2

Once a week I share a room with a colleague, our desks face each other.

This colleague will not stop talking. He asks work related questions which quickly decend into chat about just about anything. I usually have earphones in because I’m listening to voice recordings, so it’s not like I’m clearly available for chat. However because the colleague is relatively new, I do have to stop if he has a legitamate question.

I’ll be trying to work flat out and his voice will suddenly drown out the sound from the earphones, causing me to have to stop and rewind over and over. I try to answer in a non-commital but polite way, however he talks and talks and talks.

To add to the difficulty, he’s the bosses son, so it’s probably not the best call to complain or to shut him down too forcefully.

How can I handle this?

  • 3
    Have you told him that the random chatter is highly distracting to you and you'd like it to stop? – Erik Jan 24 at 13:56
  • No, I was hoping not to go down that direct route, however if it’s the best option, i’ll have to do it. I’m concerned it will create an even more unpleasant atmosphere than the current noisy but friendly one. – Oinzy Jan 24 at 14:02
  • 1
    Possible duplicate of How do I get a coworker to stop chit chatting? – David K Jan 24 at 15:55
8

I find the best way is to be open and honest but to suggest a solution. For example:

"I'm sorry, I really need to fully concentrate on my current task right now, can we delay discussing this until 11:30?"

or

"I'm working on a difficult problem and I need to build a complex model of the system in my head, when I stop to talk about other things, it takes me ages afterwards to re-build this mental model and get back to where I was. This is very frustrating for me and affects my performance very badly, can you help me by saving up your questions until 11:30?"

where 11:30 is whatever time gives you some respite. If you get interrupted again just say something like

"Can we hold that until 11:30 like we agreed"

and don't get dragged into further discussion. If necessary progress to

"Please hold that for 11:30"

and

"11:30".

At 11:30 agree how long you are going to spend discussing their question (10 mins, 30 mins, an hour?) then give them your undivided attention for that amount of time and be super helpful. Give warning as you approach the cut-off time and don't let the cut-off time slip. If necessary arrange another time later on that day or another day.


In short - set expectations. Be polite, professional but firm and consistent.

2

If he's a decent and respectful person then you can simply tell him the truth (that the constant chatter is bothering you), and he will take your request to heart.

If he has a chip on his shoulder, and thinks he's above you because his dad's the boss, then nothing you say will change his mind, and your request may insult him.

You may already have some inkling into what sort of person he is by how he's been interacting with the team. If he seems like a decent person then simply politely bring the topic up, and gently remind him that he's bothering you when he gets too chatty.

If he's an a-hole then invest in some noise cancelling earphones, and learn to cut your interactions short (answer his work related questions when appropriate, but say you're busy when he drifts into personal topics).

2

I had the same problem and requested that all questions (when I had my earphones on) should first be asked on the internal messaging system, even when the person was sitting next to me.

That way:

  • you have the time to stop what you are listening to
  • you can also take some notes to not lose your train of thoughts when you will come back to your task
  • you can see if it is a relevant question (for you to answer or somebody else)
  • you also keep a quantifiable list of the interruptions per day, which allows you to bring the topic to your manager if the frequency increases.

You can justify this request by saying that verbal interruptions cause you to lose your train of thought, which can be costly (in terms of time) when you resume your task after having provided help; a ping allows you to write down your current thoughts to go back to your task more easily afterwards.

For one specific colleague who needed more help, we defined a time frame (between 11 and 12, when I'm the least productive on my own tasks) during which we would discuss his tasks and his different problems. During the rest of the time, he would look for answers by himself.

1

Maybe you can help him help himself and by extension solve your problem. I find it difficult to concentrate and also that I can by overly chatty in the office. There are various things I find really help me keep my focus.

  1. Suggest he tries using headphones, this drowns out other distractions and really helps me focus.
  2. If your work has a quiet place then suggest he makes use of it for part of the day. We have a small office staff can go in when they need to think.
  3. Be proactive, ask him what he's working on and if he needs any help when you first enter the room.
  4. If you find he's quite disorganised (often this goes hand in hand with being chatty) then maybe suggest ways he can manage this better. I for example make notes of repeat questions I find myself asking.

I understand you might see it as him being the problem not you. However, your colleague sounds like he struggles to maintain is his focus and needs to realise he has a problem but also there are ways to mitigate it.

1

First off, I agree with others who are recommending the direct route. I'd suggest that tactic first, unless you have reason to believe he may get pissy because he's the boss's son. (Again, as others have said, you're probably in a better position to judge that than we are.)

I try to answer in a non-commital but polite way, however he talks and talks and talks.

If I understand this statement correctly, you're saying that you answer the work-related question quickly (but politely) and then try to disengage, but he just moves on to less relevant topics.

Instead of being non-committal, you might try committing to the question more completely. Ask for surrounding details. Maybe walk around to look at his monitor so you can see what he's asking about. Make sure you answer the question fully, including any follow-up or incidental concerns it may raise.

Then, ask him about his progress in general. Something like:

"So how's it going on this project? Is there anything else I can help you with?"

That sort of thing. Prompt him for more work-related information to keep the conversation from going personal. I understand you may not be in a position of authority over him, so try to make this conversational - like you're curious - not like you're demanding progress updates or anything.

If he tries to change the subject abruptly to something irrelevant, you can politely steer him back to the work issue:

"That's cool, Bob, but let's stay focused on this question of yours. I want to make sure I've answered everything you need for the task at hand."

When you reach the point where he no longer has work-related information to ask about:

You: "Anything else I can help you with?"

Him: "No, not really"

You: "Great, I'll let you get back to it then"

And then immediately get back to your own work. This way, you're not just becoming non-committal in the conversation, you're finishing it, while still being cordial and polite, and fulfilling your duty to help him get up to speed.

After a few rounds of this (hopefully) he'll get the hint that you want to stay focused on work.

0

It sounds like this guy is maybe not so clueful and perhaps doesn't realize that it's a problem. In particular, it sounds like he doesn't know about the fifteen minute rule.

We do our most effective work when mentally in the zone. Getting into the zone takes about 15 minutes. Getting broken out of the zone can effectively cost you as much as fifteen minutes of work all by itself, before the amount of time of the interruption is taken into account. This is pretty much true as a human thing, across almost all tasks that involve heavy mental concentration.

Pick a time when you're not actively being interrupted, and try to explain this rule to him. Try to make it as nonconfrontational as possible - the objective here is to make sure he knows the rule, not to take him to task for previous stuff. Tossing it out as a "hey, I just heard" thing might help. Ask politely that he be respectful of it - that before he interrupts you with anything, he should think to himself whether the interruption is worth 15 minutes of your time.

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