Our Best Tips For Dealing With That Coworker Who Just Won't Stop Talking To You

No matter your work environment, whether you work remotely, in an office, face-to-face with customers and clients, or in another setting, it's likely that you have colleagues or professional acquaintances with whom you have regular communication. When you have a coworker who likes to communicate a little too much, then it can feel like a sensitive situation to mitigate. You don't want to hurt their feelings, but you also need to complete your work. Navigating interpersonal dynamics with coworkers can be tricky, especially if you and your coworker don't see eye-to-eye on how much time you both have to chat throughout the day. Fortunately, it's totally possible to respectfully deal with an overly talkative colleague. 

Fast Company reports that there are three primary types of chatty coworkers, which are the coworker who is oblivious to how talkative they are throughout the day, the coworker who constantly vents about every little thing going on in their lives both in and outside of the office, and the coworker you befriend who comes to you with something on their mind they need to discuss. Regardless of the type of overly talkative coworker you have on your team, the difficulty usually stems from the exorbitant doses of conversation impeding your ability to complete your work and allowing you to make it home in time to have dinner with your family. If you have a super chatty colleague, here are some tips for handling the dynamic professionally without causing any tension in the office.

Determine your priorities and set boundaries

There's truth to the pre-flight emergency instructions given on airplanes that state you must put your oxygen mask on before you can help others. You also have to do the same before coping with people who impose on your time and energy. To be able to effectively set boundaries with an overly talkative coworker, you need to first determine your own priorities, responsibilities, and areas of your life you want to make certain you're able to fully show up for with sufficient energy. 

One way to go about figuring out your boundaries is to do some self-introspection through journaling, and making a list of your responsibilities both in and out of the office. Ensure that you're allowing yourself enough time not only for your work responsibilities, but also to prioritize your relationship with your family and other friends, your home life, and your hobbies. 

When your coworker impedes your ability to get your work completed and you have to stay late to finish your professional projects, or you're extending your emotional energy talking to your coworker throughout the day, you won't be fully present when you make it home to the people closest to you. This dynamic isn't fair to you, your family, or your coworker. For instance, if you know that taking your children to sports practice is a priority for you, then you can begin implementing the necessary boundaries with your coworker to ensure you make it home on time.

Have a kind, empathetic conversation

After you've determined your priorities and the boundaries you need to reinforce, the next step is to speak with your coworker about them. You can create change in your work environment without simultaneously creating tension by directing your energy toward encouraging healthy communication. It's important to pay attention to what could be the underlying reason why your workmate continues to come to you for conversation. Remember that your coworker is a human being and may be going through a difficult time, feeling lonely, or working through nerves or insecurities and subsequently utilizing constant talking to mask the discomfort of those emotions. Also, remember that you are not your colleague's therapist, so it isn't your responsibility to solve their problems or listen to them every time they open up about something vulnerable. Remind yourself that the workplace is professional and you have your job duties to uphold each day.

Find time to have an open, honest discussion with your coworker. Speak to them about your own needs to promptly complete your work responsibilities, let them know your boundaries, and suggest alternative ways to connect. Remember to be kind yet firm in your approach. 

Suggest specific times for chatting

There are several reasons why a coworker could come to you for a conversation. It's flattering that your workmate trusts you enough to come to you with their questions and anecdotes, but it isn't necessarily conducive to the workday. To keep a chatty coworker at arm's length, Harvard Business Review advises setting time blocks of availability to discuss a coworker's questions and offer advice. If you're a manager, you may be prone to feeling guilty if you don't immediately respond to a colleague's request for guidance, but remember you also have your own work to complete. Unless the request is urgent, one tactic for mitigating superfluous dialogue is setting up office hours, particularly if you're in a supervisory role. You can post the times of your office hours on your office door or on your Slack profile so that your loquacious colleague can view your availability before interrupting your workflow.

Another approach is to redirect your chatty teammate's desire for conversation to a time and setting outside of work, like meeting for coffee during your lunch break or during a virtual chat. This can be helpful if your coworker's conversation topics aren't related to work. Additionally, setting up a time to meet outside of the office can allow for more candid conversations, especially if you're friends at work.

Practice techniques to redirect interruptions

With a super chatty coworker, you might find yourself getting a lot of practice reinforcing your boundaries again and again, but knowing what to reinforce is essential for those times when your coworker shows up at your office door or pings you for casual chats on Slack. Bringing things full circle and handling the dynamics involving a chatty coworker always comes back around to setting and reinforcing your own boundaries. Consider having a few go-to replies at the ready, like telling your coworker you're on a tight deadline or emphasizing that you're in the middle of a task and can't risk losing your focus. Bringing attention to work completion may even remind your colleague that they should also be working. 

Should your coworker simply not get the hint, or outright continue to bother you after you've explicitly stated your boundaries, then you can be firmer with reinforcing your boundaries by keeping your door closed or not responding to social messages on Slack. The Washington Post recommends keeping your replies to your chatty colleague short and to the point. Maintaining an unceremonious reaction to your talkative coworker may give them a clue as to your boundaries if they haven't yet caught on. 

As another option, and maybe even as a last resort, you can always discreetly let your supervisor, manager, or human resources personnel know that you're struggling to complete your work due to constant visits from your colleague.