like this, too. They were a problem, because typically, only half the students who lived in there had selected it because of the “theme.” The other half had been randomly assigned to empty spaces, which were available because the “theme” was unpopular.

        They were getting rid of them around the time I graduated.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          I would have loved this Quiet House theme. My roommates were obnoxious to an absurd degree as were my neighbors.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          My university solved that by making the theme dorms very small. Instead of having spaces going begging, they generally had at least twice as many applicants as beds.

      3. Quill*

        Sounds like an okay dorm, if people can hear your music through the walls you should buy yourself a pair of headphones and use them instead.

        The only thing I’d push back on is the walking around / making noise while moving because not everyone can control that.

        Meanwhile my dorm had people skateboard down the halls one night and then we all got a lecture after someone whipped their door open, beaned the (drunk) skateboarders with a pair of slippers, and went back to bed. (We also had a girl try to flush an entire pizza so maybe the drinking was the problem, not the person throwing slippers at peoples’ heads.)

  26. Snarky Apples*

    I volunteered at my local library last year. It’s was the strangest experience ever. No one talked. When I started, not a single person said hello or welcome aboard. I was going up to everyone to introduce myself just so that they wouldn’t think some random person was wandering around shelving books. But it was apparent they really didn’t care. After I had been there for awhile, not even a greeting when I walked in. I would say hello or good afternoon and at best I’d get one of those nods. And this was on the floor where the staff had to interact with patrons, so I’m going to assume they had the ability to speak.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      To be fair, I do think libraries in particular are a field that is literally KNOWN to be associated with silence. Those kinds of things can be self-perpetuating and self-selecting, of course, but … it is probably one of the most extreme datapoints on the spectrum!

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Very extreme. I worked in a library for two plus years in college (huge university library serving over 10k patrons), and all of my coworkers and the librarians were super chatty. Those conversations and the resulting laughter were sometimes the only thing keeping us from choking out the most aggressive/disrespectful patrons we’d get. (Kidding, but not really.)

    2. Librarian1*

      That seems odd to me. Before I got my MLIS degree, I volunteered at my local library and everyone was really welcoming. And based on my experience in grad school and working after grad school is that librarians tend to be Nice (too nice sometimes, in ways that are detrimental to either them or the profession as a whole) and it’s surprising that they wouldn’t talk at all.

      I believe you, of course, but I do think that’s an extreme outlier.

  27. Jimming*

    I love quiet but that would drive me nuts. I think some polite chit-chat can help to strengthen relationships, brainstorm work ideas, etc. There’s a difference between forcing a conversation and starting one, and a 2 minute “tell me about this grant” convo would be work-related and appropriate.

    Have you tried organizing a weekly/monthly lunch or coffee break? Maybe if you can get out of the office (or even to a break room) with a few other coworkers you can build relationships without disturbing the Tomb of Silence.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      I like this idea. This would give OP the interaction she craves without pissing off her boss and whoever else in the office doesn’t like the daily chit chat.

    2. CrazyKetoLady*

      I was thinking along these lines re: scheduling some time for more social interaction. I definitely recognize how awful a cultural mismatch can be, and based on the tone of the letter, it does seem that there is one here. That said, I don’t think the solution is to try to change the culture of your workplace, but figure out how to adapt yourself or seek some sort of adjustment (along the lines of headphones for people who need to do a lot of deep focus in an open office environment).

      This idea, organizing a specific time and space for more social interaction, seems like a good idea. (Alternatives could be to send out an invitation to have an after-work happy hour or go out for lunch somewhere.) It will give the OP and any other socially-minded colleagues the opportunity to chat without interfering with the other people’s ability to focus.

      One other idea (that would give OP a clearer idea of whether or not their colleagues are actually enjoying the chatting) could be to try shifting the form of conversational “bids”: instead of asking a question that seems to require a response as a form of greeting (i.e. “How was your weekend?”), stick to ones that don’t require a response (i.e. “Good morning”). If they say, “Morning” and continue on their way, they probably don’t want to have a chat, but if they pause and ask some questions, they might be.

      1. Anax*

        I’ve also had good luck with a quick boardgame over lunch, in a conference room.

        Since people talked so little, it was socially frowned upon to “slack off” by chatting for long – even an hour-long lunch was considered weird, because most people ate silently at their desks, so it was hard to go out for coffee or food. When people pulled me into conversation (rarely!), I found myself nervously checking my phone every couple minutes, worried about the time – but a game of Ingenious or Coup lasts a predictable amount of time, so it was easier to agree to.

    3. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I agree I think this can help with the relationship building with coworkers while also maintaining some of the quite in the office.

      It seems that OP might be bringing the office from tomb to reasonable talking to quickly. For example if a:
      -super collaborative/talkative office is at -50
      -a happy medium office it at 0
      – totally quite tomb office is at +50

      now many offices might hover anywhere between +10 ( a bit on the quite side) and -10 (a bit more talkative)

      If OP’s office was at +45 (super super quite) end of the spectrum and is trying to bring the office to a +10 or even 0, while that would be a normal range in most offices, it might still seem like a huge swing or like the office has become a very chatty.

