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Dealing with a chatty employee

Posted by Linda J. Lerner  January 27, 2009 09:10 AM

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Q: I have an employee who works for me who always wants to be the center of attention. He seems to talk nonstop and, frankly, he distracts me and other employees in our department. Any tips for cutting him off?

A: "The Talkers," as I call them, are tough characters to deal with. Our first reaction is usually to do everything we can to avoid them. That would be fine if you were his co-worker, but you are his boss and have to deal with this issue.

Here are some things you can try that I have used over the years to some positive effect.

  • Meet with the employee and let him know that although he may not be aware of it, his frequent chatter and talking with co-workers is distracting to them. State that he needs to become much more aware of his tendency to speak to anyone around him, and most importantly, it is affecting his and the department's productivity. Make sure he knows that you are also distracted by his behavior and that it needs to stop.
  • I expect that you will see some short-term improvement but his constant talking will reappear before long.
  • Next, meet with him again to review the lack of sufficient improvement and consider establishing a new policy for him in which he can chitchat as much as he wants, but not during work time. Tell him he can only do it during his breaks, his lunch hour, and before and after work. Let him know that you are monitoring this and will meet with him in a week to review the situation.
  • When he starts talking to you, tell him that you are not available now but can see him at a specific later time.
  • If it continues, give him a time frame within which he must curtail his distracting behavior or he will need to face potentially serious consequences, including losing his job.

This habit of constant or compulsive talking is a very difficult one for a person to break. It is possible that your employee has heard this criticism before but pushes it off as just his personality. Like most habits, talking a lot is one we can easily fall back into when there is not a serious commitment to change or when there are no apparent consequences.

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6 comments so far...
  1. Is it possible that he chitchats because he is nervous? Perhaps its a confidence issue.

    Posted by mel January 28, 09 09:02 AM
  1. don't fire me!

    Posted by jrax January 28, 09 10:11 AM
  1. Oh, I am a chatterbox and I can't imagine being fired for it! It's a nervous tic that I have; be careful what you advise... you wouldn't tell someone who stutters that they'll be fired unless they can stop, would you?

    Posted by kms January 28, 09 11:27 AM
  1. I have known many of these types,....A few things could going on,.... As mentioned in the article, it could be just the persons personality; from experience however, it's usually a job performance insufficiency related issue. Again, from experience, it's someone who isn't all that busy or should be busy, but chooses to chat instead. If they aren't that busy, they should be kept busy. This is a management issue. If however they should be busy and are still chatting at will,....then there are more serious issues. Questions to ask yourself - Is this person getting all of thier assigned work done? Are they working over-time to make up for non-productive time at work? Or Are the "delegating" their work onto others?

    Posted by Mark January 28, 09 12:23 PM
  1. Be careful here. Instead of dealing with the situation, it seems like you are already looking for "legitimate" reasons why the gentleman should be fired. Take heed of what KMS said. If this person were a chronic stutterer or had a mental deficiency that manifested in his incessant chatter, firing him will bring a law suit that is more than likely indefensible.

    Ive been in an office with a chatterbox. The person would talk and work. She produced some of the best work in the office. She wasnt lazy or shirking her job like some cynical people are quick to imply. It was part of her personality to be outgoing. But few people spoke to her about being bothered by it, creating an environment where the coworkers singled someone out and were ignoring her. Our boss spoke with her and after that her talking got WORSE. Scaring someone with a nervous speaking habit will do that... Its a difficult position to be in as an office manager.

    Posted by Sarah January 28, 09 02:22 PM
  1. How about just signing the chatterbox employee up for a course on workplace behavior? Also, here is a good technique to recommend: "Unless you have something important to say, don't say anything at all. That way, when you actually speak, people stop to listen and ponder your words."

    Posted by Sergio February 4, 09 09:03 AM

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