Chatty Cathy At The Office

by admin on August 6, 2012

I really need some ideas and suggestions. I have a co-worker, “Jane” who is slowly driving me insane with her incessant, oft times inappropriate, talking. I have tried bean–dipping like crazy, making up excuses to be gone from my desk and straight up avoiding her. She is actually a really nice person and would do anything to help you; she once paid a coworker’s rent because the young woman had been in the hospital and had used all of her paid vacation and sick time. But…

She talks all the time. And I do mean ALL the time. It does not matter the topic of the conversation, she will go on at length about it. If she is telling a story and you have to leave, she will hound you for days until she gets to tell that story. She has been talking to me and I said, “Jane, I have to go to a meeting,” she followed me all the way to the meeting, still talking. This has happened several times.

She tends to talk too loudly at times and I think it might be because she seems to be a little hard of hearing. She is my “across the hallway” neighbor (we work in a cubicle office, the way our cubicles are set-up, your face inward, so Jane and I are sort of back to back but there is a little walkway between us), and unless I turn around and face her, she cannot hear what I am saying. For example, if I am deep into a project and cannot answer the phone, I might say “Jane, can you grab that?” She either a) doesn’t hear me at all or b) realizes I have asked a question and comes over to ask what I need, at the top of her lungs. By that time, the phone has gone to voicemail or I have already picked it up, to keep others from grumbling about the phone ringing. (Seriously, I could write volumes about the little idiosyncrasies in our office.) She will come over to ask a question and lean down right by my ear and she is so loud that it borders on screaming. I have actually recoiled and flinched from the volume.

I think she may have to read lips to understand what people are saying. If she is in a meeting, she cannot hear what is being said, unless she is facing the speaker. That is hard to do sometimes if they are using a PowerPoint or projector or moving around the room, so she spends the entire meeting asking, “What did s/he say?,” in a stage whisper. That, of course, attracts attention and we have an executive director whose attention you do not want to attract during a meeting (again, volumes about our office). Since we are both administrative assistants, she generally wants to sit next to me and I do not care to be reprimanded about talking during a meeting when she is the one talking. A coworker once mentioned, gently and politely, that maybe she should get a hearing test; she very huffily said, “I know I’m older than most of you, but I’m not that old!” She has not spoken to that coworker since.

Also, she talks inappropriately at times. Our office is approximately 85% women, so, naturally, some of us have gotten to be quite close friends outside the office. If we have lunch or break together and Jane is sitting with us, she joins in the conversation and mostly, it’s not a problem. When she hijacks the conversation and turns it in a totally different subject or starts one of her long-winded stories, it’s very frustrating, especially if we were discussing a work related project or when she gets graphic in an adult way- turning the conversation to sex. We will bean-dip and try another subject but she will inevitably turn it back to sex and state, “I don’t care about having sex anymore because you have to bathe before and after and shave your legs and I just don’t have the energy anymore”. TMI times infinity.

We had a young male coworker (22) that would join us for lunch if we ate late some days. She would say all kinds of inappropriate things, including the line quoted above, in front of him. You could clearly tell it was embarrassing for him and I was mortified. I tried to speak to her about it one day and she brushed it off, “Oh, he’s a young man, I’m sure he has heard/said/done worse”. That may be true but I think what she was doing was borderline sexual harassment.

A group of us were talking about a movie we saw. It was my friend, 2 other ladies who had seen the movie and me. Jane came in about half-way through the discussion. One of the ladies made a comment about the movie, it was a little raunchy and totally out of character for this lady, but Jane thought it was hilarious and was in stitches. When young male coworker stopped in to grab a drink, she insisted, several times, that the lady repeat the comment for him to hear! Of course she flat-out refused. When he left, the lady said, “Jane, please do not ask me to repeat things like that in front of men. It was just a little joke for girls-only”. (As a side note, he has since left the company but he still calls, texts and emails me regularly. He is a great person and I enjoy knowing him.)

There are so many other examples, especially with the inappropriate sex talk, but I think you get the idea. As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, she really is a nice person. I do not want her to think I do not like her but the incessant talking is driving me nuts. She used to work in the front line area and her supervisor chuckled when she got the admin job. She said “Jane is a talker. She used to talk to customers so much that they would eventually just walk away as she was talking”. Former supervisor chuckled because she knows how the admin office is and she knew it would be an issue eventually. Thank heavens she did not talk about sex in front of our customers!

Has anyone had a similar situation? How did you handle it? Any suggestions?   0726-12

When subtle no longer works on the hopelessly obtuse, it is time to start ratcheting up the volume.   When she starts in on inappropriate sex talk, tell her directly, “Stop.   We really do not want to hear this.”   If she continues, you walk away in mid sentence, silently at first, but if she still doesn’t get the hint, you may need to say something such as, “I have better things to do with my time than hear this.”   Or lighten the mood with, “Well, that was more than I wanted to hear and so I leave you all.”

There are times I must talk with an employee wants to keep the conversation going about non-work issues.  I’ll entertain a small diversion from my work day but I really do not have time to indulge in chitty chatty stuff.  I will matter-of-factly say, “I must get back to work”, and if that is not enough to cue them in that the discussion is over, I may repeat it and follow it by turning my back on them to begin working at my desk.

As for the meetings where she stage whispers asking what was said, forewarned is forearmed so come with a pad of paper and pen and tell her that she misses something that was said, to write a ? on the pad and you’ll respond.   Or you can tell her ahead of time that you will not be available to interpret for her as you must be busy taking notes yourself.