      I think that both the boss and OP SHOULD adjust their expectations, but OP is probably the only one who HAS to adjust their expectations. Boss can decide to be unreasonable and say the office needs to stay at +45 or at +25 at the most/least.

  28. dontwannachat*

    “Unless I forced people into a conversation” sounds like a workplace nightmare. Please do not be *that* coworker

  29. the noise noise noise*

    For what it’s worth- as I am reading this, my coworker down the hall is currently on speakerphone. My door is closed and I can hear every word. So, there’s that… but, often, it’s tomb-like here, too. Somewhere between bullhorn and tomb would be terrific.

    I’m sorry you’re stuck in this position, and can really only second the suggestions that you check-in to see if your conversations are truly welcome.

  30. Mel_05*

    You probably want to keep track of all the conversations you’re having. Just to double check your perception.

    I have VERY chatty coworkers. I wouldn’t say the talk is all day, people get down to business and stop talking, but there’s anywhere from 1-3 hours of chit-chat happening, depending on how busy we are (we have some very slow times). But, my coworkers who are doing most of the chatting would say that we are *quiet* and that there’s not that much talking going on.

    I’m used to an open office with tons of noise, so it doesn’t bother me, but when other people comment on it and it gets denied, I always laugh a little.

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      “But, my coworkers who are doing most of the chatting would say that we are *quiet* and that there’s not that much talking going on. ”

      This–we had a person who complained about how quiet it was and no one ever talked. However, I’ve also seldom gotten out of a conversation with this person in under 15 minutes and I’m not the only one they chatted with. Now. I liked person — but a quick “hey, how was your weekend” became a saga. Also, we are a team of knowledge workers and getting derailed by a “quick chat” means some time in lost productivity.

      OP–definitely do a quick reality check on how much chit chat (work and non-work) is really going on. Maybe your assessment is spot-on, but maybe it isn’t.

    1. Llama Face!*

      Perhaps her boss is named Osiris* and a typical work request is for cat mummy 181.a4 in the eighth sarcophagus on the 3rd floor collection? ;)

      *sometimes referred to as the “Lord of Silence”

  31. Seeking Second Childhood*

    Vocabulary is important here. Your boss said you’re “chatting” too much. Please make sure to distinguish between “social chatting” and “work related conversations.”
    My suggested edits to Alison’s in italics.
    “I kept an eye on my conversations yesterday, and noticed most of the talking I’ve done is immediately work-related . It often helps to get an quick answer to something rather than waiting hours for an email response. I can certainly switch to email if you feel strongly about it, but I wanted to make sure you know that most of the talk you’re hearing is truly about work rather than social chatting.”
    And “And of course, I’ll have any future social chats in the breakroom, so you won’t hear more than our morning greetings.”
    Because for me, I kind of need that morning-greeting transition of saying hello and saying something brief to let us know we are both humans in this world together.

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I also want to point out that social/work chatting can be done electronically. At my work we have google hangouts that gets used for work conversations/questions like “where is abc document?” but also gets used for completely social conversations like how was your weekend, what did you do last night.

      Electronic chatting still helps build relationships/camaraderie while keeping things quite for people who need to focus/work.

  32. Secret Identity*

    Years ago I worked for a company whose owner would routinely just kind of walk through the different departments all casual like, then go back to his office. Then, commandments from on high would come down. One day, we came in and suddenly there were cubicle walls around desks that had been open before because he’d seen someone talking to a coworker from their desk, so there was to be no more non-work related talking to each other of any kind and he was using the walls to enforce it. I absolutely felt like I was back in grade school. It was ridiculous.
    Just to note- it wasn’t the cubicle walls themselves that were ridiculous, it was their purpose, which was to stop any spontaneous conversation.

    1. 1234*

      …but that doesn’t prevent adults from physically going over to someone’s desk and starting a conversation? What if the talking was actually work related?

      This company owner sounds short sighted and spent money on frivolous walls.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Also I usually just talk to my coworkers through our cube walls. I don’t actually have to be looking at them to chat about something. Cube walls are not famously known for their soundproofing.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          THIS. A long-ago manager used to not only call over the cubicle wall, she’d toss things OVER the wall to get the attention of our Fergus lost in his headphones and late for a team meeting.

  33. Not for academics*

    Duuuuuude.

    Your boss tells you to shut it, you shut it.

    “when I started and I could go the whole day without talking unless I forced people into a conversation. I previously worked for an office with an extremely collaborative environment. Here we are very siloed in our positions so collaboration doesn’t happen, and truly no one spoke to each other. Now, after working on the office culture for two years”

    Did someone task you with “working on the office culture?” or “forcing (regardless of whether or not you chose the right word, it’s what you said) people into conversations?”

    1. Laura H.*

      Boss did not tell OP to shut it, though.

      And even if forced was the word OP chose, anyone with a brain can jump to a reasonable “oh, maybe they had to initiate the conversation, and sometimes that can feel like forcing something” even if the gut reaction to the word choice is “oh goodness no”

      And frankly, no one has to task someone with that, as OP isn’t actively trying to force a culture change for a change’s sake. As a part of that workforce, OP should be able to work using proper communication at the proper times and be trusted to know which is which.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        But based on OP’s words it does seem they are trying to change to culture to one they prefer just based on their personal preference not necessarily out of need. If in person talking was truly necessary, I don’t know how the office would have survived for 20 years with out any talking.

