Workplace Topics

January 30, 2013

Q&A: Chatty co-workers are getting on my nerves

Q: I am constantly distracted by people chatting near my desk. My cubicle sits next to a hallway, so there is an endless stream of employees passing by all day long. For some reason, this seems to be the place where they always stop to talk.

Most of these discussions are personal and have nothing to do with work. I recently interrupted two people who had been talking for almost 30 minutes and asked if they could find a water cooler somewhere. I’m becoming increasingly irritated, but don’t know what to do about it. Any ideas?

A: Trying to concentrate while chatty colleagues cluster around your cubicle could certainly drive you crazy. Unfortunately, since this is the natural result of your high-traffic location, there is no quick and easy answer to your problem.

The ideal solution would be relocation, so consider asking your boss about moving to a quieter site. Perhaps you could trade places with someone who is less bothered by noise. If the traffic flow creates issues for everyone, the entire group might suggest a new cubicle arrangement.

But if you seem to be stuck in this spot, you should start making people aware of your needs. As a first step, you might post a sign that says, “People working. Please don’t chat in this area.” That won’t eliminate the problem, but it may help.

You should also develop a friendly one-liner to politely move people along. For example: “Sorry to act like the conversation police, but I need to concentrate, so would you mind talking further down the hall?” You must always deliver this message with a smile.

To control your understandable irritation, remember that the real cause of your problem is the office layout, not colleagues who are being intentionally rude. Your chatting co-workers simply forget that people nearby may be trying to work. Offering gentle reminders will increase their awareness and hopefully encourage them to change their habits.

Q: I was recently invited to have lunch with the president of our company. I would like to make a positive impression, but I’m not sure what to talk about.

A: Because top executives always like to discuss what’s happening in their industry, the best questions are those that involve business trends and conditions. If you are not currently up to speed on the latest developments, take time to do some online research first.

On the other hand, questions about pay, benefits, and working conditions may not be advisable, because they can sound critical and self-serving. Executives tend to be impressed by employees who are interested in helping the company, not those who care only about what the company can do for them.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach. Send in questions at yourofficecoach.com.

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