Learn to share your work space with chatty colleague

Marie G. McIntyre
McClatchy-Tribune News Service

Q: The woman who shares my office apparently feels we should be friends. Although I try to listen politely when "Natalie" describes her health issues and family problems, I would much rather be working. Natalie also tries to connect with me by offering compliments or relating a piece of gossip. If I'm talking with someone else, she will eavesdrop, then attempt to join the conversation.

When I discussed this with my supervisor and human resources, I pointed out that Natalie and I have completely different jobs, so we don't need to be in the same office. However, they refused to let me move. Is there some way to tactfully tell Natalie that I don't want to be her friend and that she should just leave me alone and let me work?

A: You undoubtedly realize that the short answer to your question is no. You cannot diplomatically tell a coworker to go away and leave you alone. For now, sharing space with Natalie is a job requirement, so you must figure out how to do so peacefully and politely.

To avoid being trapped in lengthy sympathy sessions, you need an exit strategy. Fortunately, work automatically provides an acceptable excuse for ending any personal conversation. Just smile and say something like "Well, I've enjoyed chatting, but I'd better get back to this project." Then immediately turn to your computer.

To withstand Natalie's other enticements, you must simply remain focused. If she pays you a compliment, say thanks and continue working. When she shares gossipy tidbits, say "that's interesting" and continue working. If you respond this way consistently, her attempts to connect will gradually diminish.

You must also be reasonable about this, however. Given that Natalie works in the same room, she is hardly "eavesdropping" on your talks with others. And if she tends to be outgoing, her natural instinct may be to participate. So discuss confidential company matters elsewhere and save private chitchat for breaks and lunch.

Finally, one word of caution. Managers want to hear about business issues, not employee squabbles. If you continue to vent about your personal frustrations, you may eventually be viewed as part of the problem.

Q: Two different employers have expected me to use my personal credit card for travel expenses, like car rentals and hotel rooms. On top of that, I practically had to provide a financial statement to get my money back.

I eventually agreed to this arrangement, but I feel that it's offensive and inappropriate. Although I'm no longer associated with these companies, I would like to know how to handle this in the future.

A: You must be fairly new to the world of business travel. Having employees charge expenses, then request reimbursement, is a fairly common practice. And if submitting a "financial statement" means providing a record of what you spent, that is a perfectly reasonable request.

On the other hand, if these amounts are so large as to create a personal hardship, then you should inquire about other options, such as getting a travel advance or using corporate credit card.


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