And during non-phone call times, noise canceling headphones might deter her from bothering you.

Anyone else?

 

{ 56 comments… read them below or add one }

gramma dishes August 6, 2012 at 11:07 am

From your post: “A coworker once mentioned, gently and politely, that maybe she should get a hearing test; she very huffily said, “I know I’m older than most of you, but I’m not that old!” She has not spoken to that coworker since.”

Well … there you go! There’s your answer! ;-)

Seriously, I think Admin has given great advice. But I would recommend one thing, just for your own self preservation. I would wedge myself firmly between two other people — any two other people, even if you have to link arms with them and go in as a trio — when you have those meetings with the executive director. It is definitely not your job to serve as an interpreter for her and her constant distraction, in addition to getting you in trouble, may make you miss something important yourself.

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SlyDude August 6, 2012 at 11:11 am

I think the answer is from the article:

——————-
A coworker once mentioned, gently and politely, that maybe she should get a hearing test; she very huffily said, “I know I’m older than most of you, but I’m not that old!” She has not spoken to that coworker since.
——————-

I would repeat what the coworker said so that she doesn’t talk to you any more!

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A August 6, 2012 at 11:11 am

Maybe ask her if she needs a hearing test. That seemed to work for the other coworker.

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Nestholder August 6, 2012 at 11:15 am

I quote: “A coworker once mentioned, gently and politely, that maybe she should get a hearing test; she very huffily said, “I know I’m older than most of you, but I’m not that old!” She has not spoken to that coworker since.”

I strongly recommend that you suggest your co-worker needs a hearing test. It seems to be very effective!

And, I’m afraid, it might be necessary to drop a word in the ear of whoever would have to deal with a sexual harassment complaint, were your young male co-worker to submit one.

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--Lia August 6, 2012 at 11:16 am

“A co-worker once mentioned, gently and politely, that maybe she should get a hearing test; she very huffily said “I know I’m older than most of you, but I’m not that old!” She has not spoken to that co-worker since.”

Bingo! There’s your solution right there. You make the same comment. Either she gets that hearing test (plus treatment that might involve a hearing aid), or she stops speaking to you. Either way, you win.

But more than that, the admin is right. Subtlety hasn’t work, so you need to amp up the volume until she hears you. Turn straight towards her. Speak clearly and distinctly. Say “I need you to stop talking now.” She won’t get it the first time. Repeat. “No. You must stop talking now.” She will ask why. You say “that’s enough. No more talking for now.” She will look hurt, maybe even cry. You stand your ground. If you feel compelled to give a reason, it should be along the lines of “I have work to do” or “Jane was speaking. Don’t break in to the conversation.”

When she needs you to get in trouble by repeating what’s said in meetings, you say “I won’t be repeating statements in meetings any longer. You need to get your hearing checked.” Then stick to your guns. She’ll either find someone else or get her hearing checked.

This is a combination of 2 distinct problems, and they’re sometimes the stickiest to figure out. First, she needs treatment for her hearing problem. Second, she needs treatment for her insecurity/tact/what’s appropriate problem. When she goes on about something in mixed company that’s inappropriate, you say, clearly and distinctly, “that’s inappropriate.” When she argues that it isn’t, you nod, acknowledge that she doesn’t think so, then reiterate that you do think it’s inappropriate and keep repeating that you won’t be discussing that subject.

Expect her behavior to get even worse for a time before it gets better.

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Calli Arcale August 6, 2012 at 11:27 am

I have only one suggestion to add on top of Admin’s excellent advice: if that doesn’t work, contact your manager or human resources. She is creating a hostile work environment by interfering with people’s work, monopolizing their time, and telling inappropriate stories in mixed company. And perhaps management could actually get through to her on the question of hearing loss; if she needs an interpreter at meetings, she’s suffering an impairment, and correcting it would greatly improve her work performance (as well as perhaps reduce her volume and thereby improve everyone else’s performance). If she can’t hear her telephone, that’s also impairing her ability to work because people can’t reach her — there are plenty of assistive devices that would help.

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whisleytangfoxtrot August 6, 2012 at 11:35 am

Does your office provide safety training? Even if your environment doesn’t have occupational noise (well, other than Jane!), a thorough hearing conservation and protection presentation should include information about other possible causes of hearing loss like recreational exposure, age, heredity, and medical issues. A lot of people don’t recognize hearing loss until it’s no longer within normal range anymore, because it’s not something you can see or feel.Training can be an eye-opener, and may prompt her to think about getting a hearing test without direct confrontation.

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Gloria Shiner August 6, 2012 at 11:49 am

I’m with Calli: have a concerned talk with either your suprevisor or hers, depending on the work dynamics. If you express it as concern for her (especially for her hearing ability and alienating co-workers) it won’t seem like an attack on her.

Otherwise, you’re just going to have to be consistent in telling her you have to stop talking: “Sorry, I have to stop talking and get back to work.” repeated as necessary.

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CaffeineKatie August 6, 2012 at 11:50 am

I hate to sound like a broken record in my postings, but again…WHERE is the manager???

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Elizabeth August 6, 2012 at 11:59 am

To me, the problem is here: “she really is a nice person. I do not want her to think I do not like her”

This woman is NOT a nice person. A nice person does not make your work difficult for you. A nice person does not make other people uncomfortable with their repeated returns to inappropriate subjects that obviously make people uncomfortable. A nice person does not monopolize your time such that you can’t do your own work.

