Co-Worker Conundrum: Your Chatty Office-Mate Is Making You Look Bad

Some people just like to talk. Silence makes them uncomfortable. They have an inherent need to fill that silence with something, anything, even if it’s stories of their moody cat or awkward high school years. As long as you can handle nodding and smiling without distracting you from your work, it shouldn’t be too big of a deal if you have to share an office with this type of person. Or you can invest in a great set of headphones. All in all, someone else’s chattiness shouldn’t be hurting you though, right?

Well, maybe. Think about what happens if every time your boss walks into your office, there’s a constant conversation about something other than work. Even if you aren’t the one talking. When you a share a work-space, there are a few traits that get doled out to anyone in that office. Even if your work levels and productivity are very different, simply working in the same room together can get a group of people lumped together. Problems like being off-task or unorganized are attributed to the entire group, even if it’s a single person who seems to be causing the problem.

Women especially often have to fight off the “social butterfly stereotype.” Two women gathered in an office are normally assumed to be gossiping, without anyone considering that they may be working on a project together. After all, get two women together and they’re only going to talk about men and shoes, right? That type of antiquated assumption still makes it’s way into modern offices, even if it isn’t spoken. And it leads to talkative employees being seen as unfocused and lacking ambition.

So how can you work with a chatterbox and keep their reputation from rubbing off on you? Or even better, how can you avoid the stereotype if you tend to be a social story-teller? Here a few ways to keep the office chit-chat to a minimum and to make sure that a little socializing doesn’t hurt your reputation?

  • Set guidelines. Or goals. If you’re the one filling the silence, try to give yourself goals. Work, work, work until you’ve accomplished something on your list before you share that hilarious story about your morning commute. If you work with an overly talkative office-mate, let them know that you really need to concentrate for the first few hours of the day but that you’ll be happy to grab coffee and catch up mid-morning. Basically, make sure you have time to focus.
  • Bring some headphones. No, this advice isn’t just for the office-mate struggling through another pet anecdote. Listening to music while you’re working will help someone who has a hard time with silence. It will provide backround noise for your office. That way you won’t feel compelled to keep talking in the office.
  • Rearrange the furniture. Don’t look at each other! That might seem extreme, but if you’re sitting across from each other and continue to make eye contact, someone will want to say something. Anything. You’ll laugh over someone’s confused expression and just into a long explanation about what’s going on. If you aren’t facing each other, it’s going to take effort to turn around and get the other person’s attention. This could cut down the counter-productive distractions.
  • Be really good. This is actually a great way to get around any criticism or office issue. Be really, really great at your job. Because if you’re always on time and reliable, people tend to stop caring about whether you talk too much or share inappropriate personal information at work.
Do you have office issues that you would like us to discuss on the Co-worker Conundrum? Email us with your questions and we’ll try to help you deal with that egotistical team-mate or back-stabbing bully. Let us know your office problems at lindsaycross at gmail dot com. 
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    • Chris

      Thanks for the great advice about the too-chatty officemate. I am in that situation now, I share an office with someone who gets bored with her job easily and wants to chit-chat in great detail about everything and anything. The problem is she meets her production goals and I fall short most of the time and need to focus every second to get my work done. When problems with the work or the computers arise, I try to handle mine quietly and inform the proper supervisors. My roomate announces her problems and questions as if it’s the only work being done in our office and I’m expected to stop my work and ask what the problem is and commiserate with what is happening to her. She also makes a lot of “open statements” she expects me to respond to. “I’m tired”, “I’m cold”, “I’m ready for break”, “I’m ready to go home” – these are daily comments. Daily. I’ve ran out of responses. Finally I’ve come up with “Are you talking to me?” and “Sorry, I got nothin’”
      My solutions have been – keep working, get up and make a photocopy, go to the restroom or just anywhere, call my work phone from my cell phone and have a fake conversation and, recently, headphones (which seems to have the best result). Most days I feel like a babysitter with a child who needs constant attention. I would like to be direct with her about the problem, but I’m trying to keep the peace since our desks are only a few feet apart and I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but it’s getting old. Thanks for letting me vent.