How do I hush an annoying coworker?
June 20, 2007 9:28 PM   Subscribe

How can I deal with an annoying coworker who talks to me too much?

I have a coworker who really gets under my skin; I don't actually work w/ him that much but we share a room, 2 cubes, together all day. He talks a lot, an hour or two a day, and I'm nice enough to be minimally responsive which is just enough to keep him talking about his favorite subject: himself. It's often entertaining, but his rants and stories usually have an underlying condescending tone to them, but nevertheless, I don't want to hear about how "awesome" he is anymore.

Some nights I cannot sleep b/c I dread having to face him in the morning; I often rehearse arguments and insults that rarely come to light for hours. I want to stop thinking about this -- I realize this is partially my own problem.

As far as disrupting work, it's usually not a problem, I'm not that busy and if I am I can shrug him off. It is a problem for him though: he's 15 years older than me (I'm 26) and has a bit more responsibility and his David Brent-esque and/or expert-on-everything monologues cost him a lot of work-time.

This is the 2 year anniversary of being moved in with him, how can I make him stop talking to me? Or, how can I let his personality not affect me? Are there any articles about the subject, or any place to share my many funny stories / rants?
posted by jacobjacobs to Human Relations (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
"Hello, friendly co-worker. I am having a problem focusing on Task X. I would appreciate it if you could let me be for a little while, so I can knock this bad boy out. Thanks."
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:46 PM on June 20, 2007

first rule of office warfare: never antagonize anyone if they know who you are.

it's perfectly acceptable to visit your bosses office in his/her absence and fart to your bowel's delight. they don't know it happened or who the culprit might be, leaving you unexposed to eventual repercussions. the same cannot be said when they are present. someone who knows who hit them can plan how to retaliate best.

I don't think you should annoy him into leaving you alone. pissing him off means he won't be in favor of your being around him anymore. this is a narcissistic character and those are often vindictive.

think of those he talks about in the most negative terms and consider how it would feel to be that person in one of his conversations with your boss. you don't want to be said person, right? how do you know that one of the higher-ups doesn't casually some day ask for his opinion? say, do you think jacobjacobs is a hard worker?

I would suggest headphones. listen to music every now and then but make a point of still chatting twenty or thirty minutes per day with him. perhaps do it in the morning and make it a habit of ending conversations at a set time. oups, ten o'clock, time to do my emails.

or ask him if he wants to go to the office kitchen and get a coffee with you at the same time every day. it's a great way to end a conversation - either he won't want to come with you and you're safe or you go, come back, smile and say "well, let's see what I can do on ..."

this is a situation where diplomacy is warranted. perhaps you will -at some point- be drawn into a project where sitting somewhere else will just happen to be a great idea. it's certainly an option far less risky than badmouthing him to your superiors (err... "alerting your superios to your concerns").

then again, you could just stop washing. I fear though that such action would be far less therapeutic than farting in your bosses office.
posted by krautland at 9:48 PM on June 20, 2007

Best answer: Strong Bad to the rescue!
posted by danb at 9:48 PM on June 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

"Hello, friendly co-worker. I am having a problem focusing on Task X. I would appreciate it if you could let me be for a little while, so I can knock this bad boy out. Thanks."

I can tell you exactly what friendly coworker x will think when you say this: "am I not interesting? do I stink? am I an asshole? HEY! just who does this young punk thinks he is? disrespectful idiot, I'll show him... gnarly-hardy-har."

uhm... great advice.
posted by krautland at 9:50 PM on June 20, 2007

ear plugs?
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:55 PM on June 20, 2007

I can tell you exactly what friendly coworker x will think

And I can tell you exactly that working with you must be a real hoot. Dork.

It's deliberately couched that the problem is not Person B, but Person A's difficulty with Task X. That is precisely why it works.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:56 PM on June 20, 2007

Headphones and music. Explain (kindly) that the music helps you to concentrate. I have used this method often and it works well.
posted by Brittanie at 9:58 PM on June 20, 2007

It's deliberately couched that the problem is not Person B, but Person A's difficulty with Task X. That is precisely why it works.

no, dude. he will completely ignore that part. he is narcissistic and will focus on the part about him. these characters do not operate on a rational basis. I don't think you have a good idea of what they are like.
posted by krautland at 9:58 PM on June 20, 2007

Have headphones on, even if you aren't listening to music. When he tries to talk to you, politely make him repeat the first thing he said...because you had your headphones on. Take one off and hold it in your hand as you listen to him. When he's done repeating himself, acknowledge, and put the headphone back in.

