how to set boundaries with a very chatty coworker

A reader writes:

I work with a dedicated and conscientious person. We have the same title and role and interact a lot for our jobs. I like her but she is extremely chatty. She is clueless as to how it impacts me and our joint workload and it’s starting to wear on me.

A typical conversation will be her asking “How was your weekend?” Upon anyone’s response, she is off and running and can’t be stopped. If someone says they went to the lake on the weekend, she’ll respond “Oh, I have a cousin who has a lake house but the house has been condemned because it was infested by rats so she had to move and now she lives in a different town but she lives in an apartment and she needs to downsize but she’s worried if she sells her furniture she’ll have to buy more…” She’ll continue to ramble on — you get the idea. She doesn’t seem understand she’s talking too much and making it hard to focus on work.

I’m impacted the most because we work together so closely. It was worse when we were in the office, but even now that we’re working remotely she floods our Slack channels and my IMs with chitchat.

It’s to the point where sometimes I don’t even respond but it doesn’t stop her. I think she’ll be wounded if I’m too direct, but this has to stop. What can I do?

Every office seems to have an excessive chatter, at least judging by my inbox. So you’ve got a lot of company in this (loud, distracting) boat.

When you’re dealing with an incessant talker, you have two options: deal with it on a case-by-case basis as it happens, or have a big-picture conversation with her about your need for more space to focus. The second option will probably feel more awkward in the moment, but it tends to be less exhausting in the long run.

But if you’re not ready for that—and it’s fine if you’re not—then the approach to try first is being more assertive about setting boundaries in the moment. That means saying things like:

  • “Sorry, I’m swamped today and can’t really chat!”
  • “I’d better get back to this X project, I’ve got a ton to do.”
  • “I’m on deadline but maybe we can catch up later.”
  • “I’m glad your weekend was good! I can’t talk much today, got to finish up X.”
  • “I better let you go—I’m swamped.”
  • “Sorry to cut you off—I’ve got to get back to this.”
  • “I should stop us before we get into a longer conversation—I’m right in the middle of X and don’t want to lose my focus.”

When you say these things in-person, it helps to reinforce the message by immediately turning back to your work. On Slack or IM, you can’t send those visual cues but you can send other cues—like not responding to any subsequent messages for a few hours or even the whole day.

Even if these strategies don’t stop your coworker in the long term, they’re likely to get you some immediate space and quiet. If they don’t, try asserting yourself further: “Sorry, I really meant it when I said I can’t talk now. Let me get back to this and we’ll catch up another time.”

But unless your coworker is excellent at picking up on cues (and clearly she’s not), at some point you’re probably going to need to have that bigger-picture conversation with her. That might mean saying something like, “I enjoy talking with you, but it’s hard for me to chat much during the day when I’m trying to focus on work. I usually need to get back to what I’m doing pretty quickly. I’m going to try to be more disciplined about that, and I don’t want you to take it personally.” Or you could say, “I want to let you know that I’m trying to focus better during the day so I probably won’t be able to chat as much as we used to.”

Once you’ve done that, you’ll likely find it easier to be direct in the future when she’s talking your ear off. You can say, “Sorry, working!” or “On deadline, let’s talk later!” and just leave it there.

You mentioned that you’re worried your coworker will be hurt if you’re very direct, but by not taking the more subtle cues that sometimes work, she’s putting you in a situation where you need to be direct. Plus, I suspect you’re worrying about this coming across as rude when you wouldn’t find it rude if the roles were reversed! Imagine someone else setting this same type of boundary with you—even if you were a little embarrassed, ultimately you’d understand and respect their request, right? (Especially if they continued being warm to you when you did interact.)

But if she does seem hurt, keep in mind that there was nothing unreasonable about your request—in fact, you have an obligation to your employer to set boundaries on your time and your level of socializing while you work. And it’s your colleague’s responsibility to handle reasonable requests… well, reasonably. If she seems stung for more than a day or two, it could be useful to say, “I want to make sure I didn’t offend you. I’m trying to be conscientious about what I need to do to focus, and I hope you don’t take that personally.” But you also shouldn’t fall into feeling like you need to manage your coworker’s feelings for her.

And ultimately, if she’s a nice person, and it sounds like you think she is, it’s more respectful to let her know what you need, rather than just silently stewing about something she doesn’t realize is annoying you.

You can read my answer to this letter at Vice today. Head over there to read it.

{ 89 comments… read them below }

  1. Lena Clare*

    So, so agree that it’s more respectful to tell people what’s bugging you, than to silently stew in resentment without them knowing.
    Telling people what we want from them is a very powerful magical spell we too often ignore.

    1. Cedarthea*

      I saw a Brene Brown quote of

      “Clear is Kind, Unclear is Unkind.”

      I find this has helped me as a person who can be avoidant at times, but when I’m being clear about what I need, I am being kind.