        “I previously worked for an office with an extremely collaborative environment. Here we are very siloed in our positions so collaboration doesn’t happen, and truly no one spoke to each other. Now, after working on the office culture for two years and having a new hire who is also more extroverted, it is a much more typical office environment, albeit still a little too quiet in my opinion.”

        It seems that the work they preform is much more individual and that communication/collaboration with others is not needed as much. Most of the examples that OP gave seem like they can just as easily be done via email/IM.

        “Hey, do you have that invoice for me? I can’t find the receipt.” “Can you tell me what line item I need to take these supplies from?”

        In fact I think electronic written communication might be better because people can refer back to it instead of having to go back to a co-worker “where did you say the invoice is located, or where should I save abc document?”

  34. Annony*

    Honestly, it sounds like whether or not the boss is being reasonable, this may be a bad fit. The OP sounds pretty unhappy with the culture the boss wants to promote. It is very hard to overcome that level of mismatch.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Especially when you’re the boss. With a door.

      We just close our doors if we need the extra quiet time.

  35. Akcipitrokulo*

    A couple of things occur – one is that it may mostly be down to contrast, both between before you arrived and after, and how even a fairly quiet conversation can be jarring when it interrupts a prolongued silence.

    It doesn’t sound excessive to me – it may be that you are slightly underestimating the chat, or your boss (or their tasks!) are particularly sensitive to interruptions. Either way, if boss says pipe down, you usually have to.

    I wonder if you have access to – or could get access to – a work-based instant messenger service like skype or teams? then the 10 sec querie s are still about 10 seconds, and people aren’t disturbed by them?

    1. 1234*

      THIS. Or even gchat. I was going to suggest the company get some sort of messaging service if they don’t already have one.

  36. LW*

    I work in a relatively quiet office. There is chit chat when needed, but sometimes I sit at my desk and wonder if there is anyone alive. That said, there are other weird noises that people make sometimes. My boss (who sits across from me) loudly sighs a lot–no particular reason, she’s always done it. One of my executives runs (runs!) through the office in her heels whenever she needs to go to the copier or something. She’s not in a hurry, she’s just way too energetic. Another of my coworkers has the tendency to hum a lot and I’m not even sure she knows she’s doing it.

    I say all this to point out that your boss is being a little unreasonable. I understand not wanting yelling and hours-long chats that are not work related at all. But it’s asinine to expect radio silence when humans are involved.

  37. Special Agent Michael Scarn*

    My office is also very tomb-like, and set up like OP’s workplace. Been here over two years and I still hate it. I wish more people would chat just to normalize some conversation, because it truly feels like asking someone a question out loud is forbidden.

  38. Allypopx*

    I disagree with the “boss says shut it so shut it” comments. The boss has an office with a door, which can be closed to mitigate volume. Cultures can evolve, and it seems like this one has evolved slightly, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The boss is going to stifle the team with this kind of demand.

    1. Wing Leader*

      I agree. Of course the boss gets the final word, but the boss also needs to be aware of the culture her team is evolving towards and be open to that. Otherwise, she’s just going to demoralize them and make them feel like kindergartners who will get put in time-out if they speak without raising their hand.

      1. Allypopx*

        Exactly. Certainly don’t be insubordinate or super rude or anything, but I think OP has plenty of standing to push back on this without just shutting up because the boss is grumpy.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      And I’m kind of like “Wut” to the “someone probably complained! If nobody else initiates the conversation, then they don’t want to chat.”

      Wrong. Lots of us don’t like initiating conversations but we like it when others do. I’m awkward AF and it took me well into my 30s to start a conversation. I literally had to walk circles and hype myself up to have work conversations previously, even for things like “when is this going to be done because someone is asking about it.”

      I’m an extreme of course but I know lots of people who aren’t that bad but aren’t going to pipe up with casual conversation on their own but they like it all the same.

      1. Allypopx*

        Yeah I definitely prefer being engaged in conversation because I can be super chatty and I worry I annoy people! Different conversation styles doesn’t automatically mean the OP is being problematic.

        Plus the boss explicitly said no one else complained. This isn’t such a small office that it would be blatantly obvious who spoke up if “I’ve heard complaints” was all that was shared. I think this is honestly just the boss being a stick in the mud.

      2. Arctic*

        Exactly. Lots of us don’t want to feel like we’re “bothering” people by initiating. But welcome reasonable chit-chat.

        Just being kind of shy is a real thing.

        1. TootsNYC*

          and extroverts can be shy.

          I can be self-conscious sometimes, and I’m aware that I talk a lot, so I actually will hold back. But if someone else said something at the microwave, I’d happily talk with them.

      3. Tau*

        There’s this tendency to assume everyone who enjoys talking/social interaction must be socially skilled and can’t possibly have any issues with shyness or social anxiety. As an autistic chatty person, this drives me to distraction.