Music is the great deflector. If he's really persistent, let him know that you are REALLY rockin' out to [insert cheesy track from the 70s here] on internet radio at the moment.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:03 PM on June 20, 2007

Response by poster: The problem w/ citing that I too have work to do is that he'll want to know what it is and then give me his long "when I worked for Bell Atlantic and was programming w/ Fortran..." speech. Seriously, this happens every time, the few tidbits he knows about me haunt me -- every subject leads to the same place. Music presents a similar problem, he'll want me to play it aloud so he can hear and talk (shit) about it. I like the idea though, I may have to think more about implementing it.
posted by jacobjacobs at 10:10 PM on June 20, 2007

Seconding headphones and music. Works for me!
posted by gergtreble at 10:12 PM on June 20, 2007

iamkimiam's suggestion is good (but remember not to hear too well when other people come in, when you have headphones on, but no music, or the ruse is exposed...).

I find it helps to steadfastly ignore them during the working portion of the day, but offer to lunch with them now and again, so they understand I don't dislike them personally, I just don't have the time to chat while I'm working.

Recognize though, some people are dense in this area. I once shared a cube with someone who would interrupt my phone calls, because I'd said something that caught his ear. He, thankfully, was self-aware of his habit, and had no problems with me saying "yo x, busy now, shut up please". YMMV
posted by nomisxid at 10:14 PM on June 20, 2007

Demanding someone pay attention to you is a dominance thing, if you keep contradicting him he'll go away. If he says the sky is blue, give a five minute dissertation on why it's not really blue, but you just see it that way because of blah, blah, blah. Be nice but always answer him with "actually ncie co-worker, I think you'll find that......."

Obviously you don't want to do this when other people are in the room or they'll think you're just as much of a bore as he is.
posted by fshgrl at 10:46 PM on June 20, 2007

I once had a similar co-worker at a start-up with cramped space. At first I was a little sympathetic to him, since this was his first 'real' job and I thought his constant talking was a sign of nervousness.

But, eventually, I just gave up, starting wearing headphones and just literally ignored him as he blathered on and on and on.

The technique worked pretty well. I would take the time to talk to him for about ten minutes or so at the beginning of the day and was friendly when I wasn't busy, so he didn't think there was any coldness or hatred involved. But he also got the point and, after a long while, stopped talking as much.
posted by pandaharma at 11:00 PM on June 20, 2007

"Listen, I really have to knuckle down and get this stuff done. I'm just gonna put my headphones on and zone out for the next couple hours. Recently I'm finding it helps me focus a lot better. I may not be very responsive -- don't take it personally -- but I find I get more done this way."

Then take a few moments to chat when you get up for a drink, get back from lunch, etc. But learn how to break away -- even if it means interrupting him in mid-flow because you just "remembered" something you need to check on.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 11:19 PM on June 20, 2007

and then give me his long "when I worked for Bell Atlantic and was programming w/ Fortran..." speech.

And I bet he had to walk uphill both ways in the snow to make his punch cards--and they didn't even have a hole punch back then; he had to use his TEETH.

Music presents a similar problem, he'll want me to play it aloud so he can hear and talk (shit) about it. I like the idea though, I may have to think more about implementing it.

Play white noise and act puzzled that he can't detect the subtle rhythms, glorious tonal resonances, and compelling patterns. ;) Then rock out to it.

Or play it on something portable instead of on your computer (since then, to play it out loud, you'd have to mess around with the cables (assuming you have separate speakers) and you don't want to crawl around down there disconnecting stuff, right? It's a pain in the ass, right?), or say you're really into the stereo experience and it's just not the same with speakers--they just ruin it.