  2. 80HD*

    As someone who likes to chat, I like it equally as much when people tell me that they can’t, that they’re busy, or that they’re focusing. I would also add that it’s important not to ask follow-up questions or give answers that could lead to further follow-up, if you truly don’t want to keep the conversation going. So I would meet “How was your weekend?” with something like “It was pretty fine, thanks. I’m super swamped today though, I have to keep going on this. Talk to you later!”

    1. AGD*

      This is me too. I will just talk at people for however long, and I do want them to tell me if they need to get back to work or get going (even if this is a white-lie for “I have had enough”).

    2. Mid*

      Same here. Especially with the pandemic, I have very few social outlets and have been conversation starved lately. I really miss the casual office chit chat that used to happen.

  3. Bobboccio*

    I had a boss like this once (only maybe moreso even that the letter writer, I can’t tell). I looked it up online, and found a condition called “pressure of speech.” You can find videos on youtube of people speaking with it.

    Soon as I saw a video of it, I was like, yes, that’s what my boss has.

    1. Not Australian*

      My mother was like this; couldn’t abide a silence. We used to say that if her mouth was open she thought she was actually saying something. It’s given me a lifelong appreciation for people who can sit together in the same room and not feel under any pressure to talk.

    2. Snark no more!*

      This is my mother-in-law! It’s taken 30 years of marriage to manage effectively. The first 5 were BRUTAL.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I’ve looked at this, but the examples and descriptions all seem to focus on more extreme psychotic or bipolar disorders. However, a LOT of people are overly chatty and ramble, and surely they can’t ALL be psychotic or bipolar?

      1. Bobboccio*

        In my example, she would literally talk for two hours about her personal life, without letting me say a single word. I’m not saying she was psychotic or bipolar, but there was something weird going on, more than most people would describe with the words chatty.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        I had a friend who was always talking. Once I stayed the night at her place and the next day she told a friend we’d been up talking till about 4 am. I had lain my head on my pillow at 2 am and was out like a light, so she was the only one who’d done any talking for two whole hours, no input from me. That’s not a conversation, my dear. .

    4. SheLooksFamiliar*

      A good friend once described a chatty co-worker like this: ‘She talks until she thinks of something to say.’ It was an accurate description.

  4. Delta Delta*

    I used to work with someone like this. I often would just walk away while she was talking if other people were around.

    1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      Yes, remember you CAN do this. It’s not rude. You are at work. You can interrupt and say, “I have to get back to my desk now,” then walk away. Or, you can say, “You have to go now, I need to focus on this.” and stare pointedly until she leaves* because, again you are at work.
      I have no advice, input or experience with the Slack situation and am looking forward to seeing people’s suggestions on that. Can you create a limit on daily posting? Like, “if you add more than X comments or your comments are more than two paragraphs, save it for your blog!”

      *some people say, turn back to your computer, but I’ve found chatters think they can talk at you while you work. I had to make the point that I could not start until she left and had better luck.”

      1. Zombeyonce*

        The Slack thing can go a couple of ways. If she’s starting out a new post, you can just ignore it pretty easily. If it’s a reply in a thread, it’s much harder to ignore, and that’s the real problem. The best way to handle this is to remind everyone to keep off-topic chats in the non-work channels. (This is where you have to make sure your Slack team has at least one non-work channel, like #random.)

        Make an announcement (w/management’s okay) that you’re going to start being better about staying on-topic in channels and threading responses (good chat tool etiquette!) and when she starts responding w/a tangent, reply w/a “Hey Janet, let’s keep this on topic. You can tell us about that in #random.” A few days of this and she should be used to moving her tangents to a different channel where they’re much easier to ignore as new posts. You’ll probably also notice that people will very rarely reply to her posts there, which may reduce her posting if she’s not getting any response/positive feedback.

        My team has done rounds of reminding people to keep off-topic talk out of work channels every 6 months or so just naturally since it does tend to creep in and no one is offended, and we all get back to good Slack etiquette quickly. After the initial announcement was made years ago, we all feel comfortable making those reminders.

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          Thank you for taking the time to explain this to me. In addition to curiosity about OP’s options my company has been full work from home for seven months and have 2 or 3 more to go. I see us adopting this and I appreciate the preview.

    2. juliebulie*

      I have a coworker this, and one time I walked away while he was talking even though NO other people were there. He was talking about something not work-related and not interesting to me.

      So he followed me, still talking, till I got to the ladies’ room. (At least he didn’t follow me there too.)

    3. Washi*

      I have also done this, and the funny thing is that at least in my experience, it doesn’t even faze the person! I think people who are this pathologically chatty also often get used to being ignored/walked away from.

      1. AGD*

        Seriously. If someone wanders away from me, I’ll probably sit there for a bit and start unconsciously talking to myself.