This woman is a work colleague, not a friend. You don’t have to treat her like a friend. It sounds like this woman has no idea what proper boundaries are for the work place, and the OP hasn’t done a good job of setting up boundaries and enforcing them. I would drop the pretense of “niceness” and go right to “business-like” and “coolly professional.” When she screams in your ear, tell her “Why are you speaking so loudly? It sounds like you’re screaming in my ear.” When she trails behind you telling a story, turn, stop and put out your hand in a “stop” gesture, and say “I’m on my way to a meeting and I don’t have time to talk.” When she hijacks a conversation and turns it to inappropriate subjects, the group has to be unified in turning back to the topic at hand. “BlabbyColleague, I’ve told you before, that kind of stuff makes me really uncomfortable. I really don’t want to hear it. Anyway, back to what we were talking about…Mary, what were you saying about the project?” Don’t laugh politely at her statements, don’t ask questions, don’t feed her desire for attention.

You may need to be a bit of a b*tch, but this woman is making your life miserable – she is not a friend and definitely not a “nice person.” You must remain polite, but you don’t need to be nice.

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Another Alice August 6, 2012 at 12:01 pm

I’m actually going to go in another direction, figuring an additional idea can’t hurt.

What I think about incessant talkers is that they feel they are not heard. Meaning, just in their general life and situation. Jane may just have had a life where she’s pushed over or not attended to as human beings should be. This is not always the case – some people ARE just talkers, but the level of it makes me think that she’s hurting in some way and truly just trying to forge relationships without understanding how to do so properly. She’s seeking approval: “Am I okay? Am I okay? LISTEN TO ME!”

So, IF that is the case (which who knows, I’m not a psychologist), I would make a point, when you actually do have a few minutes, to turn and face Jane directly and truly listen, with complete attention, to one of her stories. Make it completely and totally about her, even if it’s only for five or ten minutes. Have an open heart and try to make it a conversation that matters. By attempting to introduce quality conversation over quantity, she may relax around you and start to believe you are really listening, and not be as inclined to prove herself to you by chattering incessantly. After all, you have probably gotten to a point, or always have been, where you aren’t really listening. Make her feel once a week or so that she is all you’re thinking about, and perhaps she won’t feel she has to bombard you with every detail.

I think at the very least, knowing you truly are listening to her when it matters, she will also be more inclined to listen to you as well, walking away when you say, “Oh, Jane, you know what? I’m working on something right now, I cannot possibly talk about this, but could you perhaps tell me at xx time? I’ll be on my way to a meeting then.” That’s another thing – if you go for the Rapt Attention method, then do so at a time when you absolutely MUST stop the conversation at some point, like on the way to a meeting or when you’re waiting for a phone call. I think this all just has to do with trust and approval, and when you start showing it, she’ll relax. Maybe not all at once, but if there isn’t any indication either of you are going anywhere, it might help in the long run.

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Cat Whisperer August 6, 2012 at 12:10 pm

To deal with “Jane,” OP needs to first recognize Jane for what she is.

Jane is not a friend, is not someone OP has chosen to associate with because of the pleasure it gives her. Jane is a co-worker. More to the point, she is a co-worker who has habits, mannerisms and quirks that are affecting OP’s ability to perform at her job optimally. In other words, Jane is someone who is going to cost OP money in the long run unless she’s dealt with properly. Because Jane is going to result in OP having poorer performance appraisals than she might otherwise have, and could even cost the OP her job, if things went really wrong.

That’s how I’ve dealt with co-workers I’ve had who had annoying mannerisms: recognizing that they are who they are, and I am not being paid to be their “life coach,” therapist, keeper, or mother. I am being paid to do a job, they are paid to help me do the job, and they are either helping me or hindering me. If they’re hindering me, they’re costing me money and maybe costing me my job.

OP might seriously want to have a discussion with management about “Jane’s” apparent inability to hear properly. Keep the discussion impersonal, on the work level: Jane has trouble doing phone hand-offs because she can’t seem to hear requests to get the phone. Jane seems to have trouble modulating her speaking voice because she isn’t sure she’s being heard. Jane seems to have trouble hearing speakers at meetings, and her need to ask “what are they saying?” interferes with others hearing what the speakers are saying. Keep the discussion impersonal: it’s not about how Jane is annoying, it’s about how Jane is keeping work from getting done.

Ditto for the non-stop talking: this is where OP needs to “grow a pair” and stop worrying about offending Jane. As admin said, just tell Jane “I can’t talk now, I have work to do,” and if necessary turn away from Jane or walk away. Just cut her off, block her, distance yourself from her, do what you have to do. If polite doesn’t work, then be curt: “Jane, I can’t talk now. I have work to do.” If that means ignoring her or even cold-shouldering her, then do it: every time Jane interferes with your productivity, she’s costing her employer money, and she’s going to be costing you money when raises come out.

If Jane’s compulsive chattiness is really a problem, then talk to your supervisor about it. Again, keep it impersonal: Jane is interfering with your ability to do your job. It is not your responsibility to “fix” Jane. It is your responsibility to do your job, and if Jane is keeping you from doing that, you need to get management on your side to help you.

Ditto with Jane’s inappropriate comments: some of what she’s saying could involve OP in complaints about harassment or hostile work environment complaints. OP, you need to recognize that certain kinds of comments, discussions, conversations are not appropriate in the workplace. EVER. Not just with Jane, but with anyone. Don’t have those conversations, don’t encourage them, don’t participate in them, even with people you do like, even when you think they’re funny or interesting. They’re also unstable dynamite that could explode in your face. Seriously: even if the person you’re talking to is a friend, if the subject of the conversation is something that isn’t appropriate for the workplace, it could blow up on you if the wrong person hears it or the person you’re talking to has a falling-out with you. I’ve seen it happen. And once someone complains about it, you’re in trouble, because there is no defense for having inappropriate conversations in the workplace. Management has no choice if a complaint is made: the people involved have to be disciplined.

