Get Your Chatty Coworker To… Well Stop Being Chatty4 min read

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In a collaborative workspace, there is a good chance that you have been forced to sit and listen to your team member rambling on through tons of irrelevant tangents and vent outs. It is time-consuming and annoying, but moreover, it is also confusing as the core message of what that colleague is trying to get across ends up buried.

For better or worse, there is no longer a place to hide in the modern workspace that has an open-plan design. There’s no way to isolate yourself from the office gossip, a co-worker eager to share theories about others, a chronic complainer looking to vent on the latest drama, or from the over-sharer who will force their lengthy vacation stories on anyone they can corner.

Before we plunge into the ways to shut down a chatty co-worker, it’s important to understand how these boundaries get blurred in the first place.

Understand Where Your Co-worker Is Coming From

We spend more than 40 hours per week in our office and with our colleagues. That is more time than what most of us spend with our friends and family. It is then natural that over time, we feel more comfortable around some co-workers and share a part of our lives. In this age of overwork and burnout, we also feel the lack of social connection such that one might rely on colleagues for social sustenance.


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Set Your Boundaries

You can always just tell your chatty co-worker that you have to work and don’t want to talk. But doing so can be an intimidating task. So, what are you to do when you have a colleague who just loves to dive right into the chitter-chatter rather than inquiring if it’s a good time?

Here are seven polite phrases you can say to overly chatty co-workers to get back on track.

“I know!

If you have a minute, stop what you’re doing, focus on them, and make a relevant, declarative statement.

“I know how tiring the train rides can be. I hope you have a better commute tomorrow.”

Empathise with their story so that they don’t feel offended. So, the next they stop by, you can smile and say that you are really busy with work and don’t have any more time to chat today. If you’re busy when they stop by the first time, reverse your reactions. By occasionally listening to your chatty colleague, you will demonstrate you’re interested in connecting but can also spare that particular time for your work.

“Let’s discuss this another time”

Sometimes you might just have a few minutes for a chat, but instead of your co-worker discussing the necessary, they narrate you a random incident. Think about the ones who like to discuss their date night stories to you in the office. While you should communicate that, this isn’t office conversation, there are ways to do it without coming off like a chaperone saying, “That’s not appropriate.”

If this is a colleague who is also your friend, you can correct them in an equally informal way. Try saying this: “I totally want to hear this story, but can we do it over cocktails in the evening instead of in earshot of the whole office?”

“I’m not very chatty”

The phrases above stem from the general advice that the best way to handle a chatty colleague is to chat with him a bit, and then go about your work. But this advice doesn’t always work. There are some people who won’t stop oversharing once they have started their chronicles. In such cases, take the escape hatch approach and say something like, “I’m not very chatty.”

Tell them that you have trouble refocusing if you step outside of a ‘work mindset’, so you’d prefer not to socialize in the office. You won’t be their favourite person in the office, but it should get them to stop bothering you.

“Can I Stop You for a Minute?”

Interrupting someone might feel counterintuitive. But, if it has become apparent that your co-worker is on a runaway conversation train, you’re more than justified in cutting them off.

This is an effective way while being a little gentler. Say this: “Can I stop you right here? I have to finish this task. Could you clarify my doubt?”

This way, you can subtly coach that person to stay on topic–without being overly blunt or rude.


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“I Want to Make Sure I Don’t Miss Something. Can We Go Back To…?”

There’s really no polite way to tell someone that they’re rambling on beyond your toleration.

Saying something like: “I want to make sure I don’t miss something. Can we go back to at another time and resume our previous discussion about work?”

This statement is beneficial as you’re shouldering some of the blame by asserting that you don’t want to let something slip through the cracks. You’re flipping the script and asking your team member to keep you on the right track.

“Thanks So Much For The Update–I’ll Get Right on This!”

Endless rambling is annoying. But there are some co-workers who can’t seem to take a hint of this. Many a time, it starts with a work-related conversation.

Say this: “Thank you so much for the update. I’ll get right on this!”.

This will come in handy if that person is distracting you from the important work that you need to get done. It not-so-subtle statement sends the message that you appreciate them keeping you in the loop and that you are eager to get to work, which also means that you don’t have the time to hear all of the gory details of the rest of their life.

“Let’s Catch Up Over Coffee Later”

If you’re feeling like an overachiever, this friendly sentiment can be used in conjunction with any of the statements above.

Saying something like: “Hey, let’s catch this up over a coffee after work.”

In doing this, you make it clear that you don’t have time for friendly chatter right at this moment, but you’re still interested to catch up on what’s going on outside of the office in your free time.


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Still Can’t Catch A Break?

If your requests for less banter fall on deaf ears and your colleague is a constant distraction, it’s time to bring the matter to the attention of your supervisor or the HR. If your co-worker is causing you this level of distress, odds are others find them to be a nuisance as well. Someone should talk to them about reining it in for the sake of their professional development. 

I’m all for chatting with colleagues. Some chatter is absolutely crucial for employee satisfaction, trust, and relationship-building. It can make your office a warmer and friendlier place but when taken too far, the little chats makes it impossible to focus on the actual work in the office.

We’ve all dealt with our fair share of incessant ramblers. But, the good news is, we don’t need to resign ourselves to just sitting while they give you the play-by-play of how a certain incident took place. Facing the problem directly is the best approach for handling chatty co-workers. Put these seven phrases to work in order to get your co-worker back on the right track. 

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