      2. Hare under the moon with silver spoon*

        Oh yes – I walked off and person talking simply carried on and found someone else – I never felt rude doing this as they weren’t really talking to me – more just air, vocal cords and I was a body in the vicinity – any incessant monologues from anyone get same treatment from me now – headphones, fixed staring at screen if at desk, walking away all. The monologuers that knowingly corner you – those ones that really weird me out though.

  5. China Girl on the Shelf*

    This reminds me of the scene in “Six Feet Under” where the mom invites her coworker home to dinner. And he won’t stop talking! We hear the monologue in her head “Shut up! Shut up! The mouth! Stop moving the mouth!”

    1. Sleepless*

      Ha! I was also thinking of Star Trek Discovery when Stamets says very ponderously to Tilly, “Say…fewer…things.”

  6. Anon234*

    I’m chatty and genuinely interested in hearing how people are. I just get … enthusiastic with certain people
    I can also be sensitive to criticism and would hate thinking I was making anyone unhappy with random chat. So Alisons scripts are awesome for drawing boundaries without crushing a spirit.

    I’d far rather know where I stand rather than impose a word dump on someone.

  7. Lady Heather*

    The cousin should ditch the furniture, selling if doable on short notice and otherwise donating it. With few exceptions, buying furniture is cheaper than 1) a few months of the rent on a bigger apartment that has room for the furniture, or 2) over a year of renting a storage locker to store the furniture.

  8. Becca M*

    This used to be me! I had a lot of free time at work, and also a very limited social circle outside of work. The unfortunate result was that I was the annoyingly chatty office girl and it also signaled to my manager that I wasn’t working very hard.
    Luckily for me, I had a coworker who was very blunt with me that my behaviour was off-putting and making people avoid me. So, speaking from that experience, I really do suggest having a direct, kind conversation with her and then reinforce it when you need to. This won’t stop overnight, so you may need a few, “Hey, sorry to cut you off but I’ve got get to work.”
    Hopefully she is receptive and willing to make the effort to be less overbearing!

    1. Cedarthea*

      Same! We did a workshop on time management and they talked about how to get people to stop talking to you and almost everyone (my coworkers) suggested that you should just be polite and give hints, and I told them about how one of our colleagues would say to me “It was great chatting, but I have to get back to work now”, and how that was so much better for someone who has a habit of chatting.

      I told them that it hurts more to realize that you’ve missed their cues and they were upset with you than for them to say what they need, that is to get back to work.

  9. Kikishua*

    Also, it’s always better to talk about a habit that’s bugging you a bit BEFORE you have an explosive moment because you’ve been simmering too long…

  10. Richard Hershberger*

    I have never had a job with Slack, and my impression of IM is that it is just poorly formatted email. So help me out here. Is she sending out an endless stream of text messages about nothing? How hard is it to simply ignore them? Is this a dedicated channel for socializing, which you can simply not look at? Or is it all a single stream of messages, including work-related ones that are actually important? If so, then it seems to me there is a really good business case for her manager to put a stop to this, as the important stuff will inevitably get lost in the stream of blather.

    1. Zombeyonce*

      Slack is like IM on steroids. It has multiple channels, like specific chat rooms for specific topics. You can thread replies like you can here so you can have posts about different things easily separated so people can pick and choose what they want to respond to in a specific channel without having to respond to everything posted there. There are usually mostly work-related channels but also some non-work related channels (where she should be posting this stuff). I have a feeling she’s putting her tangents in threads where they don’t belong so people can’t ignore them since they’re reading threads on a topic that interests them and her tangent is right in the middle of it. She needs to be redirected to stay on topic in threads and in channels and only post about off-topic things in channels where it would belong (like a “random” channel).

    2. AcademiaNut*

      It’s divided into multiple streams, usually organized by topic or group. If she’s flooding work related channels with random chatter, someone higher up need to sit down with her and tell her to cut it out.

      If she’s flooding the #random or #social channel it’s more like having someone hanging out in the break room who talks non stop. You can avoid it, but you have to give up casual social chat with all your other coworkers too.

  11. Legal Beagle*

    For Slack, you can snooze your notifications during times you really don’t want to be disturbed by her chats (if that’s acceptable in your workplace culture). Also, put your DM channel with her on mute!! She won’t see that you’ve done so, and it will keep her barrage of chats from constantly interrupting you. You can check it 1-2x a day or whatever feels right to keep the peace, while preserving your sanity and focus.

    1. Nanani*

      I was going to say this.
      Mute the channel, turn off notifications, whatever works.

      If coworker starts pestering you with something like “Hey are you there??” then you tell them you’re busy, once.
      They will eventually have to learn that they don’t get attention this way.

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      This may not work if they do need to use slack for their collaboration. OP did indicate that they do need to work together quite a bit.

      I do recommend doing it when and if you can. You could also try to stem the tide a bit by saying something like, “You know, the things relating to X task are really kind of getting lost in the shuffle on our DM thread. I’m going to create a X task channel, can we keep everything in there just about that so we can find the info we need easily?” Then you can more or less ignore your DM thread with her until a time when you can chat for a minute or two, but still have the necessary work exchanges happening. It may or may not work, but it might be worth a try if full on muting isn’t an option.