So if ANYONE starts an inappropriate conversation, distance yourself from it, tell the person who started it you’re not comfortable with that kind of talk at work. No exceptions. And that will take care of Jane. (It might be helpful to ask management to send out some kind of reminder to everyone that there is no place at work for conversations that have any sexual connotation. )

I know that this advice may seem cold-hearted and unfriendly, but the point is, this is a work situation, not a social situation. In my experience, one of the worst mistakes that people can make is to confuse work situations with purely social situations, and to think of co-workers as friends rather than co-workers. While you do want to have friendly relationships with co-workers, when there’s a conflict between the social and the professional where work is involved, professional has to have priority. The worst disasters I’ve seen happen at work occurred, without exception, because people got the priorities reversed and put social/friendship interactions above professionalism.

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manybellsdown August 6, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Heh, I came to comment about the hearing test, and I see everyone’s beaten me to it. Carry on. ;)

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Chris August 6, 2012 at 12:20 pm

As Calli Arcale said- the best advice, if what admin suggested hasn’t panned out, is to approach HR and explain the situation to them. It’s clear that her behavior is impacting your work and thereby your performance, which also threatens (especially with the office politics you discuss) your job security. They should discuss with her the excessive chatty behavior and should also gently discuss her hearing loss issue. If her behavior exceeds the bounds of good taste and makes anyone uncomfortable, especially regarding the topic of sex, you are also morally obligated, if not obligated by the employee code of conduct you agreed to, to inform HR. Not doing so puts you at risk of joint liability and negatively impacts your job security.

I would, personally, caution AGAINST suggesting she get a hearing test yourself. While I don’t believe that Calli is correct in that her current behavior is creating the hostile environment, suggesting the hearing test could be interpreted by Jane as creating a hostile environment ESPECIALLY if you combine that suggestion with the admin’s suggestions.

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Kai August 6, 2012 at 12:20 pm

Unfortunately, there is STILL a negative stigma on hearing loss – as you can see with her reaction when someone suggested she get her hearing checked. Those who lose their hearing later in life benefit most from hearing aids and the like. I agree with others – go to HR. Explain that she is making everyone uncomfortable and may have contributed to the young man’s departure from the company. Explain that you are not the only one that suspects she has hearing problems – and outline everything you did above (missing the phone, speaking too loudly, not understanding someone whose back is turned, etc). A good HR dept will insist on getting her hearing checked and go from there with treatment/work modifications. A bad one, well…. you know how that goes.

When she starts saying inappropriate things, lift your hand and say “I/we don’t want to hear things like that. It’s inappropriate.” If she says “but I’ve said them before,” say, “And they were inappropriate before, too. You need to stop.” Then walk away. If she follows, pointedly ignore her. Do this every time, bonus if you can get other coworkers to do the same.

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--Lia August 6, 2012 at 12:27 pm

I thought I was being so clever when I suggested that she do as the other co-worker did and ask Chatty to get a hearing test, and now I see that 5 out of the first 6 commenters did the same thing.

Earlier I said the need to have everything repeated and the need to talk and talk and talk were 2 separate problems. I take that back. They’re related. If you only hear well enough to get the general gist of what’s being said, and then you run with the topic and talk so much that no one else can say anything, then you can tell yourself that no one has noticed your hearing loss. Chatty sounds like she’s trying desperately hard to pretend, even to herself, that she doesn’t have hearing loss.

Former supervisors have chuckled about the problem, but they may not have realized how bad it’s gotten. When you tell your supervisors, put it in terms of how she can’t do her job. You can say that you think the problem is related to her hearing and give examples of why you think this, but then quickly back down and say that you’re not qualified to diagnose and just say that you think she should have her hearing checked. If the best thing happens, if she gets her hearing checked and starts wearing a hearing aid, then you’re just left with the inappropriate sex talk. At least she’ll hear you when you say you don’t want to talk about.

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MiseryLovesYou August 6, 2012 at 12:39 pm

I like the suggestions of prior posters to solve the problem by suggesting that she get a hearing test, but one thing that struck me from the prior postings was that not one person related a similiar story. I could have written this submission and countless others, and from first hand experience can tell you there is no effective solution most of the time.

As a woman with more years than I care to admit working in offices, my experience has been that you cannot correct the behavior of most “women of a certain age”. I’m sure there are exceptions, it’s just that I’ve never actually seen an exception. What I have seen is all kinds of things very similar to OP’s problems, where the offender was blatantly told by management that they were out of line, and they still had no problem vocally defending their behavior. Occasionally, the agism card is then played and the offender becomes untouchable because no one wants to get sued.

To OP – it’s nice that you are being so patient, good on you for wanting to take a kind approach. However, anything less than a clue-by-four would be doing this co-worker and everyone else in the office a disservice.

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Carrie August 6, 2012 at 12:46 pm

You need to tell her point blank before meetings that it is inappropriate for you to act as her interpreter because you need to be taking your own notes and paying attention, and she needs to remain silent. I worked in the admin field, which I found very demanding, and I would be furious if someone monopolized my time that way. If she missed something tell her you’ll be glad to make copies of your notes after the meeting (not during) for her to go over. If she misses something, that is her own fault for not taking steps to ensure she can do her job correctly.