        1. Quill*

          I’ve got some cousin symptoms and am pretty chatty, and honestly, humans, if you need me to shut my face give me actual feedback instead of standing there blinking at me, that’s primate brain for “I am confused” not “go the heck away, Quill.”

          1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

            Much as one might like to, it can be difficult in work setting to say, “Hey Drucilla, I need to concentrate on this so could you please hold the conversation for now?” Drucilla might feel hurt, or insulted, or angry. Might complain about you or give you grief about it afterward. I’ve seen it happen. And you have to work with this person again tomorrow, and next week, and…

      4. Quill*

        Not all extroverts are confident in starting their own conversations or getting their social needs met, many of us are anxious that other people see us as obnoxious regardless of how much we interact with them, from a 20 minute saga about being cut off on the highway to a “Hi, did you know elevator 3 is broken? Do you also know who I should email about that?”

  39. drpuma*

    The OP could spend a week or two paying attention to who initiates conversation. If it’s mostly her and maybe one other teammate, it probably makes sense to pull back on her socializing. If on the other hand conversations seem to be pretty equally started by everyone, it may be worth giving her boss some light pushback.

  40. That would be a good band name*

    I suspect heavily that it’s the new employee that’s pushed it over the edge. The boss could handle one chatty person because the overall trend was still quiet. Now that there are two chatty people, I suspect the amount of conversation has increased dramatically and the boss is worried that it’s soon going to be an all-day chat fest.

  41. Bunny*

    Is it possible that these “conversations about work” are far, far to verbose and often then necessary? Because there are some people I dread having to talk to about work related issues because I know the conversation is going to be a never ending beating involving dozens of barely related tangents and meander through unlikely hypothetical and barely related subjects.

    E.G.

    “Hey, do you have that invoice from FunCo?”

    “Oh of course, you know I hate the color that they use and this font is terrible. Do you know Shelly? She does the invoices but it always feels like they get to us so late. You know Shelly has been doing their accounts receivable for years but lately it feels like she has really been stumbling on the job. You know her new boss Blair hasn’t been in the field very long and I just don’t think she knows how to manage some of her employees. You know there is this new vendor Super Olive that I keep hearing great things about, I know a few other organizations that have switch to them and are very happy with how great their logo looks on their invoices and their font is so much better too. Anyways, I will follow up with Shelly about getting these quicker, maybe she just doesn’t realize that it is causing problems for us, etc, etc, etc.

    1. Relentlessly Socratic*

      I think I worked with that person. No breath taken, either, so you can redirect or disengage.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I sat next to a teammate, in a semi-open area, who could talk from the moment they walked in till the moment they left the office for the day, without taking a breath. They’d either talk to you, or at you, or on the phone, or someone would wander into our area and get talked at. About everything, the weekend, the upcoming weekend plans, parents, exes, cats, former teammates who no longer worked there, the way things used to be in the office when they first started there 20 years before – at least I’ll give that person credit, they always stayed far away from religion and politics. It was exhausting. Thankfully my work at that job was almost all maintenance and support and no new development or learning/using any new skills. I would’ve never gotten any of that done with non-stop chatter in the background. It was so incredibly hard to concentrate on anything.

    2. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      I do think this is potentially something for the OP to reflect on, just in case. It doesn’t seem like that is what’s at play given the small elaboration above but it’s worth doing a gut check.

      My mom is this person (and she’s a self-described “hermit” and “misanthrope”) and it’s exasperating. I was with her last week when she was discharged from a hospital stay, and the charge nurse was running down the discharge checklist. Rote questions, CYA kind of things. “Do you know why you were in the hospital?” she asked.

      “Well the obvious answer is that I was sick! Hahaha, no but really, a couple weeks ago I was visiting my daughter and my lovely grandson had a cold…” began my mom.

      JUST SAY PNEUMONIA. OH MY GOD. Per my handle I love a good chit chat but time and place, people!

  42. Malarkey01*

    Even with work related talking, I’d be conscious of where and for how long these conversations are happening. If this is a quiet/high concentration office, it can still be disruptive even if appropriate. If it’s a very quiet office and you need a 15 minute conversation about a project, I think taking the conversation to a conference room/break room might be better. And, just in case- if you’re calling out to coworkers over cube walls to ask questions I’d stop that and make sure you’re actually walking over and speaking to people so it’s not interrupting everyone’s concentration.

  43. Marie*

    All my best work is done in quiet, when I can concentrate. As for the boss closing the door so as not to hear a “two minute” conversation—the problem w/re to broken concentration is not knowing how long this chit chat is actually going to continue. To me it sounds as if this was previously a place where people such as myself who really get good work done when they are allowed to concentrate are now “forced” to chitchat/endure interruptions. Just saying: all silence is not unfriendly, sometimes it is productive.

