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Water Cooler Worries
The Dos & Don’ts of Getting Out of a Conversation With a Chatty Coworker
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Kristen Farrell

Office small talk is a fact of life. You can’t avoid it. Not at the water cooler, on your way to the bathroom, or during the first few minutes of meetings as everyone awaits the stragglers.

Whether you’re typically the conversation starter or the desk hugger, having conversations with your co-workers is important.

There are many benefits of getting to know your colleagues. Knowing some basic information about your boss and peers gives you a lot more content to talk about than the weather, politics and who won the ball game last night. Other benefits include great teamwork, positive employee morale, increased productivity, and a natural and happy work atmosphere.

With that being said, there are days when you simply don’t have a lot of time to mingle. Those days can get stressful when the office chit-chatter grabs your ear and won’t let go. So, how do you get out of the conversation without offending your colleague or creating an awkward moment? Here are tips on what to do and what not to do in this situation.

The Do’s

Listen: When little miss chatter box starts talking about her weekend, listen to what she has to say. By neglecting the conversation, you are being insensitive and also exhibiting the poor professional trait of being a bad listener. A 5-minute exchange about the Beyoncé and Jay-Z concert she saw the other day isn’t going to ruin your day. If anything, it may be a nice distraction from your reality.

Tell the Truth: Without leading on the conversation for too long, be honest about why now isn’t a good time to talk. Maybe you’re in the zone, trying to meet a deadline, catching up on emails, finishing something before you run to a meeting, trying to focus, or etc. Believe it or not, your chatty co-worker has been there before and will understand your need for silence. Before she leaves, ask her if she’s free to continue the conversation over lunch or during an afternoon walk.

The Don’ts

Run For Cover: When your colleague says, “Hey Jess!”, don’t sprint to the break room. There’s nothing wrong with someone saying hello. Plus, your grandiose hiding spot could backfire when you find out she’s on her way to the same place.

Look Miserable: While you may be stressed, there’s no need to roll your eyes. It’s important to recognize that your chatty co-worker isn’t the stem of the problem. Sometimes your body language expresses more than words. Be conscious of what you say and how you act as you could easily take out your frustration on an innocent party.

If you know you have a busy day or week ahead, anticipate office small talk and how you can handle the conversations in a respectful and professional manner. Remember, there are a lot worst things that can happen at work than having to engage in a conversation with your chatty co-worker.

And as they say, if you can’t beat ‘em, you may as well join ‘em.

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Kristen Farrell is a professional communicator who previously worked in human resources. She shares career lessons and everyday experiences on her blog: kristen-farrell.com. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her running, crafting, or spending time with her husband, Jonathan and cat, Trotsky.

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