Or just make the first song something you know he'll hate, then switch to the headphones so you "won't bother him with it" (and if he wants you to keep it on so he can hear it, tell him that no, no, he shouldn't have to put up with it, he doesn't have to be polite, etc.).
posted by Many bubbles at 12:54 AM on June 21, 2007

Oh! Wireless headphones. With those, you can't just plug the other end into speakers instead, can you?
posted by Many bubbles at 1:01 AM on June 21, 2007

Best answer: Music is not the answer . . . . develop an urgent need to learn another language. Maybe your company does business in Mexico or Canada, maybe your sister just got engaged to a man from Germany, maybe you're planning a trip to France. Come up with a good reason why you'd like to learn this language.

Get the CDs or tapes from the library and use them as white noise for a couple of weeks (You might pick up some of the language as a bonus). The key is to be very serious about this endeavor for a length of time.

If the language tapes get too boring, switch over to a business and/ or motivational tape (habits of effective people etc). Try to find something that your boss or his/her boss would read and get points for multitasking and enriching yourself.

If coworker X wants to participate, explain that you just learn better with headphones or say you're willing to share but he'll have to leave off any comments or interruptions. If he can't help talking, put your headphones back on without any discussion. Your boss will take your side and might realize how disruptive the cubemate actually is.
posted by jaimystery at 4:01 AM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I had a similar situation when I worked in an office and shared a room with two other women. One of them talked ALL DAY LONG, mostly complaining about health issues, including detailed descriptions of her hemorrhoids. I found that if I blocked her line of sight, and she couldn't see me, that she didn't talk to me as much. It's not easy talking to someone you can't see.

I feel for you - it's an incredibly frustrating situation. The only thing worse is the co-worker who talks to themself all day long!
posted by suki at 4:37 AM on June 21, 2007

bring in your mp3 player (or buy one) and say "hey, ____, my _____ just bought me this new mp3 player to listen to at work."

after you hear his opinions on said player, the history of portable music devices, his own history with said devices, and his thoughts on the future of the musis industry, sit down, turn it on and enjoy the music.

you could also try listening to NPR aloud. having other talking in the room already might reduce his need to talk. or it might just give him more subjects to discuss. it could go either way.
posted by probablysteve at 4:51 AM on June 21, 2007

talk to your supervisor or even HR and ask to switch offices. i think it's fair to say that your coworker is continuing to distract you from your work even after every polite attempt to remedy the situation. make it clear that you've done everything you think you can and that you wouldn't be asking for help except as a last resort.
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:32 AM on June 21, 2007

Best answer: Does your co-worker really require you to listen? Could you actually just insert "uh huh" and "oh" and "I see" as he talks while you actually get some work done? I know it sounds a little rude but I had a co-worker who was like this and I'd just do that. She just wanted to talk at me about her stupid horses or something. Luckily we did not share an office or cube but she would wander into my work space all the time.

Of course, if he is expecting answers to open-ended questions this won't work.

I do agree with thinkingwoman though.
posted by sutel at 6:10 AM on June 21, 2007

I used to have a coworker that would just start talking randomly during the day. He would never address anyone directly so we all (6 of us in the immediate space) would just pretend not to hear his initial outburst. That worked for a while. Ignoring someone because you are just "so into" what you are working on is fine. Your job is to get your work done, not be polite to someone who is being a distraction.

Headphones were the next great solution for my team.

Eventually someone higher up noticed he wasn't actually doing any productive work and distracting everyone around him so they canned him.

Good luck!
posted by zackola at 7:29 AM on June 21, 2007

Sutel has a good point. Does this guy actually ask you questions that require a response? I worked with a woman who talked constantly about herself, and I just "uh huh"-ed my way through the day and didn't stop working. Not a solution to your problem (not sleeping at night because you know you have to deal with this guy) but it might help. Or talk to HR or your boss and see if you can be moved. No one should have to go through that much distraction at work. And yeah, I feel your pain.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 8:33 AM on June 21, 2007

A lot of the solutions above are pretty passive-aggressive or outright hostile. This doesn't seem like a guy who picks up on passive-aggressive hints, and trying to work around his annoying behavior is only going to bother you more. And, in office environments as much as most everywhere else in life, hostility is only going to make things worse.