  44. No vows of silence here, please*

    Just want to address a question of OP’s that hasn’t been answered:

    “I came from an extremely talkative and collaborative environment, so I don’t know if I’m being unreasonable. Are most offices like this? ”

    NO, this office sounds miserable to me and I’d never ever work somewhere like this if I could help it. That’s not an objective judgment about the office, it’s just my own feeling. It would be a really good fit for people who value independent work and quiet. I don’t have advice for you in this situation, but I want to reassure you that it’s not like this is the universal norm and your previous work environment was an aberration. Offices are there so that people can meet, collaborate, and talk; your impulses are not strange or out-of-place, just perhaps the wrong fit for this specific environment.

    To be honest, if I were you I’d look for a new job, simply because it may not be that hard to find a place with a more compatible environment and it will improve your quality of life tremendously.

    1. Tau*

      +1ing this! All the offices I’ve ever worked in it’s been the norm to chat some, both socially and for work. And I work in a field that tends to involve long periods of concentrated focus time (software development), but collaboration is still extremely important. The environment OP describes would drive me to distraction.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m a generally quiet person on the day to day, so I appreciate an otherwise quiet office but yeah this one, where you get “spoken to” for having 15-30 minutes per day of chatter [most of it work related!] is over the frigging top level.

      Sadly when it comes to libraries though, finding a new job isn’t as easy as it can be in other industries, so I don’t know how easy it would be for OP to start looking elsewhere =( Which bums me out even more thinking about it.

      This reads to me as a manager who is out of touch and going on what she likes, not what the office likes as a whole. Which is another can of worms in my mind.

    3. Extroverted Bean Counter*

      Agreed. Even in my accounting department full of Extreme Introverts, we still have a baseline level of pleasantries and discussion about work related conundrums.

      It’s quieter here than I like – I can hear the hum of my computer monitors most of the day and background noise is typically keyboard clacking and not chit chat – but I still talk to people every day here and there.

    4. Roja*

      I agree completely. I think the AAM commentariat swings heavily towards “silence always” people, so that’s going to filter through in comments. But seriously, if I got talked to because I was saying hi and asking how people’s weekend was when we were standing waiting together (!), then that’s really over the top. That kind of utter silence in a workplace is just not normal.

      And I say this as an introvert who can’t block out conversations to focus and so generally needs quiet–this kind of workplace would make me utterly miserable. You gotta spend 40 hours a week with these people; social niceties are a thing for a reason!

    5. EventPlannerGal*

      This! Plenty of offices are not like this at all – most places I’ve ever worked COULDN’T operate like this because talking and interacting with people (in person or on the phone) is a fundamental part of my job.

    6. OP*

      Thank you for these comments. I really appreciate you answering that specific part of the question. I do think ultimately it comes down to finding a compatible environment. My coworkers seem just as confused and frustrated by this as I do, but ultimately it’s the boss who is deciding on what our office culture is. If they’re not interested in allowing it to evolve as new workers continue to come on then I need to make some decisions for my own happiness.

  45. Heffalump*

    As for the boss needing to shut her door, it would probably be a bad career move to say, ‘That’s what your door’s for,” but I’d be tempted.

  46. Senor Montoya*

    Here’s the thing. It may only be 15 minutes of you doing non work chat — but there are 15 people in the office, so in total, for what everyone hears, it may be more than that.

    It’s not clear if it’s just the boss who is finding the chatting distracting, or if others are bothered by it, too. If it’s just the boss — she has an office and can close the door. If it’s others, and you’re out in a cube farm and everyone can hear everything, then seems to me that a compromise is in order.
    –What’s the volume of the talking? Are people shouting from across the room or walking over to talk in low voices?
    –Is it noisier in some parts of the cube farm than others? Are one or two folks always sitting in just the right place to hear everything, or are sitting next to someone who gets more folks coming by to ask questions?
    –Could people who are bothered by the background noise use headphones?
    –Could people do some of the chatting away from the cubes — is there a lobby? a kitchen? a corner where sound doesn’t carry?
    –Could some of the talk in fact be done by email or gchat or such?

    Everyone in my office has their own office with doors that close. Offices are arranged along several hallways, there’s a noisy reception area and a mailroom/kitchen. There’s no carpet in the hallways. So some days, my colleagues doing their usual work in a usual tone of voice is just too much background noise — I can hear conversations from 5 offices away. I can close my door. But if I were in a cube, I’d want to rip my head off lol. (My colleagues who are near the reception area never leave their doors open.)

    1. Koala dreams*

      I agree with your comment, it’s very balanced.

      In an open office environment, even a low amount of conversation can become too much because you are stuck there. It’s also about what you are used to. Compared to a call center, this office would be super quiet, but compared to quietly chatting on the computer, 15 people talking out loud for 15 minutes a day (at least) in short bursts of 2-5 minutes will be like a wall of sound.

      There is also the issue of how much focus every person needs. It’s very annoying to be interrupted for short questions, even if they conversation only take a couple of minutes, when you are doing concentration heavy work. It may be quicker for the asker, but the person who was interrupted may need 10 minutes to get back into the flow every time they are interrupted. In a really small office, you probably would learn the habits of your co-workers quickly: Alyssa don’t like to chat on Mondays, Beatrice don’t want to be interrupted when she has Excel open, and so on. With 15 people, you can’t accomodate all of them. There is probably always some people who need to focus, and some peole who are doing colloborative work and need to discuss it.

