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Dealing with a chatty employee

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.

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  • 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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