In recent years, workplace culture has shifted away from the ‘traditional’ format of employees being segregated into cubicles and discrete spaces for purposes of focus and control, to an experimentation with more open formats that attempt to foster collaboration. Now there's the more hybridized concept of the so-called 'agile' workspace.
Working agile respects an employee’s individual need to operate solo or in groups, depending on the moment. It also respects a ‘flatter’ corporate hierarchy, one in which open commentary and input are welcomed to ensure the benefits of creative diversity are captured.
However, a more open working culture also requires a certain sensitivity to the needs of others; the respect to let them work as they need to without interruption or diversion. It’s the cultural ‘software’ that goes with the territory.
It doesn’t give free license to create noise, disrespect colleagues. So, when an employee displays overly talkative, loud behavior, how can managers confront them effectively?
When Confronting Talkative Coworkers, Define The Default Setting
First, define what the accepted ‘norm’ is for your working environment.
Although outright silence isn’t a prerequisite for workplace productivity, given the choice between ‘more noise’ and ‘more quiet’, a quieter environment prevails because it caters to the needs of the majority. If music is required, it can be collectively chosen or selectively listened to via personal headphones.
Excessive talking doesn’t come with a volume control. It infringes upon the ‘default setting’ of workplace calm, breaking up concentration and flow. When talking oversteps the common boundary of acceptance it may be one of several things in play; a ‘cry for help’ in gaining attention when that employee feels pressured, a form of ‘presenteeism’ by making an auditory statement to conceal the fact that work isn’t being done, or the employee in question may be used to different conditions.
Either way, handling that employee requires a few key steps to align their understanding of what the ‘default setting’ needs to be, and those steps also require a certain level of diplomacy and tact on the part of HR or management.
Be Open To The Perspective of Noisy Colleagues
Sounds simple? It’s not.
Bias is a natural effect of our experiences and it easily molds opinion. It can be hidden or completely unconscious. When someone becomes noticeably intrusive, audibly insensitive with company information, or simply a nuisance - it’s easy to form prejudgements for why that person is acting in such a fashion.
We expect the ‘most obvious’ reason to be in play, often something formed from our previous experience in similar situations. The employee is ‘chatty’, or may be a newer addition to the team and unaccustomed to the group flow.
Instead, having zero expectation of the reason your coworkers talks too much can be the most open way to approach it.
Giving the benefit of the doubt when confronting this person is often tough to do, but it is the only equitable way to approach a situation where the facts are yet to be clarified. Assumptions are dangerous; informed judgment via questioning and discussion is not.
Prepare to confront them by listing any complaints. What kind of talk is being heard? Is it banal conversation or seemingly inflammatory in nature? Or is it all work related? Try to arrive at a balanced ‘read’ of what is happening.
Be Personal When Working Toward a Solution
Workplace intrusion of this kind is a very human problem. It’s a result of collecting different people from different backgrounds and keeping them in one space. There are bound to be challenges of human interaction that arise.
As such, treat this in a very human way by being personal. That means resisting the temptation to email or text the worker in question to set up a meeting. Instead, find a suitable moment when the conditions are relaxed and the person is approachable.
Don’t showcase in front of the office, use an ‘aside’ in the corridor or at the coffee station to conversationally introduce the point that you need to have a chat.
Don't setup a a ‘discussion’ or something with a serious or incriminating name. Just a chat. If you go into this with an open mind, that’s all it is.
Sit Down When You Do Confront Your Chatty Coworker
Schedule a time that works for the both of you.
Use a quiet nook in the office, a phone booth, just somewhere ‘neutral’. If the day is too crowded, take it outside. The point is to go sit down and treat this as a relaxed, non-partisan conversation. The chances are that approached in this manner, this may just be a simple misunderstanding.
The tough part is remaining objective and focussed while you address the issue that has been reported. Mention that this is a 2-way conversation and that it means you both have an opportunity to talk and be heard. If you are talking, it’s your moment to say what you need. Equally, when they need to reply, time is given.
For the team, not the individual. Explain what the implications are for the workplace and employees when they encounter this kind of behavior. What is the impact on general focus, a sense of team unity, or simply the level of respect that needs to be present?
Discuss why it’s important to set a default mode of overall calm where possible - not absolute silence. The act of talking itself isn’t a problem. Communicating and sharing ideas are critical. However, in order to structure the act of collaborative work, there needs to be a measured conversation, that which applies to the collective tasks at hand.
Make The Overall Confrontation Positive
Once the issue has been stated and discussed, moving through it to visualize next steps is key. Is this something that can be simply resolved by a change in tasks or responsibilities? If it’s something more endemic to the personal character of the employee, perhaps they are actually being underutilized in their present position. Where can that natural energy be harnessed for a better effect?
It may not, of course, be so simple. If this is an obstructive issue or the employee rejects the claims, then the conversation may need to open up to other parties to verify the situation. The employee in question may need the opportunity to discuss their behavior on an individual basis with colleagues too.
It’s not the end of the world, and you can start by developing a performance plan to outline goals and benchmark them with measurable milestones. This step needs to also infer the worst case scenario, that there may be an issue that requires more formal attention and a decision on their future employment with the company.
Start Solving the Issue of Noisy Coworkers
Confronting coworkers who talk too much needs to be less of a ‘confrontation’ and more of a consenting meeting of minds. It’s critical that objectivity is maintained throughout and that a respectful position is taken towards the issue, no matter how the complaints arise.
It's never going to be an easy thing to do, but by providing a calm setting and approach you will mirror the respectful atmosphere that is required in your office in the first place.