  47. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    I work with a serial chit chatter. They actually do force conversations onto other people, usually first thing in the morning (but at other times too) for *at least* 30 min each time. The rest of us within earshot have no choice but to captively listen to every minute detail of his person’s personal life every single day. (We can’t wear headphones because we need to interact with clients who may walk up needing assistance.) It’s exhausting and super annoying and frustrating. The rest of us are sitting there working hard while this person is just wasting as much time as they can each day with trivial nonsense. I’d advise OP to be really aware and self-reflective of if they are coming across this way to others as well, and modify behavior to stop if so.

  48. Close Bracket*

    She asked me if I had noticed an uptick in the chit chat

    Did she ask you to *do* anything? I can’t tell from the letter or the response whether she actually said, “Can you please chit chat less?” and assuming there was an implied request for quiet, I can’t tell whether she wanted LW specifically to pipe down or whether she wanted the entire office to pipe down. Since I am both an asker and a teller, I recommend getting some clarification on what the desired outcome of this conversation should be. LW can work it into a follow up conversation after taking the advice of some of the posters here on taking more specific notice of how much talking everybody is doing.

  49. Is it Friday yet?*

    Ha I have the opposite issue at my office. They want to have a “people first” culture, meaning they discourage sending emails and encourage people to go talk to the person instead. I have to produce a high volume of content for multiple departments that requires getting information and approvals from multiple people with varying schedules and availability on a constant, recurring tight time-frame, so this ideology isn’t always the most conducive to the work I am responsible for. I think I’ve finally gotten them to see why it’s problematic to be so rigid in enforcing this policy 100% of the time. It’s like, since they didn’t see me check their availability multiple times and go visit a closed office door 3 times before finally sending an email, they feel justified in scrutinizing me. I wish more managers would not just blindly enforce policies without thinking through the differences in jobs and how each person’s productivity would be impacted.

  50. JSPA*

    I love it that there are safe and comfortable work environments for people who’d rather compartmentalize their interactions, rather than sprinkling them through the day. The boss has a right to make her workplace One of Those.

    See, I love to talk when I don’t have to concentrate, but I’m just ADD enough* that every act of talking (mine or someone else’s) generally busts me right out of work mode. (That, or I have to concentrate so hard that I can’t field questions pointed my way.) A text pop-up is only 1/10 as distracting, for whatever reason.

    I also, in many settings, would more often rather sit in companionable silence than navigate what strikes me more as the human / verbal equivalent of butt-sniffing than actual mutual appreciation.

    I also risk a huge urge to run off at the mouth if someone brings up any of the many many many many subjects that interest me. Which means that I’m either gritting my teeth endlessly to Shut It Down, or else it’s hugely distracting for all the people who want to do “a little companionable talking.”

    I also would have to make notes to myself of every detail of every dang conversation, if it didn’t come in via text or email, so doing that thing conversationally would be an overall minus for me, in terms of time spent.

    For OP, I’d suggest that for the parts of work stuff where there’s a benefit of having an “electronic paper trail,” continue to use text and email (and follow up with a smile and wave across the room).

    For the personal stuff, it may be a timing issue; e.g. you’re chatting as you’re leaving, but the boss is trying feverishly to finish things up, and it’s exactly the wrong time in her day to be distracted. Maybe institute a morning and afternoon 10 minute “stretch break” outside (a bit of fresh air, some arm circles, a chance to chat), and see if that leaves you feeling adequately connected.

    It’s also possible that, as a would-be talker, you’re doing more self-talk or mutual sympathy noises or other sounds that register with the boss (and perhaps coworkers) as communication, but don’t register on you at all. So maybe ask your boss, “what’s your impression of how much talking happens now?” And then, “There are times where speaking about a question saves two or more of us a lot of time, compared to a group email or text. We can default to all-written communication if that benefit comes at a cost to you or to anyone else, but it would be nice to know that you recognize that we’re not just chatting for the sake of chatting.”

    *as in, enough to qualify for medication, but it took decades to get diagnosed, and the diagnosis is right on the edge, but probably not secure enough to qualify for an accommodation, so I instead come in early, come in late, volunteer for the tiny basement office with no window or phone signal that was converted from a large closet, etc.

  51. Quill*

    OP: It’s possible that your boss may have problems less with the frequency of the conversations than with the volume when they happen, especially in a small office where people might have no qualms about not just having a conversation over the wall into the next cube, but across a cube or two as well. Or perhaps the issue is that each small group of people may spend 15 minutes or less chatting and 15 minutes on work stuff, but that it’s spaced out often enough and repeated enough in multiple groups that your boss is hearing a conversation occur every hour on the hour.

    If in the future you find the culture too silent, I do recommend headphones and music or podcast streaming, which works for me when I find the quiet stifling.

  52. Betty*

    I worked in a very similar quiet office with there only being 8 other co-workers. Management expected everyone to be sitting in their office at their desks at all time, and small talk was not appreciated, because then you weren’t’ actually working. Everyone else seemed to go with the status quo. I couldn’t handle the very lonely, non collaborative, ant-social culture and left for a larger organization where small talk and acting like a human is expected and appreciated.