I second everyone else who said to tell her to get her hearing checked. She’ll either stop talking to you or go do so. Either way, problem solved.

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lkb August 6, 2012 at 1:31 pm

Ditto what Admin, -Lia and Calli Arcale have said. Just wanted to add that when going to HR/management, remember that the OPs presentation is crucial. It won’t do the OP any favors if she goes in with guns blazing. The OP has said Jane has many good qualities. It would probably be best if she starts off that way, “This is difficult for me to say because she has so many good qualities, but some issues have come up concerning Jane…” That way, the OP won’t look like a whiner and won’t be damaging his/her own career nor that of Jane.

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Stacey Frith-Smith August 6, 2012 at 1:36 pm

Perhaps my view is skewed because so many people in my life have a label or two (or three)- but the best way to deal with someone who is a character is to minimize your exposure to loss. (You don’t want to look bad or get in trouble by association and that’s a wholly worthy goal). I think Admin’s advice was spot-on. Short, to the point, and addresses the problem at hand. As for the “too much information” and excessive talking, perhaps facial expressions and body language will help where verbal reasoning has not. (But really direct versions of these, like mouth hanging open in shock and an immediate turn away from her, as you walk off). I love, LOVE the fact that you acknowledge her positive qualities and are not making her an object of scorn (as her behavior might merit), but are trying to save yourself from the fallout of her poor choices. My hat is off to you, OP, for your kindness and your wisdom. May your career go far indeed!

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AMC August 6, 2012 at 1:37 pm

Ditto what Calli said. This is clearly impeding your work performance and probably hers as well. Bring it to the attention of a supervisor.

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LS August 6, 2012 at 1:51 pm

” I do not want her to think I do not like her but…”

It may be a bit harsh, but it’s not your job to like or be liked. Though workplace cordiality is always welcome, either a co-worker is helping you get the job done, or keeping you from getting the job done.
I’m sorry to sound mercenary, but when someone interferes with how I make a living, I go straight up the ladder to stop it. In other words, your best interests are also the company’s best interests.

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Enna August 6, 2012 at 2:04 pm

I like the idea of saying “Jane” needs a hearing test. Go to HR. A supervisor may say “that’s just the way she is” – is not good enough. If she annoys the top man too much it could be her job at the end of the day. Jane may not be malious but it still needs to be addressed.

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Roslyn August 6, 2012 at 2:26 pm

If she can’t hear what is being said in meetings, then maybe you can gently tell her to sit up front so she can hear. Just phrase it so you are being kindly helpful.

It also sounds like the fact that you think she is a nice person and she has picked up on the fact that you are nice to her, when others aren’t, so she now thinks that you are the go-to work-buddy.

I was nice to an obnoxious twit at a job a long time ago, NO ONE could stand her for a reason, but I tried to get along with everyone. She started following me everywhere, she took her break when I took mine, etc. I finally had to be obnoxiously R*U*D*E to her to get her to back off. You may have inadvertently sent the message that you like her enough to be work-buddies.

Also, people who like to talk, and talk a LOT are people who don’t want to hear people tell them anything bad. They monopolize the conversation so that no one can ever say anything negative to them.

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Gee August 6, 2012 at 2:30 pm

I think it’s time to bring it up to her boss/human resources. I would think that such reports would be anonymous, so she wouldn’t have to know it came from you.

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The Elf August 6, 2012 at 2:54 pm

Headphones. OMG, headphones. They make all the difference in cube-farm land. This will reduce the day-to-day chatter you have to deal with. I cannot emphasize enough how much I love my headphones for drowning out the chatter, and my immediate co-workers aren’t even oversharers.

The other suggestions posted here are fine for resolving the overall problem. But headphones are a quick and easy way to reduce it without confronting it.

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Brenda August 6, 2012 at 3:02 pm

Whenever you have a situation with a coworker, remember, “Document, document, document.”

This means you need to make a journal. Make notes throughout the day about when Jane says something inappropriate, when she ignores the phone, when she continues to talk when you have turned her away, etc. Then enter these items into a journal with the date and approximate time. Yes, it can be a pain, but if you make a complaint to a supervisor or HR it will help to show how extensive and intensive the situation is.

You will also, as has been mentioned, need to be explicit in your needs in regard to Jane. You need to say, “Jane, what you are saying makes me uncomfortable and I find it inappropriate. Please stop now.” Or, “Jane, I don’t have time to hear your story, as I have work that needs to be finished.” Or, “Jane, please listen for the phone as I can’t answer it now.” You have to establish that you have clearly communicated with Jane about these issues.

As to why the supervisor does nothing: many supervisors prefer to bury their heads in the sand, not realizing or not accepting that problems do not just go away, they grow and worsen.

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Shea August 6, 2012 at 3:25 pm

@ Another Alice, I think your advice could be really good for more personal relationships (i.e., and friend or relative who’s an incessant chatterbox), but I don’t think it’s right for this situation. The OP shouldn’t have to take time out of her work day, thus lowering her productivity, in order to make an overly talkative colleague feel “heard”. Especially given that said colleague seems to want to be heard on NSFW topics.

I agree with those who’ve suggested a brief, firm talk with Chatty Colleague, and, should that fail, a discussion with HR or a manager.

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Laura August 6, 2012 at 3:45 pm

As an HR Manager, I had to jump in. I agree with the posters who are recommending that you go to HR. There are a few different issues at play here, and frankly if they are handled incorrectly by the wrong people, it could end up badly for everyone involved.

