How to Tell a Chatty Co-Worker You Don’t Want to Talk
A script for setting boundaries and protecting your time
One of the defining features of the modern workplace, for better or worse (probably worse), is that there’s no longer anywhere to hide: from the office gossip, eager to share their theories about who’s secretly sleeping with whom, from the chronic complainer, looking to vent their latest drama, or from the oversharer, who will force photo montages and long-winded vacation stories on anyone they can corner.
More than 70% of American offices are now open-plan designs, meaning they have low or no walls to keep a chatty colleague at bay. Not that anyone needs an accommodating physical space to talk your ear off: Workplace communication platforms like Slack and Gchat make it possible to bombard co-workers at any time of the day, no matter where they are or how many walls or doors stand between you. Anyone who has posted an “away” status knows how easily they’re ignored.
Some chatter is absolutely key to employee satisfaction, trust, and relationship-building. (Using Slack to send puppy photos and vent about office AC has absolutely helped turn strangers into friends.) But when taken too far, office chatter makes it impossible to focus on the whole point of being in the office — actually doing your work.
Of course, you can always just tell your chatty co-worker that you don’t want to talk. For many of us, though, that’s daunting: You don’t want to seem rude or offend people you care about (or the ones cutting your paychecks).
But before we dive into our scripts for how to shut down unwanted chitchat, it’s important to understand how those boundaries get blurred in the first place.
Step 1: Understand where your chatty co-worker is coming from
As information designer Liz Fosslien, co-author of No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Feelings at Work, points out, most full-time workers are spending a minimum of 40 hours per week (and often much longer) in close proximity to their colleagues — that’s more time than most of us spend with our friends and family.