I work in a small office and as a result have to interact with said colleague mostly everyday. Whenever we are alone, which is quite a lot as we share the same room, he wants to chat me up. He brings up topics of religion, politics, food habits etc, and though he lets me speak my mind he has this habit of reacting after almost every sentence. It seems like it's his personality to question everything.
I'll give a small example:

Him: Do you want sugar in your tea?
Me: No.
Him: Why? Do you have diabetes?
Me: No, I just don't want to consume a lot of sugar and I like my tea sugarless.
Him: Oh! (Makes a weird face)

I am not intimidated by him, but I wouldn't want to cross the line with him either. I have tried to avoid any conversation that's not work related. But at the same time I don't want to be rude. It's a small office and I want to get along well with everyone.

Any suggestions or personal experiences?

  • 14
    "seems like thats[sic] his personality" Yep, sounds like it is. Also sounds like he's being reasonably respectful, friendly and not disrupting your work. Just learn to be more tolerant of people's quirks!
    – Meelah
    Dec 21, 2015 at 12:32
  • Do you really mean "chat me up" are they coming on to you - that sounds like harassment.
    – Pepone
    Dec 21, 2015 at 22:34
  • 3
    Alternative response to: "Do you have diabetes?" "No - why would you think that??" - and it is his turn explaining. May 20, 2017 at 9:55
  • 1
    Some persons ask because they want to understand, to know more other persons (or sometimes to get to the root of a social understanding/arrangement that they want to discuss). I suggest you to keep replying neutrally and keep in mind that often these questions are not intended to disturb, annoy or pester. You can direct this person to talk or discuss topics during lunch or breaks. If it takes much time, just say that the discussion should be continued later on. If at any time you cross the line, apologise and explain. Communication will help.
    – Kiddo
    May 20, 2017 at 10:36

7 Answers 7


Getting into conversations with people that ask questions like a machine-gun can be difficult. The kinds of questions this person is asking don't give you much room to exit the conversation politely.

You need to take control of the conversation in order to direct it in ways that suit you rather than be constantly led by this person's questioning style. This can feel as if you are being impolite, but it is possible to do it whilst appearing interested in the other person and without hurting their feelings.

Try and learn to counter his questions with open questions of your own. Open questions begin with Who, What, Why, How etc.? Get into the habit of deflecting his questions with your own and keep him answering, instead of you, for as long as it takes to leave the situation with a cheerful "Nice talking to you, but I really do have to get on with my work now..."

  • 3
    Asking an open ended question to a person like that is probably a bad idea (if you wanted to get any work done that day).
    – AndreiROM
    Dec 21, 2015 at 14:44
  • @AndreiROM Why is that do you think? ;) Seriously, once they are off and running you don't necessarily have to listen/engage... The point is they are doing all the work, you are not being asked difficult questions, and you have time to plan your escape...
    – Marv Mills
    Dec 21, 2015 at 14:46
  • Quite simply because someone like that never runs out of opinions and probably likes the sound of their own voice. Up to the OP if (s)he's willing to chat every time he wants to deflect a question. Just my 2 cents
    – AndreiROM
    Dec 21, 2015 at 14:49
  • 1
    No you've missed the point, you don't engage in his conversation, you deflect- "No I didn't read that news... It's getting crazy around here lately isn't it, no time to do anything, don't you think?" - Anyway great observations, and it's been great talking to you, but I really have to get off Workplace:SE and do some work now :)
    – Marv Mills
    Dec 21, 2015 at 15:41
  • 1
    I wrote my own answer and now am not sure I should have. I re-read our conversation and yes, your technique is both polite and very effective. Upvoted :)
    – AndreiROM
    Dec 21, 2015 at 15:54

I would advocate openly communicating your grievances.

"Jon, I feel unfairly judged when you respond to me in that way."

"Harriet, my interactions with you leave me wanting to avoid interacting with you because I do not like responses that make me feel so different."

Be direct. Be transparent. Focus on communicating how you feel about the interaction and why, rather than his behavior.

  • but DONT be the passive aggressive guy or girl in the office it wont end well
    – Pepone
    Dec 21, 2015 at 22:35
  • I'm not of the opinion that challenging a person's way of communicating is the best path forward. Odds are that he's got someone else in mind when you decline sugar, and over applied the pattern. Remember, even when a conversation is with someone, that's not always a good indicator that that someone is on the talker's mind. Also, the weird expression might not only be due to the words of the response, but the non-verbal cues that I'd expect would come with a "no (what a weird thing to say, this guy is a freak)"
    – Edwin Buck
    Feb 16, 2019 at 12:36

Ah, you have the "chatterbox" problem.

