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Volume 15, Issue 20;   May 20, 2015: Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers I

Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers I

by

Our exploration of approaches for dealing with compulsive talkers now continues, with Part I of a set of suggestions for what to do when a peer interferes with your work by talking compulsively.
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Peers or near-peers who talk compulsively comprise the bulk of the problem cases of compulsive talking, perhaps because they're more willing to engage with their peers. Continuing our convention from last time, we refer to the compulsive talker by the name "Sydney." And let's assume that you're Sydney's target, that your own attempts to deal with Sydney openly and directly have been futile, and that your supervisor has been unable or unwilling to intervene effectively.

Dealing with peers, by necessity, cannot involve invoking organizational power. Instead, the strategies below work by limiting Sydney's access to you, while maintaining civility whenever possible.

Many of these suggestions involve dissembling, which can be ethically difficult for some, especially Sydney's friends. To deal with compunctions about dissembling, begin by accepting that there are no good options. Tolerating Sydney's intrusions affects both your ability to work and Sydney's; confronting Sydney even more directly could be hurtful and permanently so; dissembling would be an ethical breach that could lead to your being caught in a lie. The choice is yours, but careful dissembling usually presents the least risk.

Some tactics and strategies:

Reframe feelings of guilt
Some of these tactics might seem harsh. Concerns for Sydney are real, but usually overblown, because Sydney is probably accustomed to having others terminate conversations; he or she might actually expect it and understand it. The situation doesn't justify rudeness, but it does give you some additional space to maneuver.
Set limits
If Sydney Begin by accepting that
there are no good options
has phoned you, or found you despite your best evasive efforts, begin the conversation by setting a time limit: "I can talk for only two minutes." And when you reach that time, end it.
Don't let it start
If Sydney is more likely to accost you at particular times of day, be unavailable: out of the office, in a meeting, or on the phone. If alone in your office, wear your headset even though you aren't actually engaged. When Sydney appears, point to the earpiece.
Call my phone
If you have an assistant, have him or her call you or interrupt you. If not, numerous apps for smartphones and tablets enable you to simulate incoming phone calls, or actually schedule real incoming phone calls. Use one to create incoming calls that you can use as excuses for terminating the "conversation" with Sydney.
Use the washroom
If you and Sydney are opposite in gender, duck into a one-gender (yours) washroom. Some Sydneys will wait in the hallway, but the longer you take in the washroom the more likely is Sydney to walk away.
Walk away
Outside your office, you always have the choice to walk away. If Sydney catches you in your office, and leaving is an option, immediately stand, grab your laptop, tablet, or a notepad, and leave, explaining that you're late and can't talk.

We'll continue next time with more suggestions for limiting disruptions by peers who talk compulsively. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Compulsive Talkers at Work: Peers II  Next Issue

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Our exploration of approaches for dealing with compulsive talkers now concludes, with Part II of a set of suggestions for what to do when peers who talk compulsively interfere with your work.

See also Conflict Management and Emotions at Work for more related articles.

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