      I do think just using Allison’s script about telling her you do need to focus a bit more and need to cut down on chatting is a good idea, though. You can have a ten minute check in a couple times a day where you discuss the topics of the moment on slack, but then let her know you need to get back to it. By making it about YOU needing to focus it helps soften the blow a bit. It’s not that you don’t want to talk, or that she is the problem by talking too much, it’s the need to get the work done that’s the problem.

  12. TootsNYC*

    on Slack, you can turn off notifications, and she’ll get an autoreply message each time.

    Of course, so will everybody else, but you can respond to them as soon as you like, no matter what the autoreply says.

  13. agnes*

    I really wish people learned more at school about how to succinctly talk–maybe a public/work speaking class. . We spend a lot of time teaching young people how to get to the point in their writing, but not so much in their talking. Sometimes I feel like I am getting a tour of somebody’s brain when they are talking to me, and it’s a confusing roadmap.

    I know when my spouse kindly tells me “Honey you lost me back in Omaha with this story” that I am going down a rabbit hole.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      It is true. I don’t remember any classes at all aside from the dreaded “oral report” that really got at how to engage in public speaking in any way. It’s one reason students don’t know how to interview either.
      Schools ought to have Toastmasters come in. But I don’t hold any hope of that happening.

      It seems like schools cut everything that amounts to art, music or the “real life” skills. My niece and nephew did not even know how to balance a checkbook! That is definitely something I was taught back in the day, along with home economics and basic cooking, sanitation/housekeeping, and driving skills.

      1. PollyQ*

        Balancing a checkbook is a much less important skill when you can see all your transactions & current bank balance online. But I definitely agree that schools should teach more practical life skills.

      2. Seacalliope*

        There are real reasons they cut it. I wish people who were passionate about improving education would advocate to educational administration and canvass for budgetary increases, because most complaints about education just amount to hating on public schools for doing what they can with pathetic budgets.

      3. Moegle*

        I’m almost 30 and have no idea what “balancing a chequebook” means. I’ve also never written a cheque or owned a chequebook, though, so it doesn’t feel important.

        We did have “Food Technology” classes that taught some basic cooking, but the focus quickly became “this is how you would approach food as a business” and making the same recipes over and over. Chelsea buns and scones are not useful everyday cooking.

      4. it's me!*

        “Balancing a checkbook” isn’t really a relevant skill anymore, so I’m glad they don’t teach it. Just becasue we had to learn something, that doesn’t mean it’s useful to today’s kids! Knowing how to navigate online banking, or how to fill out tax forms, would be a much better use of class time.

    2. Tabby*

      There’s also the constant pressure to be so. very. chatty. I was a creepily quiet girl most of my school career, and there were a thousand complaints about how quiet I was; teachers loved my essays and whatnot, but I didn’t speak much aloud. Mostly because I am very slow to converse on things I know nothing about. This went on so long (it’s actually continued into adulthood, unfortunately) I now have a twitch where I tall a lot so people don’t think I am unfriendly, and it’s annoying to me. I hate it. Maybe this lady is a victim of that kind of constant pressure?

    3. BethDH*

      I’m naturally chatty and I’m better now than I used to be.
      One thing that helped me in school that you wouldn’t expect was foreign language classes. I just had to think so much more about what I was going to say that it forced me to think about what was the most important part and also got me used to a conversational style with more pauses.

  14. Unexpected Dragon*

    As a very (very) chatty person, I fully respect and appreciate when people stop me at the beginning with a “Sorry, can’t super busy right now.” Chattiness comes from a place of wanting to be really open and friendly. You are being open with me telling me now isn’t a good time, and I’m respecting the friendship by leaving you to it.

  15. HR Bee*

    I am one of these people, and I am 100% aware that I do it – after the fact. For some reason, my brain tells me it would be rude to stop a conversation and small, subtle clues don’t do anything to stop me while the conversation is happening. But once I do finally leave, I’m like OMG I TALK TOO MUCH.

    I now tell people I interact with on an ongoing basis (mainly other HR colleagues) that I know I do this and to please just tell me to stop or leave and that I won’t be offended. It has helped my relationship with my colleagues tremendously. We used Predictive Index and my closest colleague and I were like in a spiral of our personalities. I talk and take over and she didn’t like to rock the boat. Once I told her, telling me to leave or stop is not rocking the boat, we were perfect and it became easier for me to recognize when I was being too much as well.

    But yes, please, it is a kindness to let the person know. They can’t fix it otherwise.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I’ve always been told in the workplace that you should summarize the call/meeting/whatever with the “call to action” you want them (or you) to do. But I find when I try to do this, I just ramble or feel like I’m repeating instead of ending.