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Justin August 6, 2012 at 4:01 pm

Not to be overly harsh, but the OP is also part of the problem by being too nice and not wanting to hurt this coworkers feelings. My suspicion based on my own experience is that many others in the office have aggressively shut this person down, so she focuses her attentions on the nice coworkers.

One thing that I have done for many years is keep seperate appraisals of my relationships with coworkers compared to friendships. I have worked with some people who while they were great to work with because of differing attitudes, beliefs, hobbies, and personalities I want to friendship with outside of work. I’ve worked with people who were great friends with outside of work but are lousy coworkers. I’m happy to hang out with them outside of work but I hate being on the same shift. many others are great friends and great coworkers, and a few I dislike inside and outside of work.

If the coworker is someone I have an out of work friendship with my response to non-work chatter is usually ‘I’d love to chat about that, give you advice, whatever, but I am in the middle of a few things for work. If you want to get a beer after work sometime I’d be happy to talk then’.

For people I don’t want a personal relationship with I’ll directly tell them that I have work to do and can’t talk or I am not interested in the subject. If they don’t get the hint I will ask my boss to talk to theirs about the interruptions so that it goes up and down the chain of command. Is it being nice, not really, but the goal is to change the behaviour before it escalates and gets the person in trouble and let me get my work done.

When I am at work someone is paying me to perform a set of duties, my first obligation is to them during the day. If I want to have side chats with coworkers that is what lunch, breaks, and after work are for.

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Jewel August 6, 2012 at 4:12 pm

The behaviors you’ve described (loud speaking voice, not understanding speech unless the speaker is facing forward, talking over others or not following the flow of conversation, needing others to speak in a loud volume, etc.) are hallmarks of hearing loss. I suggest you confidentially provide these examples to Human Resources so they may direct her to consult with an audiologist or otolaryngologist. HR’s basis for doing so is that, most likely, the job description for the admin position she holds has, at minimum, requirements regarding a certain level of vision and hearing.

Once “Jane” has been examined, given an audiogram, and provided with treatment options, HR will be involved as she’ll need reasonable modifications to her work environment (such as to her phone system and, perhaps, sub-titling or hand-outs to follow during presentations).

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Cat Whisperer August 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm

I want to add one more reason why OP might want to quit worrying about being nice to “Jane,” offending “Jane,” or trying to maintain a friendly relationship with “Jane.”

OP mentions in her last paragraph: “…She [Jane] used to work in the front line area and her supervisor chuckled when she got the admin job. She said “Jane is a talker. She used to talk to customers so much that they would eventually just walk away as she was talking”. Former supervisor chuckled because she knows how the admin office is and she knew it would be an issue eventually…”

Supervisors come and supervisors go as organizational changes are made, people are promoted, and people leave for other jobs. Eventually OP and Jane are going to have a supervisor come in who doesn’t know the people in the organization. And you can bet your bippy that if that supervisor has anything on the ball, he/she will quickly realize that Jane is a problem employee.

…and if Jane has tagged herself onto OP as a best buddy, a new supervisor might make the leap of guilt by association. And once a supervisor has linked Jane (problem employee) with OP (good buddy of problem employee), it’s hard to break that link.

This may sound cold and unfriendly, but before I retired, I went through 35+ years of watching workplace dynamics that included good times and bad, massive layoffs and large waves of hiring new people, and many reorganizations and changes of supervision and management. When push comes to shove, you are at work to earn a living, and that means behaving professionally. That doesn’t mean you can’t behave compassionately if someone has problems, but it does mean recognizing that it isn’t your job to fix broken co-workers. It also means recognizing that you are not helping someone if you enable them to behave unprofessionally.

It isn’t kind or compassionate to cater to Jane’s problem behaviors because you want to be nice to her. Enabling her to continue behaviors that are counterproductive to work makes her vulnerable to discipline and, ultimately, to being fired from her job because she’s unproductive and unprofessional. The kindest thing to do, the most compassionate, is to let Jane know you will behave professionally and you expect her to behave professionally, and act accordingly. You don’t have to be officious or self-righteous about it, you don’t have to be unkind or without compassion. But you do have to be firm and unyielding: there is professional behavior and unprofessional behavior, and you know the difference and are sure Jane knows the difference and is capable of behaving professionally. Help her out by refusing to enable unprofessional behaviors out of a mistaken notion of “niceness.”

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mojo August 6, 2012 at 4:52 pm

I tried to be patient with a co-worker of mine who had a similar problem, but sometimes even bluntness doesn’t work.

I was the last one in the office who would give her any time at all. Everyone else would avoid her, rudely if necessary. But again and again she would yammer on and on and bore me to the point of tears.

One day I just snapped and shouted in her face “SHUT UP! Good grief, you are so BORING!”. I instantly felt terrible of course, but just a millisecond flash of confusion crossed her face as she computed this unexpected response; then relaxed, smiled and chuckled “Oh, you are such a joker…” and carried on with her story as if nothing had happened.

I wish I could have been more constructive. But if she wouldn’t take the hint from that, and had no capacity to understand the problem, I had to accept there was nothing I could do for her. I’m sad to say I joined the rest of the team in ignoring her, rudely if necessary.

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AS August 6, 2012 at 5:02 pm

AH! Lot of people said what I was thinking – tell Jane politely to get her hearing checked (cite examples if you want to). If she stops talking to you like the other co-worker, then good for you. She might be nice (she does sound she is good at heart), but not worth risking your career by getting unnecessary attention during meetings.

Get an earphone at other times.

