Chatty Coworkers

two young Indian women gossiping on white background

Dear DW,
Every time I’m making great progress on a work project, one of my coworkers will stop by my desk to chat about the most trivial things. While I like my coworkers, how can I discourage these conversations without hurting my workplace relationships?
Rather Be Silent Sandy

Dear Rather Be Silent Sandy,
If you’re up against a deadline, it’s understandable that you don’t have time for a recap from last night’s episode of The Bachelor. However, “you don’t want people to think you’re being rude,” says Kerry Alison Wekelo, human resources expert and author of Culture Infusion: 9 Principles to Create and Maintain a Thriving Organizational Culture. Workplace relationships often depend upon collaboration, so you never want to give the impression that you don’t want to hear what a colleague has to say.

With that said, there’s a time and a place for everything. If you’re too busy to talk, gently pivot the conversation back to work, Wekelo suggests. Listen politely for a couple of minutes, then let your coworker know that you have a deadline or deliverable you’re working on. Be specific. For example, you might say, “That’s so interesting. I’d love to hear more but I need to prepare for a meeting later today.” Then suggest that the two of you grab coffee and finish the conversation later, Wekelo says. If your coworker can’t take the hint, excuse yourself to go to the restroom and give the colleague time to find another mark.

Wearing a headset—even if there’s nothing playing in your ears—may discourage coworkers from coming over to chat. But don’t do that too often, Wekelo warns, or you might give the impression that you’re unapproachable.
The key is to create opportunities to socialize and get to know coworkers without disrupting the most productive part of your day. As Wekelo says, “It’s about keeping accountability for how your day is going.”

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