What you don't say in your question is whether you have ever said the following, or something near to it: "Co-Worker, would you mind being quiet for a while? Thanks." You see, by saying this, you're not giving any reasons that can be worked around or discredited (as there are in Cool Papa Bell's suggestion -- Cool Papa Bell's would be a great way to ask a normal, polite person to quiet down.. But this guy doesn't seem to be normal and polite). Leaving out any reasons also gives you a bit of an upperhand, if we want to understand this situation as a powerplay, since you're demanding something very simple from him that he has no reason to refuse. Furthermore, it also doesn't beat around the bush or just hint at what you want, in case this isn't narcissism or a powerplay but, instead, just a very socially naive man who likes to talk. In other words, by saying this, you give him no options other than to shut up or to become outright disagreeable.

If he does shut up, then all is won! And maybe he'll learn a bit about himself and how others perceive his constant yapping (but... probably not). If he doesn't shut up, then that's pretty rude and inconsiderate of him. "Coworker refuses to respond to simple requests for silence, even when directly asked" is something HR is more likely to find note-worthy than "I don't like how Coworker talks too much."

Passive-aggressive behavior sure is a lot easier than standing up to someone who doesn't take hints. I sure as heck would have trouble just directly asking someone to quiet down instead of just sitting in my cubicle, boiling into a nice stew of resentment, anger, and frustration... But, sadly, it's not going to get you what you want. No headphones will entirely drown him out, no hints will ever give him a clue, and no overt hostility will ever make this situation easier for you. You just have to be honest and direct.

(Unless you actually -have- confronted him like this before. In which case, that's a whole different ball of wax, and HR probably is your best resource.)
posted by Ms. Saint at 9:32 AM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

I once shared an office with somebody who talked way too much. The thing is we were working on a project together so we did need to talk. But not 100% of the time.

It had gotten to the point where I would respond to many of his conversational gambits with things like "With you please stop talking so much". That tactic didn't work so eventually I brought in a roll of Duct Tape, cut off an 8" length and stuck the end of it onto the side of my desk, and told him I would use it to shut him up if needed. Thereafter often when he would try to open a conversation all I had to do was silently point at the duct tape.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 12:14 PM on June 21, 2007

Best answer: Some nights I cannot sleep b/c I dread having to face him in the morning; I often rehearse arguments and insults that rarely come to light for hours. I want to stop thinking about this -- I realize this is partially my own problem.

Oh no, sounds like you really hate this guy. I don't know if you can turn this around and move it to a level where you don't so much hate the guy as tolerate him. That's where your feelings need to be otherwise it's a downhill descent to the type of poisonous rage that consumes your every waking hour (of which there will be more because of the aforesaid hatred).

But you already know that.

If the person has any qualities, then focus on those and treat your relationship as strictly business. Consider making nice as part of your job. That's your workplace persona that you leave behind when you leave the office each evening.

If the person has no qualities that you can think of ...

I worked at a place where there where 50% of the admittedly small staff were utterly hateful excuses for human beings.

To deal with this I got an empty tampon box (which I christened "The c*** box") and wrote down what bothered me about these people on note paper, folded it up and put it in the box. I made a deal with myself that once it was in the box it was done. Then I wasn't allowed to talk or think about it anymore. It helped.

If you can make your asshat colleague into a funny story, that can help too, but beware that there is potential for "funny stories about dumb-ass workmates" to easily turn into "boring carping about some jerk I don't know".

I hate my boss got me through a really bad afternoon once but if you can avoid thinking and talking about how much you can't stand this person too much I would suggest that is the better path to take.

Best of luck.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 8:15 PM on June 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

The little clippy iPod shuffle is $79.00. Go get yourself one along with a pair of earbuds. Apply earbuds to ears, making the cord very visible to annoying cube mate. (I placed the cord backwards, resting on my hair, to make it obvious why I was not responding to annoying co-worker rant) Then enjoy music or podcasts...or just enjoy the peace and quiet the ear buds provide. :)
posted by Carnage Asada at 10:30 AM on June 25, 2007

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