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What’s the most tactful way to hint that chatting time is over?

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Question: "My desk is at the front of the building in a high traffic area, and a few employees like to talk to me as they walk by. Some keep the conversation short and light, but others tend to rattle on and on about relationship issues and inter-office gossip. One employee who covers the front desk while I'm away at lunch is the worst offender of this problem. Is there a polite way to tell this talkative teammate to cut the chitchat and let me have my desk space back so I can start working?" - Rachel, Administrative Support

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathy August 4, 2014 at 10:51 am

My office problem is we have three ladies who spend time chatting away..especially first thing in the morning and then again after they lunch together. And when not chatting they are texting or emailing each other. I now have other employees coming to me for answers to questions because they cannot find or get an answer from these girls. While the issue has been addressed with their boss and he has spoken with them, nothing has changed. They do not seem to realize or care how their chatting disrupts the workplace. Several of us are at our wits end with the whole situation.

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Sandi July 8, 2014 at 8:24 pm

Maybe it’s just my way, but I would be straightforward with the person. “Gosh, I’m really busy, I’ve got to get back to work”. Especially if it’s the boss!

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Robert L., Admin Pro Today July 7, 2014 at 9:38 am

Hi all, we got a follow-up question from a reader–what if the person who’s doing the excessive chatting is your boss? That’s a good one. Is there anything you can do at that point but just sit back and watch the seconds tick away..?

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Karen July 8, 2014 at 12:38 pm

After a little chatting, I’d find a way to change the subject to something work-related: “Hey, while you’re here, could you give me some ideas on how to handle….”

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Sara July 7, 2014 at 8:43 am

My office area is fairly separate from everyone else so I actually welcome those interludes – most of the time. On those occasions when I do have a deadline and the conversation lasts a little too long, I simply say, “I hate to cut you short, but I have a deadline on this.” People are very understanding and end up apologizing to me!

Of course there are those times when a “higher up” starts up a never-ending conversation. That’s when I pray for a “saved by the bell” phone call!

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Laura July 3, 2014 at 6:25 pm

I only addressed with those who made it a habit and lingered, sharing that it was a challenge to accomplish projects by their deadlines because of the frequent visits by coworkers and simply explained that they needed to be brief so I could make the most of my work time. There were a few folks who needed more direct discussions. My supervisor was willing to send an email reminding coworkers that with my work space out in the open, my day was subject to numerous interruptions and to please limit conversations to those that were really necessary so that I could meet everyone’s deadlines. That made a difference over time.

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kr July 3, 2014 at 5:11 pm

I will say to them, “I really need to let you get back to work.”

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Cathy July 3, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Rachel, For the ones that rattle on and on, nod politely for a couple minutes, giving no real feedback, then tell them you have XYZ to finish and begin working on whatever needs your attention – they’ll get the hint. Actually, that would work for Jen, too. (Just because someone walks in to your office doesn’t mean you have to allow them to monopolize your time.) Also, Jen, keep the bare minimum amount of candy in the client candy dish and only add extra when clients come into the office. Oh, Rachel, as for the one who monopolizes your desk after you return from lunch, let her know that you’re ready to work by placing a hand on the back of the chair, and, with a smile, saying “Time for you to go to lunch and me to get back to work.”

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Jen July 3, 2014 at 4:21 pm

I would like to know the answer to this one myself, I had the same situation myself on Monday where I was the one that got in trouble for it, even though she was the one that came into my office. The boss suggested that my productivity was affected by it, even though I had taken a short lunch that day to more than make up for any chatting that may have taken place. My only solution is that I have just skipped lunch the last two days to avoid the situation again but it is 4 pm and I am starving. I also have the candy dish, that is meant for clients but all the employees come and eat out of it everyday. I can’t just not have that there, I have suggested it and that did not go over well at all.

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Robin Taylor July 3, 2014 at 4:16 pm

For the person who covers your desk, I would respond
“As always, thanks for covering my desk. I appears you and “Sue” are engaged in a great conversation. I hate to interrupt it but since I have to get back to work would you mind continuing it at “Sue’s desk (or direct them to a seating area.)

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