We all need to be productive. We need to get things done efficiently. And often that means wanting to be left alone to focus on the task in hand. The last thing you need is repeated interruptions. The irrepressible colleague who wants to chat to you presents a tricky problem: how to stop the interruptions without causing offence?
Chatting with colleagues is part of life - and it’s good for morale and our social wellbeing at work. But you also need to concentrate. Research that I’ve done with participants in our ‘Preventing Mistakes at Work’ programme names ‘colleagues’ as the biggest cause of interruptions and distractions. Chatty colleagues often appear on the list as a major culprit!
Think about that for a moment. Think of all the times a colleague has caused you to lose your train of thought by asking you a question when you’re busy. And then, think of all the times you have been the person doing the interrupting. It’s so easy to shout across an open-plan office for a quick answer to something, or to share what you’ve been doing at the weekend with your neighbour, without considering whether now is a convenient time for them.
It’s human to want to be friendly. To chat with colleagues is one of the bonuses of working together, rather than working remotely. It’s also human to make mistakes - and people make mistakes, or forget to do things, when they are distracted or interrupted. What’s more, they can’t think clearly when they are stressed. Imagine you have a deadline to meet, as well as another meeting to attend and a report to write and the person sitting nearby repeatedly wants to chat to you. This adds to your pressure which means at the very least, you are feeling hassled and aren’t working at your best. There’s even a good chance you’ll make a serious mistake and/or fail to meet your deadline.
How you manage distractions in an open-plan office and how you develop your concentration skills is a huge topic we cover elsewhere*. For now, let’s look specifically at how you deal with the chatty colleague - the repeat offender who wants to be friendly at precisely the time you need them to shut up and leave you alone!
It’s tempting to be sharp with them. But that only leads to friction and you need to work with this individual. Try openly telling them that you need to concentrate on a piece of work and describing the kind of pressure you’re under - what your deadlines are, who you are doing the work for, and why it’s important.
Some people are natural talkers and they really don’t notice when they are over-doing it. If they don’t respond appropriately to your request to be allowed to work in peace, you need to take a more determined approach and tackle the problem head-on.
The key here is to make it sound as though you are the person with the problem, not that the other person is the problem. ‘Can’t you see that I’m trying to concentrate!’ has the potential to inflame the situation and create an unpleasant ‘atmosphere’. Instead, explain calmly that you need to complete the task; that you need to concentrate because it’s important that there aren’t any mistakes; and that you can’t talk and work at the same time (incidentally, no-one can do two things at the same time but that’s another area again!). If you want to chat later, suggest a time when you will be available to talk.
If you’d like to see how to have this conversation, so you’re ready to deal with the situation the next time it arises, take a look at our video ‘What To Say When Someone Wants to Chat’.
‘What to Say when Someone wants to Chat’ is a short video (under four minutes) and is one of the programmess in our ‘WATCH & GO’ video learning library.
About WATCH & GO® videos
WATCH & GO® videos show people how to perform better at work by illustrating practical phrases and key behaviours in just a few minutes. There are around 60 titles, each dealing with a different management topic or ‘tricky’ situation. Learners simply ‘watch’ and ‘go’ to manage everyday situations at work.
*About Accuracy Skills
Our programmes ‘Developing an Eye for Accuracy’ and ‘Preventing Mistakes at Work’ enable participants to work accurately and efficiently, and are proven to reduce error by 60%. They include learning about managing distractions, concentration skills and managing the causes of stress and error.
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