  53. Neil*

    I think both your boss and even Allison are off base here XD

    I mean, the reason your boss’s office has a door is literally so she can close it when she needs to focus!
    Now, if she’d be able to follow your conversation through the closed door, that would be an issue.
    But having to close your door a whole three times a day…. Omg such horror! xD

    Anyhow, I completely agree with Allison that you should check in with your coworkers, and perhaps even time it for a day or something, just to check your standards and theirs are similar.
    To be frank, talking for 45 minutes a day in total seems anti-socially low. But it depends on the work. For instance, you can happily chat just doing paper work stuff. But analyzing math formulas… well, at least I wouldn’t be able to do it.
    This makes me suspicious of those 45 mins. You might only experience it as 45 mins when in reality it is 2 hours. So it would make sense to check with others’ estimates, and see how wide the guestimations range.

    I’d also be interested in Allison’s advice for silly bosses.
    That’s to say, imagine you actually only talk for 30 mins a day, and that’s still too much for your boss.
    Would you just have to be mum all day or find another job?? :/

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think we disagree — I said the boss sounds like a real outlier on this, but that ultimately she’s the boss and if she’s not going to budge, the OP needs to decide if she can live reasonably happily there.

    2. Kit*

      I am one of those people who has to do math and technical work as a regular part of my job – it cannot be done properly in a chatty environment. Not even a little.

      To me it sounds like the open plan was tolerable before OP came in and got everyone chatting, I would have had to quit or drastically change my hours/work situation.

      1. Quill*

        I can’t talk and do math at the same time, but chatter is way, way worse in an open office, even if it’s at near-whisper volume, because there is no sound barrier anywhere.

      2. SimplyTheBest*

        That you can’t do it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I do complex accounting in an open office and would find OPs workplace intolerable for how quiet it is.

  54. EasyCheesy*

    My experience with talkers in the workplace is that they don’t realize how much they talk. I’m side-eyeing the estimate of talking as possibly way too low.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      And I find people who are easily annoyed by talking that they over estimate how much someone talks. Seriously, this goes hand and hand with BEC.

  55. theelephantintheroom*

    It’s frustrating to receive feedback that you don’t agree with or understand the backing behind. That said, I would encourage you to be incredibly mindful over the next couple of weeks when you’re having a conversation. I know plenty of people who talk without really noticing that they’re doing it (a coworker of mine does this constantly, to the point where nearly everyone in the office puts on headphones as soon as she walks in. And she is completely oblivious to it). Perhaps write down notes about conversations (just what you talked about and how long the conversation likely lasted). Best case scenario is you discover your boss is being a little weird about noise. Worst case, maybe you underestimated how chatty you are.

    A friend of mine was once told by his boss that he talked too much, which he took VERY hard, and when his coworkers confirmed that they would like more quiet time, he was so upset that he quit (and still vehemently disagrees that he talks too much). That is a very extreme way to handle it, but just an example that it DOES happen that we sometimes underestimate how much we talk versus how much people perceive us talking.

    I hope you figure this one out!

  56. Feline*

    Can we put away the wrongheaded idea that quiet environment can’t be collaborative? It’s antiquated in the way that butts-in-seats time is an antiquated measure of engagement. In a workplace where coworkers can reach out by Slack and other instant messaging, a lot gets done without desk drop-ins that might disturb your cubicle neighbor. Technology allows for quiet, collaborative environments.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      OMG, yes, please! I commented about this above. It really really depends on the field. When I read “talkative and collaborative” as if these are always assumed to be the same thing, my brain damn near exploded. This is the opposite of my experience everywhere I’ve worked. In my experience, talkative work environment = no work gets done by anyone. And, with our teammates sometimes being on the opposite side of the globe, collaboration no longer has to equal “stopping by each other’s desk to chat”. Not possible when your desks are 12 hours away by plane.

  57. Catmom*

    I don’t know if this is relevant, but one employee with a piercing or sharp or high or slightly shrill voice can seem like they are talking much more often than those who murmur or speak in low voices. It might be interesting to leave a recording app turned on in a phone in your pocket for a couple of hours on a typical morning to assess this. People with voices that cut through typical office noise are often perceived as driving conversation.

  58. hamsterpants*

    LW, consider your volume (decibel level). Baring hearing issues, you can still communicate at a low volume while minimizing disruption to others.

  59. Mommy.MD*

    If your Boss says you’re too chatty, you roll back chatty. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s not true, or fair. It’s too chatty for Boss. I work with chatty people and it gets very distracting. At times I politely say I have to work or chart.

  60. Always Learning*

    I’m a pretty big introvert, and it irks me when more extroverted coworkers complain about how quiet it is upon arriving at the office. I’ve had coworkers talk about how they miss being able to play their radio, or chat all day about a variety of topics. I just cannot work like that. When I have a more cerebral task to focus on (which is often, because I’m in health care communications), I have to listen to white noise or wear earplugs. I just don’t know how people in a production-focused office setting get a lot of work done when they’re always up and chatting. It makes my skin crawl when people try to force their social expectations on me, and outside of something work-related and/or someone who outranks me, I try to set those boundaries with others whenever possible.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Noise tolerance has nothing to do with being an extrovert or introvert.

