You know the feeling. You're busy at work, trying to focus, when a co-worker distracts you with a long-winded story--one of the many anecdotes you'll hear that day. You nod politely and smile, praying they stop talking so you can get back to work. But they don't take the hint.
How do you get a co-worker to quiet down without causing offense? Here's some advice for handling this delicate, all too common scenario.
They probably don't realize they're annoying you
Maybe your colleague gets anxious and talking distracts them, or perhaps they simply want to be liked by everyone. Chances are that talkative co-worker has no idea they're distracting you. Remember they're not trying to irritate you, and it will be easier mentally for you to deal with them.
Set boundaries for your loud, overly talkative coworker
It's so simple, but most of us are afraid to say we're too busy to talk. If you're on a deadline or concentrating on a complex task--just say so! You can then walk away or get on with your job assuming they've heard and understood you. Too often we assume we're going to hurt someone's feelings. You won't - there's no social law against communicating your feelings politely.
It's possible to be diplomatic and assertive at the same time. Don't be afraid to repeat the message if they keep talking--and if you like your co-worker, you can always arrange an alternative time to catch up, for example over lunch.
Provide examples and be specific about how they're excessive talking affects you
You should explain to your distracting co-worker what it is you're working on and why you can't talk. Interruptions cause you to lose focus, and it takes time to regain your concentration. Whether you're working on a report or about to make a call, simply explain yourself.
What if your talkative co-worker is your boss? Mention you're making a call in five or ten minutes, or you're due at a meeting. Even better, try to ask questions by email--not only does this let you keep written records of managerial instructions, but you can keep the conversation focused.
Use your body language
Most people can intuitively pick up on another person's waning interest. If you start fidgeting, don't make too much eye contact and start pulling away from the conversation, your co-worker will likely get bored and end the conversation.
Tell your manager
If a talkative co-worker isn't taking the hint, it might be best to discuss your problem with your manager. They can take steps to resolve the issue diplomatically - just be sure to try to resolve the issue with your co-worker on your own, first.
Get some privacy
The trend towards open-plan offices can make it hard to escape distractions and noise. However, phone calls, important documents, and research are all better attended to in quiet spaces. Perhaps your office has meeting rooms, but these are often booked up. Where else can you go?
Zenbooth office phone booths are private, self-contained units for employees to use if they need peace and quiet to work. If you know a co-worker likes to talk, but you need to concentrate, escaping to an isolated space before they approach can eliminate the need for any awkward conversations or excuses. Unobtrusive, easy to assemble and compact, all offices can make room for a Zenbooth or two.
Suggest the Zenbooth to your boss at your next opportunity, and watch your productivity and concentration soar.