In most bigger firms the problem solves by itself once they meet other people sharing their trait. In smaller firms it could happen that they are alone.

What now happens is the typical vicious circle: The talker tries to find people to talk with. Being at work the coworkers have not the same amount of conviction and find the talk more and more tiring. Their answers are getting more and more monosyllabic ("Yes","Hm","Ok") and they give more and more hints that they are busy. Because the number of people who talk with him shrinks, the talker clings to the people still listening and naturally they also begin to retreat.

Especially in polite cultures the other people are often literally unable to get away from the conservation because pointing out that they are not interested is impolite. The talker on the other hand hits an invisible wall and feels social isolation because he has no idea what he is doing wrong (In fact (s)he isn't really doing anything wrong, it is just....wearisome). So essentially both parties are prisoners because the listeners toolbox has no instrument to handle the situation and the talker has no information what the problem is.

Options. If nothing is done, the situation will worsen. Either the talker gives finally up and feel dejected and depressed. Or the colleagues begin to behave more aggressive because they have no outlet to express their frustation. Marvs approach of trying to deflect the talk has the problem that a) you are still talking even if you don't want to b) you need the necessary conversational skill and c) the talker may see people who treat him this way as trustees. ("I can always talk with you"). The other option is that someone really sacrifices himself and explain the problem under four eyes.


I have a really good poker face, which works well in situations like this. If someone asks me a stupid question like, "do you have diabetes?" I just give them a blank stare, then I go back to what I was doing. I do not respond to stuff like that.

You should not respond because these questions are often inappropriate. You should also not respond because it only encourages more questions. The best response is a non response, and if you can combine it with a blank stare, that's even better. Most people will quickly realize they've crossed the line. Some may even apologize. The best part is that you don't have to say a word, which can be a really powerful experience. It's like a Jedi mind trick!

  • 4
    You might be in danger of someone going back to their colleagues with "I just tried to strike up a conversation with Mohair in the kitchen and he just ignored me/blanked me, the weirdo" :)
    – Marv Mills
    Dec 21, 2015 at 14:24
  • @Marv Mills When the annoying guy who pesters everyone with inane questions complains about someone ignoring him, people will roll their eyes. Besides, you didn't ignore him. You chose not to respond.
    – Mohair
    Dec 21, 2015 at 17:10

Don't feel you need to justify yourself! Just come back with a non-committal answer and if he persists, come back with (fictitious) things that are increasingly improbable and a grin, and he'll soon get the idea. "Oh I can't have sugar any more but I haven't got the paperwork with me ;) :$" etc...

  • "$xyz for tax reasons" also works well
    – user43744
    Dec 21, 2015 at 18:57

Memorize this:

  • I need to think for a while. (use very flat intonation)
  • Are you crazy, what is there to think about?
  • Yeah, I really need to think for a while.
  • (makes a strange face)

You've stalled them. You never say how long you intend to think, and you don't promise you will actively get back to them to continue the conversation. Flat intonation means the pitch (frequency) of the sound you make should change as little as possible through out the sentence.

My second approach. Say what you are currently doing, addressing as much yourself as them. Your tone shouldn't indicate you are responding to their question, you are simply friendly communicating your own actions.

  • I'm making a tea. Ugh... Careful, not to spill. Now get the cup and off to my chair. Nice corridor. Oh, a freakin' screensaver password... (etc, etc)

Although other answers here are great, especially the counter-open-question one, they are all requiring you to direct the entire brain activity to the conversation (for example to come up with X creatively). This could be a problem in some work positions and the two boilerplate reactions avoid that. These are easy to execute even if you are intensely processing something else. Not super polite, but a talker like this have faced many worse reactions already somewhere in their career; make you look a little eccentric, but won't cause an angry reaction.


Different people communicate in different ways. That's a fact that you can't ignore. Some people communicate in ways that annoy you, without any malicious intent whatsoever. If that is the situation, then you can do something about it. (On the other hand, the person may just be an ass, in which case there are other methods to handle them).

It seems this person believes that they have to show that they care about you by inquiring about things that you are doing, and you don't like that kind of attention. If that is the case, then not responding makes them just try harder. They don't realise that they go on your nerves, quite the opposite, they think they haven't tried hard enough to engage you. What can work is doing the same thing to them, as hard as you can. Ask them about everything. What they eat, what they drink, what they do on the weekend, their family, everything. While that is something that would annoy you, and would annoy me as well, that is what this person actually wants. It will make them happy that you care about them. And they won't have time to ask you things.

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