Strategies for when a coworker won’t stop chatting

Question:

I’m a teacher and get to work 30 to 45 minutes before the students arrive so I can accomplish tasks that I can’t easily complete with students in the room.

Other teachers consider me a grouch. I’m not. I’m just not willing to squander my first 30 to 40 minutes in chit-chat, when if I start cranking on my work pile before things get busy, I can leave school at a reasonable time with my work done. My co-worker and some of the other teachers, however, love chatting. Some days, I don’t even have the chance to set my belongings down before I’m asked “how was your weekend?” or other questions.

Also, I’m not a morning person and the tasks I handle before students arrive, such as checking email and gathering materials for lessons, give me a chance to “warm up” for the day. I like my co-workers, but my patience is wearing thin. How do I get the space and quiet I need?

Answer:

You’re not alone. Many employees consider the first hour of the workday their best chance to kick-start their day by getting work done that needs focus and concentration. Others, like your co-worker and fellow teachers, prefer to start their day connecting with each other.

When these two types meet in the same work place, misunderstandings grow. The “let me tackle my work” tribe want the “connectors” to leave them alone. The “let’s warm up to the day by connecting” clan feel snubbed by the “tacklers.”

Similar problems result when “not a morning person” employees work alongside “wake up cheery” types.  Those of one temperament persist in bubbling over as they greet the others who ignore or look bleary-eyed at them.

Since your situation combines both challenges, no wonder others consider you a grouch. Despite your good intentions, you rebuff them when they greet you. Meanwhile, they distract you from what you want to accomplish.

You can turn this around by letting each co-worker know how much you truly value your connection with them. Don’t short-circuit this part of your conversation by making it through one sentence before you say “but” and then explain you’re not a morning person and have different thoughts of what you want to do in your first hour of the workday. Instead, genuinely detail your positive thoughts about each co-worker.

Once you’ve done that, add that you feel you can handle your workload best by kick-starting your day with work. Ask if the connecting can happen later in the day. This “it’s not you, it’s how I work best” message allows your co-worker to understand where you’re coming from. You’ll get the space you need.

© Dr. Lynne Curry is author of ”Beating the Workplace Bully” and ”Solutions” as well as owner of the management/HR consulting/training firm The Growth Company Inc. Follow her on Twitter @lynnecury10 or at www.bullywhisperer.com

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