  16. Dream Jobbed*

    I can gently tell someone about my ADD, how I can’t multitask, and how distractions are hard on me. Once I’ve done the informational notice and a couple gentle reminders, I feel free to grow ever more irritated as they continue to interrupt my work. But usually just reminding people that it is really hard for me to concentrate after they have broken it (or haven’t allowed it) is enough. Good luck!

  17. insertusernamehere*

    Ugh, I had one of these at my work! And the thing is she a lovely person and also amazing at her job, but the personal chatter drives me insane. And it’s a like a game of Bingo where inevitably there will be a mention of a random person’s health ailment, a spontaneous crisis, or perhaps the latest issue with the neighbors, the house, the car, mortgage, or a bill. Unprompted gossip. Sometimes about people I know. Sometimes about people I have never met. An update on walking mileage. Grave concern over something silly. A semi-rude fussing comment – “PLEASE tell me you gentlemen aren’t going to be outside today in this heat” when like, it’s 9am and they are furniture delivery guys and OF COURSE this is what they will be doing all day because ma’am it’s THEIR JOB,” followed by a story of some relative’s neighbor who once got heat stroke, and on and on it goes. It was so distracting and everyone started avoiding her. During Covid stay in place when we were all at time, she blew up all of our phones with insane texts and memes and chatter. No one else was ever engaging.

    At one point, another coworker actually told her that “She needed to find some people outside of her coworkers” to be an outlet for her chatter. Ouch. Kind of harsh but….. it was true…. Also the woman who said it to her has kind of a naturally brusque, very literal, not warm and fuzzy personality, so it was actually really good coming from her. I don’t know how to explain it, but it didn’t sound quite as personal because you get the sense this woman would have said that to anyone. I think it’s better to be direct.

    I wasn’t as direct and I didn’t do a good job of shutting it down. I would just look down at my phone and pretend to get distracted then look up and be like, “Huh?” Or I would ignore most of her chatter and then just ask something work-related. I always gave vague answers to her questions like, “How was your evening? What did you do you last night?” and I would just say, “I don’t even remember” and try to change the subject before she could launch into a recap of her evening.

    The best thing I would do is give her engaged in a project that really used her skills. She absolutely thrives and it would end up being really fun working on something together, mainly focused on the work and bouncing off ideas, and easier to keep the small talk/personal chatter to a minimum. I don’t mind a little of that, but she had nooo boundaries. I think she was going through a hard time though, so I felt a little bad that she didn’t really have anyone. But my other coworker did a much better job of outright, directly telling her she needed to find friends and outlets outside of work and that she was driving us all crazy…

  18. Workerbee*

    I often wonder if the incessant talkers legitimately don’t notice that their audience is practically dying in front of them—or don’t care. I’ve also experienced a correlation between people who declare they are excellent storytellers and people who fail to pick up on wandering attention, turning away, closed eyes…

    Variants that have worked for me:
    -Got to run to a meeting! (Bonus points if one doesn’t exist.)
    -You just reminded me that I wanted to talk about Point A! (Flatters the speaker while you redirect and, hopefully, take control.)
    -I can’t wait to hear more! I have to finish this task right now so I’ll catch you later.
    -Let’s table that discussion/put that idea in the parking lot/put a pin in that. (Using corporate speech can penetrate even the densest thicket of talkers, somehow.)
    -How do you not notice I am literally falling asleep in front of you? (Said to my husband, who just grins sheepishly but doesn’t have a response.)

    1. Workerbee*

      I should add that telling someone directly is optimal, but there are folks who have been told that and don’t change their behavior, so trying to take care of yourself may be all you can do.

    2. MasterOfBears*

      So I’m sure this varies massively, but as the (semi-recovered) oblivious chatter: I’m not great with verbal communication *or* reading social cues…so I can focus on one or the other, but not both, unless I’m really expending brainpower. Hence, it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in the “words” side of things and blank out the cues from the other person, especially in a casual conversation.

      I’ve gotten better about it (thanks to kind people breaking in over the years), and I often just let new coworkers or acquaintances know my mouth runs away without my brain sometimes, so I’ll never be offended if you need to cut me off.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I think the majority of them don’t notice because they can’t read the cues of others well. It is not intentional.

      But there is a minority that just love to hear themselves because then they are the center of attention and don’t care about others. Same with the “interrupters” they get power or authority from interrupting others and then become center of attention.

      I have a boss who is a chronic interrupter. Otherwise he’s a pretty good boss and not a bad person, but jeez, it can get annoying because no one can ever finish presenting anything. Sometimes he’ll even say “I’ll shut up after this comment…” and then he interrupts AGAIN five minutes later.

    4. Artemesia*

      decades ago I was in a social group telling a fascinating but lengthy story and of course charming all and sundry and when it came to an end, I launched into another fascinating story and the group visible shrank and one person got up and walked away. Since then I have tried to at minimum stop after one monologue and my husband and I remind each other BEFORE we arrive at a dinner party (back when we had dinner parties) to give everyone else a chance to blather too. All that helps. Part of talking too much is being insensitive to the fact that you are hogging the social space and depriving others of their chance to contribute. And of course 100X worse at work when people need to work.