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Ally L August 6, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Just concerning the inappropriate comments, being blunt is definitely best. I’m a 20-something working in an auto garage with many guys my own age, so we are work-friends, but there are also lots of off-color jokes and comments that are just “the guys being guys.” It is the culture of the garage and the industry, so me disliking toilet humor is not going to change their behavior. If they joke about something like that, I just turn and walk away and continue doing my work somewhere else. I can’t change them, just my reactions and proximity.

Sometimes they will get blatantly inappropriate, especially when they were getting used to having me around. As soon as something was said, I bluntly repsonded not to speak that way and it’s not ok to do it around me. Repeated as necessary. Once I got to be better friends with them, one of the guys said they all respected how upfront I was, and how it made things easier for them to stay away from the no-no topics.

Don’t worry about being “rude.” There’s nothing rude about stopping sexual jokes at work. Rude is stopping work from being done at work.

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Jared Bascomb August 6, 2012 at 8:22 pm

A little late chiming in, but I think that the OP needs to suggest that Jane get her hearing examined.
And yes, exactly that way – “examined”. She can couch it politely: “Jane, I’ve noticed that you’re speaking very loudly, and perhaps can’t hear things . . . Don’t you think you might want to have your hearing checked?” [after objections] “I’m sorry you feel that way, but I had a [relative] who had the same problem, and it just turned out to be a buildup of wax in the ear!” Laugh to diffuse the tension, then go on to explain the benefits of a hearing exam.

If she ceases contact with you, you win. If she gets the problem cleared up, you both win.

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jena rogers August 6, 2012 at 8:36 pm

I agree with others about the hearing aid mention.. ‘seems to shut her up. I have three women like this where I currently work, though fortunately, my specific work environment allows me to avoid them. Frankly, you have enough info to go to a manager. ‘Sounds like you’ve gone thru a lot and tried some things. Also, it sounds like there are several problems — her hearing, her verbose nature, and her inappropriate dialogue. Really, I would have gone to a manager with the complaint that I cannot concentrate on my own work and need them to handle this however HR would…If an employee is creating a disruption to the workday and/or is being inappropriate, that’s an HR / EAP issue IMHO.

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grumpy_otter August 6, 2012 at 8:37 pm

I used to work at a business school with 2 others who were in charge of coordinating their executive education programs, so we had lots of contact with the business school professors. I liked the job well enough, but my co-worker, Jane Jr., had a chip on her shoulder about being support staff and would try to make up for it by engaging the professors in chit chat as an equal. (I and the other worker weren’t her equals–if we ever tried to join in she would frostily inform us, after the professor left, to NOT interrupt her discussions with the professors)

They would be inching toward the door as she was going on about whatever book she was reading or a show she had seen while they were desperately trying to get away. Eventually the other worker and I came up with a scheme to handle this–She’d phone me and then I would say, “Professor Higgenbottom, that was your secretary–there’s an emergency with a student.” (We had informed them that “emergency with a student” was a code) It gave them an excuse to excuse themselves quickly–and boy were they grateful!

If all else fails, I wonder if something along those lines could help the OP? Some sort of emergency signal with another co-worker?

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Cat Whisperer August 6, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Regarding Jane’s comment about hearing loss, “…A coworker once mentioned, gently and politely, that maybe she should get a hearing test; she very huffily said, “I know I’m older than most of you, but I’m not that old!”…”

One of the people I worked with in the publications department of the aerospace company I worked for was a young man, a guy in his 20’s when I first met him, who was profoundly deaf and had been profoundly deaf since he was a small child.

One of the hairstylists at the place where my daughter gets her hair cut is in her 20’s and has to use hearing aids because her hearing was damaged when she played in a rock band starting in her mid-teens. She told us that none of the kids in the band was aware that prolonged exposure to noise in excess of 85 decibels can cause permanent hearing loss, and the result was that all five of them suffered some degree of hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

Jane is “ageist” if she thinks that hearing loss/hearing damage is something that only afflicts the elderly. Interestingly, I’ve heard that kids in the current “younger generation” are at high risk of damage to their hearing because of the prevalence of iPods and other personal music devices that use “earbuds”. Hearing damage can happen at any age.

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David August 6, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Did Jane ever used to work around machinery? I had hearing loss in the conversational tones because of a machine I used to work around that really didn’t seem very loud – mention that you have heard of a young man with hearing loss and it isn’t age related.

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Cat Whisperer August 7, 2012 at 1:03 am

Just one more comment:

“…Former supervisor chuckled because she knows how the admin office is and she knew it [Jane’s behavior] would be an issue eventually….”

It’s dollars to stale donuts that Jane was moved to the admin office because it’s easier to document her unprofessional behavior there and to eventually terminate her because of it. Why else would an employee be moved to a position where her former supervisor knows the employee’s behavior would be an issue?

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Katie August 7, 2012 at 4:33 am

I think that you should discuss this with your direct supervisor before going to HR (which in some work cultures could be perceived as ‘snitching’, for want of a better word, and may create bad feeling for *you*). I think that you at least have to try (or be *seen* to have tried) to resolve this using the normal channels (i.e. your own supervisor/line manager). What I would do is to request a meeting by e-mail (so you have a record of what is going on), saying that there is something confidential that you need to discuss with him/her.

One solution (for you at least) could be requesting to move to a different desk away from Jane. I’ve seen this tactic used in previous workplaces. You could also suggest that the *supervisor* contacts HR about the issue.