      I have low tolerance for human contact and still like loud noises…there’s a huge difference between a radio and constant chatter that usually attacks the brain in a different way than conversation.

      You sound like you may have sensory issues, which is complete legit and I’m sorry for the discomfort that causes but it has nothing to do with social expectations.

      We’re all different. That’s cool. But being frustrated and “just don’t get how they do it”, isn’t enough to make it not acceptable practice.

    2. Who Plays Backgammon?*

      I’m with you. Unfortunately, I have to be on the phone a lot with clients, so ear plugs or headphones are out of the question.

  61. Retail not Retail*

    I don’t work in an office but we have this issue in two ways. One woman will just talk forever, so most of us peace out of the trailer at lunch after eating – it doesn’t seem to bother her! We have 2 other super chatty people but they hate each other so it just seems like each talker needs an audience.

    However! We work outside doing repetitive tasks that usually don’t involve the loud power tools. We have to talk to each other or we’ll go nuts! (Ah the blissful days when we work away from the public – headphone city)

    The other problem is our work crew – we’re only supposed to talk about work with them. This sucks frankly especially for hours. My boss just lectured us on it again bc he saw one crew member standing around talking while we worked. That’s a problem with him, we weren’t conversing with him.

  62. All Outrage, All The Time*

    I love a quiet office. I would bet though that there is more than 15 mins a day of chit chat.

  63. Curmudgeon in California*

    I work in an open plan. I’ve worked in several other open plans before this. I prefer “library rules”.

    Why? I’ve worked in open plans where everyone was so crushed together and rude that I couldn’t hear myself think on most days, even with headphones! People with speakerphones, people trying to squish together to “collaborate”, people stuck having team meetings in the middle of the room because there weren’t enough conference rooms, people taking personal calls: it seriously sucked.

    My current office is spread out enough that unless one of the conversationalists is naturally loud, small one-on-one collaborations don’t carry. Even so, I am sensitive to noise, and I worry that my coughing from allergies disturbs people.

    We have had some people think that “noisy bustle” was a sign of productivity and collaboration. This was rapidly proved wrong when people trying to actually work ran away into conference rooms.

  64. An Introvert Accustomed to Chatter*

    As many have said, volume could be a factor, but in the cubicle setting, are employees talking across work stations or getting up, walking over to a colleague, and having a conversation there. Having more individual instead of group or office-wide discussions could curtail the distractions.

  65. catsup*

    I’m a bit baffled by allison’s advice for op to apparently confront their coworkers to see if their conversation is an issue. presumably, if they told their manager and it was handled in a private conversation, they’re not going to reveal to op now that they are actually being a nuisance and talking too much. And it could have the appearance of searching for the “tattle” than actually being self aware even after a direct conversation with their manager. This would also be such an odd issue to push back on. The manager has clearly said they are disturbed by the chatter, even if everyone else is seemingly okay. It’s an unnecessary distraction and unwanted. Sane as if people played music in an open workspace. If even one person is bothered, stick on the headphones. Just really threw me off with this one.

  66. cncx*

    I’m a naturally quiet person and i get annoyed by office chitchat. Late to the game on this, but i had a boss try to tell m i talked too much at work. It turns out this person wanted me gone, and couldn’t attack my work output, so tried to say i talked too much (and again, i’m a naturally quiet person at work). This may be a fit issue, this is likely a manager issue.

  67. NotTheSameAaron*

    I’ve had it said that “Quiet workers are happy workers.” Perhaps that what they expect?

  68. Des*

    I can’t work very well if there’s conversation happening around me, I need quiet, so for me, having “chatter” around would be entirely disruptive. Have you considered making the small-talk center around the particular movement-heavy times like the lunch time or at the start/end of the workday and keeping chunks of time quiet for people who need to focus?

  69. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    A collaborative environment isn’t necessarily a chatty one. I once worked in a converted warehouse where the projects were extremely collaborative but the nature of the work meant concentrating, thinking, and creating. We all had to pull together to get to deadline together, so we had to respect one another’s need for quiet.

    I currently work in a very different industry, in a wide-open office with a lot of extroverts. They can’t seem to ever shut up. Work related is one thing, but there’s so much brainless yatter. Jeez, give the sound waves a rest once in a while. Sometimes I can’t hear clients talking on the phone. One recent hire had the gall to go into a big speech about how I’m too serious about work and they don’t need any more like me because I don’t talk enough. She thought she was so funny and interesting! Here’s a concept for you: I’m constantly swamped with work, don’t have your leeway to hang out and chatter, and if my work isn’t done, coworkers like you complain that I didn’t get you this and didn’t finish that. Another newcomer prefers to use her speaker phone and says we need music playing to help us work. Oh? Did you ever try to proofread financial documents?

    I didn’t mean to go off on a rant, but this one really got me where I live.

  70. lilsheba*

    I wish I was in a quiet office, just working on my own with no one to talk to. Sounds like heaven to me. Better yet I wish I could work from home so I can have that environment, with lower light, and no NOISE.

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