    5. it's me!*

      Honestly some people don’t even care who they talk to. They just want to hear the sound of their own voice.

  19. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

    I had an on-site (socially-distant) meeting today with clients. It’s a construction site that’s mostly open air right now, so it’s pretty easy to hold those meetings and point out the things we need to go over without being in close quarters.

    The client is a developer and 3 people on their team meet with us often, either on Zoom or on-site. When on-site, it’s the only time they see each other in person because they’re all working remotely. So we usually give them some time to catch up and chit chat after we’ve covered all our topics for the meeting. Sometimes I stick around since it means I get to be personable with them and help our working relationship, and sometimes I need to leave before they’re finished. No harm no foul! Stay as long as you please and I’ll see you next week!

    My boss has a short attention span and can get a little glazed over when the meetings go on for too long (understandable, they’re kind of exhausting sometimes). I’ve told him multiple times he doesn’t ALWAYS have to stick around the social portion of the meeting. He sees no problem with me skipping out when I need to, but he seems to think he needs to stick around since he’s the face of our company. I guess he thinks it would seem gruff.

    I’m a little better at chit chatting when I have the time, but ending conversation when I’m busy and don’t have the time (or I just don’t feel chatty). But I can see how sometimes people stay in conversations thinking it will seem rude if they leave, even though that’s not the case! Don’t feel like you have to be held hostage by conversations!

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Oh gawd, such the memory. Brand-new job, meeting co-workers for the 1st or 2nd time, and I was in a conference room with 2 other folks during a break period. They started chatting, and then she told him, “Let me tell you about the time….” and launched into SUCH a long and detailed story about losing her checkbook and eventually finding it again. In a cubical setting, I would have felt fine wandering off, but somehow I felt like leaving the conference room – with a doorway to walk thru – would be rude, and since I hadn’t left at the start of the anecdote I had to stay to the end. (No, I wouldn’t feel the same way now.) I was so bored. Why didn’t I just have a bathroom urgent need? No idea, but it was a brand-new job and I *really* wanted to make a good impression.

      1. Poppy*

        I find that the avalanche of words makes it impossible to think. And tbh even a bathroom need isn’t enough to stop some people.

  20. CatPerson*

    Help. I work in an OFFICE full of these people. Most of them know that I prefer not to engage in this kind of endless chitchat, so they don’t bother. The problem is that it seems like it is endlessly going on around me, especially among all of the parents–they will stand around for long periods of time talking about their kids. I will ask them to move their conversation to a conference room, and if I do they will break it up (not before giving me the ol’ stinkeye, though). But 10 minutes later those two guys are running down their sports team news or those other two gals are now talking about *their* kids. It absolutely drives me nuts. I have talked to their managers, but he has an office with a door so unless he’s walking by when it’s happening he doesn’t get how endless it is when virtually his whole team is chatting around me, just rotating the participants, all day long. I am so much happier working from home because of covid, but eventually I will probably have to go back, and I really drad it. Not that I want to hijack the OP’s question, but as a sub-category of the same problem, is there any advice that won’t make them all hate me?

    1. eshrai*

      Headphones? If it’s office culture idk how you could stop it. You could suggest they move to their desks and away from yours. Or is there a more out of the way spot you could ask to be moved to?

      1. yala*

        lol I remember trying headphones. Not only did they not work, but in the end it actually made things a little worse.

    2. FearNot*

      Can you wear noise canceling headphones at work? If you’ve already talked to their manager, I’d be hesitant to do more unless you really don’t need the social capital with these coworkers.

  21. eshrai*

    So I will admit that I am often the office talker. I know I’m doing it…but have a hard time stopping. I am fine with direct feedback though. Does not hurt my feelings at all! It’s more embarrassing to know that people are silently annoyed with you for a long time than to have someone cut me off and say they don’t have time for that. I have gotten better over time though.

  22. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I find the phrase “Lingua Anglicarum non fablo” extremely helpful. “No hablo Aleman,” “Non parlo Spagnolo,” “je ne parle pas Italien” may all come in handy.

  23. Liz*

    Oof. Not a co-worker but a former neighbor. Who lived on the first floor of a house where I was in an apt. upstairs. But had to pass by her, on her lawn chair, on the driveway, every weekend when it was nice out. I used to say she didn’t talk TO you, but AT you…and as many others said, would start out with “how was your day….” and if you mentioned anything, she’d take it and run off in 800 different directions that had nothing to do with what you were discussing, and full of people you had no idea who they were!

    I used to just keep walking and talking, and while she’s follow me up to a point, then she’d stop, and i’d go upstairs to my apt. But it was draining. She was very nice, just very lonely, didn’t have many friends or interests, so would glom onto anyone she could.