I wouldn’t worry too much about this- tbh I doubt that you will be associated too much with Jane in anyone else’s minds, as it sounds like most people in the office know what she’s like. Any astute manager should hopefully be able to see that, too. Good luck, and please do update us!

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livvy17 August 7, 2012 at 7:41 am

As both an HR Manager and a former co-worker of a very simlar lady, I think the best course is always to be very direct and honest.
First, I would also go directly to HR about the hearing issue. As mentioned by another HR Manager above, medical/disability-related issues, or even perceptions, can get very thorny very fast.
Regarding the over-sharing and constant talking, as mentioned by others, this lady is not your personal friend. She is a collegue, with whom you would like to have a good working relationship. If her overly-friendly, work-inappropriate behavior is jeopardizing that, tell her so. If she doesn’t appreciate your honesty, and/or continutes her behavior, go to HR.
I will also add that we wound up firing the “Chatty Cathy” in my office, mostly due to that flaw – not only was she wasting the time we were paying her to spend working, but by monopolizing others, she was wasting DOUBLE the company work time.

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Enna August 7, 2012 at 8:18 am

How about OP suggests that Jane gets her ears syringned? Waxy build ups can happy to any Tom, Dick or Harry no matter what age you are.

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OP August 7, 2012 at 8:47 am

OP here. I want to thank everyone for their suggestions. I had been thinking along the lines of the suggestions- being blunt and point-blank. I had never thought I might be associated with her behavior- but I it makes sense.

I think I am going to try a 3 point plan:
1. Start shutting down the excessive talk as soon as she starts, using some the phrases per your suggestions. Every time. Especially when she starts with the inappropriate talk.
2. Try to broach the subject of her possible hearing loss with her one more time.
3. Definitely distance myself from her during the weekly meeting.

If the above steps do not help, I will start with my supervisor and work up. I think my boss knows she is excessively talkative because he did say something to her about it one day and then he told her direct supervisor.

I would love to switch desks/cubes but they are assigned and mine is 3 steps from my bosses office and that is where he wants me so…

I will check back to see if anyone comes up with additonal suggestions. Thanks again!

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Shalamar August 7, 2012 at 9:38 am

Heaven preserve me from the hard-of-hearing. I used to have a co-worker who was partly deaf, didn’t wear a hearing aid, and had a habit of shouting (I don’t think he realized he was doing it). The thing is, he was also an interrupter. He’d ask me a question, I’d start to answer, and he’d shout over me while I was trying to talk. I always ended up shouting back (I didn’t mean to, but if I didn’t, he wouldn’t hear me), and we’d ended up having a shouting match instead of a conversation. Our co-workers must’ve loved that. I was very relieved when he left.

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Angel August 7, 2012 at 9:47 am

I too would see what your direct supervisor can do before going to HR. And I would stop being friendly to her as well. Headphones are a great idea. If possible a desk change. If that’s not possible, try to ignore her as much as you can. Keep your conversations with her strictly professional. Is there any way you can leave the building for lunch? If so I would do that as much as I could. I can’t stand people who talk nonstop about nothing.

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Kelly August 7, 2012 at 3:20 pm

People that are hard of hearing tend to talk to much. They do this as a defense mechanism so they don’t have to pretend to listen to someone they can’t hear. The woman is in denial about her hearing and I agree with others that if you want her to stop talking to you so much, advise her that she needs a hearing test. Problem solved. On the same lines, it is just amazing that employees feel it’s OK to talk endlessly about non-business matters for a good portion of the day. I’m with Admin and that I don’t mind a short conversation here and there, but I’m amazed some people get anything done or that they even have a job. Where are supervisors and department heads? Oh ya, from what I have read here, they are the biggest abusers :)

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Jared Bascomb August 7, 2012 at 10:12 pm

I’m in agreement with many of the others, esp Enna and Kelly. Rather than suggesting hearing aids and getting blown off (because she’s “not old enough” for them), diplomatically bring up a hearing-loss problem and that she should see a doctor about it. AND say that it could be something simple, like wax buildup, and even go so far as to say that you once had the same problem yourself. This could take some of the stigma from it.

Now to be a bad boy: The last two years I worked, I had a supervisor who exhibited many of Jane’s symptoms: he spoke too loudly, couldn’t follow conversations, yelled/summoned me into his office, cut me off when speaking/explaining things to him . . . I finally came to the conclusion that he had a hearing loss problem.

The thing is, I’d worked for him about twenty years previous and he was an arrogant A-hole then. So when he exhibited many of the same behaviors (although toned down) when he supervised me again, I didn’t feel obligated to raise the hearing loss issue. I figured that if he didn’t want to / couldn’t listen to my 20+ years of experienced advice in a new area that he had no experience with, then he could just deal with the consequences, hearing loss or no.

The sausage hit the fan about six months after I retired.

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Claire August 8, 2012 at 4:06 am

I just wanted to reiterate Brenda’s point about keeping recorded evidence to support your concerns about Jane. Not second by second or you will look obsessive, but add to your plan to make a quick jotting of times you have had to ask her to answer phone/stop talking/stop being inappropriate. You must do this for two reasons – it supports your concerns ABOUT Jane and it shows that you are not condoning or joining in with the behaviour. In my line of work, listening to an inappropriate conversation without challenging or reporting it is as bad as saying the words yourself, in terms of disciplinary issues

I am a “middle manager” equivalent in the emergency public services here in the UK and I can only talk from that experience but addressing behaviour and under-performance in the workplace requires evidence-based complaints which can translate into an Action plan for the subject, and possibly to reasonable adjustments for the subjects’ disabilities, if required.

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