Office coach: Steps to reining in chatty employee

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q. One of my employees doesn’t know when to stop talking. When chatting with co-workers, “Carly” goes on at great length without any consideration for their time. Her colleagues say they feel trapped in these conversations, but don’t know how to leave without being rude. As a result, they now avoid interacting with Carly at all. Mentioning these complaints will upset Carly, so how do I address this?

A. Actually, your entire team could benefit from some coaching on this topic. While Carly needs to curb her excessive chatter, her long-suffering colleagues must become more assertive. Instead of shunning their loquacious co-worker, which will only hurt feelings and damage relationships, they should learn how to appropriately end conversations.

During a staff meeting, introduce this issue without mentioning any complaints. Indicate that while you value friendly relationships, you believe time spent on personal chatting has gotten out of hand. Suggest that employees can politely excuse themselves from protracted discussions by explaining that they must get back to work.

Having publicly broached the subject, you are now ready for a private talk with Carly. For example, “Carly, as I mentioned yesterday, I’m concerned about the problem of excessive socializing. While your outgoing personality is a real strength, I need you to work on keeping conversations short. Let’s discuss some strategies that might help.”

You should assess Carly’s progress and provide additional coaching as needed. If colleagues still complain about her verbosity, remind them, “I’ve enjoyed chatting, but I have work to do” is always an acceptable exit line.

Q. Eighteen months ago, my boss, “Jerry,” hired his friend, “Mike,” for a job that was considered temporary. Mike was only supposed to help out while Jerry looked for a permanent replacement. However, Jerry hasn’t interviewed any candidates and Mike still is here.

Mike doesn’t receive any benefits, vacation or sick leave. He has to put in long hours just to keep up with the workload. On top of that, Jerry delegates projects to him, then takes the credit in departmental meetings. Mike often says he hopes to find another job within the company.

In my opinion, Mike’s continued presence is damaging to our work environment. I have expressed my view of these office dynamics to both Jerry and human resources, but nothing has been done to rectify the situation. What do you think about this?

A. After reading your email three times, I still can’t figure out what’s bothering you. Mike works long hours with no benefits, but that’s his problem, not yours. Jerry takes credit for Mike’s accomplishments, but that’s not your problem, either.

You mention no issues with Mike’s character or abilities, yet you claim he is “damaging to the work environment.” However, his willingness to work long hours and his desire to remain with the company seem to reflect positive intentions.

Perhaps you simply resent the fact that Jerry and Mike are friends. But unless you can cite specific business problems caused by this relationship, you should probably stop “expressing your view of office dynamics.” Otherwise, you may suddenly discover that your own job has become temporary.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”

Twitter: @officecoach