    1. Tabby*

      I will often say to these kinds of people,”I am not interested in a conversation.” They might be offended, but they can’t avoid knowing that they risk a rude response after being told outright that their overtures aren’t welcome. Admittedly I try to soften this with older people or children, though – “I’m sorry, I’m very busy right now; I can’t talk now!”. I reserve the Shut the Entire Hell Up Bat for the worst offenders.

  24. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I agree with everything Alison suggested. Realize that it’s not your job to navigate her feelings. I know this may sound harsh, but as long as you’re direct while being kind and respectful, it’s not on you if she gets her feelings hurt. You can’t control how others react, and it’s unreasonable to walk on eggshells when she’s keeping you from getting your work done.

    And I don’t know much about Slack, but with Skype and other IM apps, you can put yourself on Do Not Disturb and even if someone sends you a message, it won’t come through and distract you.

    1. PollyQ*

      All of this. Obviously, it’s good to keep people’s feelings in mind when you’re making a decision that will affect them, but “don’t hurt anyone’s feelings” can’t be the only, or even the highest, consideration, especially not in a work context.

  25. CatPerson*

    I had a co-worker exactly like that, plus she was my friend as well. I struck up a deal with my boss so that whenever she saw my friend monopolizing me she would call my phone to give me an excuse to have to answer it. Maybe you can enlist another nearby co-worker?

    1. jenni o*

      I also had to do this with one particular coworker who had the office next to mine. It didn’t matter if you told her you were busy, or if you openly ignored her and kept working—the talking would not stop until the phone rang. So I had a deal with my coworker across the hall from me, and we would regularly save each other when we heard a conversation rattle on too long. Otherwise we liked this coworker very much and she was extremely skilled at her job!

  26. Mannheim Steamroller*

    One guy in my office (before COVID) is the absolute worst at this. In his mind, if you approach within 30 feet of him (or if he comes close enough to you), then you have given him permission to talk your ear off. No amount of “Dude, I’m busy” will shut him up, so all we can do is ignore him.

  27. M. Albertine*

    If you’re concerned about being abrupt, it helps to tell them when you ARE willing to chat: “I have to get this done by 10:00, but I was going to take a 10-minute coffee break then, if you want to catch up then.” Only do this if you’re willing to use your break this way, though. A couple times a week doing that might help preserve the friendliness of the work relationship, but confine it to times you can handle it.

  28. Lert345*

    Had two women close to me that were constantly chatting with each other. One liked to tell everyone about everything going on in her life, in her sister’s life, in her neighbor’s life, in her sister’s neighbor’s life etc … The other one loved complaining, chronically. Both needed someone to listen to them, so they were always glommed onto each other.

    It was creating a very distracting environment to everyone in earshot. A few went to conference rooms to get work in peace. Not to mention that you were overhearing ‘too much information’.

    Finally someone lobbed a complaint to the manager, who didn’t take it seriously, and had ignored previous complaints about the issue. Thankfully I got another job where people are much more considerate.

  29. Introverted Type-A Employee*

    As an introvert working for and with extroverts, this is a daily nightmare. I have a “Type A” personality and I am hyper-focused when working on a project. I tune out what’s around me and focus in on my work. However, the chatty owner and coworkers often make repeated “soft” bids for attention such as laughing to themselves, cueing me that I’m supposed to ask what’s funny, sending me a meme and staring at me waiting when I ignore the phone notification and keep working, etc. I am often focused and don’t notice these bids for attention and interaction until they just keep passively laughing louder or repeating whatever bid was made. I’ve directly explained that I prefer to focus, am not very chatty, and that they’ll need to say my name or come up to me if they need my immediate attention.

    They still continue with the soft bids, which drive me insane. When I finally acknowledge them, it’s often something very mundane, which leads to more stories, and I just want to focus and do my work. I do great work and am well liked and respected. We get along and enjoy one another on business trips and such. However, they don’t seem to understand that if I’m at my desk working, that’s work time. If we’re out and about networking, that’s social time (and I participate because it’s socially expected and mandated in some ways). I’ve taken to reading my Kindle in the car on my lunch so I can have quiet time, as they also don’t respect the book as “me” time. Even if one of them is watching Netflix in the break area and I’m in another chair reading, they will insist on pausing/rewinding/asking me to watch and comment. Or just chatting at me. I just want to take my downtime to unwind.

    Having to interact with others is exhausting and really the opposite of relaxing to me. From all of these posts of office chatters here, though, it seems like I’m the odd man out! Chatty folks here, I truly appreciate that you are among those that respect the request for uninterrupted work, and I suspect you would also be the types to respect the social cue reading a book silently gives. Sheesh that was long…I guess I’m an introvert that really needed to vent and get a few things out! Thanks!

    1. Hare under the moon with silver spoon*

      Your coworkers sound exhausting. I’ve worked in places where people “read the room” and will leave someone focussed alone whether thats reading over lunch or working etc. The forced fun of sending you memes that aren’t funny (for you) also sounds like it may not so much extraverts not understanding introverts but a work culture thats a little socially off all round.

  30. I'm petty but my friends call me Tom*

    Oh my. Much sympathy. My old co-worker was this way. Anything you had done, he had done earlier, faster, cheaper, better than you had. As a bonus, he was about as far right of political center as I am to the left. This made for some very interesting conversations, in part because he wouldn’t shut up and in part because I couldn’t -not- take the bait. I finally had enough when stuff for my co-worker got VERY busy (we had different roles, just shared an office). He was fuming about being so swamped, at which point I said, “I do actually enjoy chatting with you, but for the sake of everything, let’s cool it for a bit.” He retired about six months later.

    Bonus: My partner and I had been planning a big road trip (pre-Covid, obvs.) that included a rather unique historical site that had very limited access. Co-worker mentioned that he’d never been there. I made a special point of bringing him back a souvenir from that point. Out loud it was because he thought it was a cool place. Subtext was “and for once, I did something you haven’t.”

    1. Introverted Type-A Employee*

      Ah, the office one-upper! Even worse than the overly sharing chatters, but frequently the same culprit!

  31. Garnet, Crystal Gem*

    I had a really annoying coworker like this, and I addressed him about it early on when I first started that job and it registered…but only in that moment. After that he would try to initiate convos by asking me what I was working on, and while sometimes he’d say “oh you sound busy, I’ll leave you to it”, 90% of time he’d go full steam ahead with whatever it was he wanted to talk about. The only way I could get him to stop was by turning back to face my work AND stop responding (because saying I had work to do, would prompt him to reply “we all have work to do but…”) or patiently listen to him until he got it all out his system. What’s odd is that if he had a full plate, and other folks in our office came over wanting to chat (and many, many people did) he would very firmly say that he was busy and couldn’t talk and would get visibly irked, pissed really, if someone continued to trudge ahead. The worst was when he’d catch me as I was trying to leave my desk or the building, it was like he was deliberately trying to hold me hostage in a conversation lmao. We moved offices, I no longer sat next to him and this helped my situation tremendously!

    After, we moved I saw him out at a cafe (across from our office) and sat somewhere nearby (limited space) but pretended not to see him. He mentioned it to me later that afternoon, and after that I think he got the hint. While I didn’t mind the occasional chat with him I generally prefer convos of substance or purpose if it’s going to interrupt my work, (he would drone on and on about nothing, or wanted to chat about his latest tech buy, which I cared nothing about) other than that I prefer to be left alone.

    1. allathian*

      I wonder if he had a crush on you, or something. It’s certainly very odd that he’d inflict the same sort of behavior on you that he rejected from others. I profoundly despise people who dish it out (whatever “it” is) but can’t deal with being treated the same way. I wonder if he’d left you alone earlier if you’d become visibly irked with him when all else failed? Probably not, and I’m glad that moving offices helped you with this.

      How did the convo with him go when he mentioned that you pretended not to see him at that cafe?

  32. RB*

    Ted, on How I Met Your Mother, dated a women like this once. Luckily she only lasted one episode. Nobody could stand her. It was one of my favorite episodes because it’s also the one where Marshall finds out he passed the bar exam.

  33. Salmon Dean*

    I had a co-worker like this. Even when I would tell him I couldn’t talk right now, he would ignore it and continue. I finally realized I didn’t need his permission to get back to work so I would say “Sorry, I can’t talk right now, I have to concentrate on this” then just tune him out. I wouldn’t look at him or respond to anything, I would just act as if he had respected my statement and left. Sometimes he would stand there and continue talking for another 10 to 15 minutes. I think he thought he could wear me down. I do have the ability to block out the world around me so I was able to get on with my work.

    I know it sounds (and kind of felt) rude to do this but HE was the one being rude and disrespectful, so after a while, I became ok with it.

  34. Dual Peppin Whiskey*

    The first thing that came to mind when reading this–especially the example of how the co-worker would hijack a conversation–reminded me of some super interesting articles about conversational narcissism I came across a while ago. Might be worth a quick Google, since there were suggested techniques for dealing with people/situations like that. Yikes, I know that’s tough!

    My Uncle’s whole family is like this co-worker when you get them all in the same room. They’re all so eager and impatient to hear themselves talk that they all CONSTANTLY jump in the middle of each other’s sentences, and introverted people like me either have to force themselves to feel extremely rude and interrupt in order to say anything at all, or just quietly sit and listen. I thought it was funny when I was growing up, but word tornadoes like that just leave me feeling riled up and irritated now. Good luck!

    1. Poppy*

      “Word tornadoes”is such a good way of putting it – it conveys the exhaustion very well. I may steal this one!Ftorna

  35. Avalon Angel*

    I’m late on this, I know, but this letter reminds me of a cartoon you can find on YouTube entitled “Strong Bad Office Dullard.” If you need a little levity, there it is!

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