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My ‘chatter-box’ coworker is driving me crazy!

Dear Office-Politics,

A co-worker that has his office next to mine spends most of his day talking to his wife and kids on the phone. It drives me crazy! Talking to my boss is out of the question, he is very old school and thinks “women” are below men.


dr. john burton

Dear Mouse,

In three short lines, you have identified two major dilemmas. Not only does your co-worker’s phone chatter drive you crazy, but you have a boss who has left you feeling he is unapproachable.

One of the keys to avoiding the trap of office politics is to establish the norms that will govern behaviour within the workplace. When different people have different expectations about what is appropriate behaviour, trouble often follows. Clearly your expectations are different than those of your co-worker. Perhaps they are different than your boss’s as well.

For your own sanity you need to take the inititative and try to get some clarity around how the three of you, and any others in the office, are going to function together. You might begin with a one on one approach to your co-worker to establish norms around a number of issues. I suggest you include an invitation for him to identify things that are important to him as well.

You could include in that broader conversation something general which suggests that you both commit to a time limit on personal calls, or making such calls at a certain time, whatever you would like to see.

Unfortunately you cannot be sure your co-worker will agree. What I would hope, however, is that talking to him about it and building a better working relationship will lead to improvement over the long run.

If working one on one is not comfortable for you, or is unsuccessful, try suggesting to your boss, again in a general way, that you feel the working environment would be more productive if there were more clarity about the expectations for behaviour in the office. Make sure you include the issue of telephone usage, but include some others as well, to avoid focusing on your co-worker in a way that will make him defensive.

That’s a long response to a short, but loaded letter. I wish you well with this situation.

Are there other readers who have ideas about how to work with a boss who is biased against you because of your gender or for any other reason?

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.


John Burton

Dr. John Burton LL.B. M.B.A. M.Div. Ph.D. is an ethicist, mediator, lawyer and theologian. He has taught alternative dispute resolution at Queen’s Law School and Ethics at the Schulich School of Business. John is currently located in Prince Rupert, B.C., Canada, working with Canada’s aboriginal communities.

Publication note: This letter was originally published in September 2002. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.

  1. 16 Answers to “My ‘chatter-box’ coworker is driving me crazy!”

  2. I sympathize with this respondent. About 6 months ago I was finally moved from sitting next to a chatterbox who just never shut up. Endless personal phone calls to her family to discuss supper menus, remarks about her son which I found offensive, and dragging her family and friends into the office for no apparent reason – whilst my mother was terminally ill. She was so awful that I just blanked her out. I didn’t know how to deal with her. Trying to reason with her got me nowhere and my boss didn’t want to know. I know I didn’t handle the situation well but I feel so much better in myself without the endless drone of drivel all day. Until you go thru it no on knows what a nightmare it can be. Even worse Madam chatterbox is angling for me to move back next to her again – have I got news for her!

    By carole on Apr 4, 2007

  3. A possible solution to the problem is mental black out. It is possible for our mind to shut down to certain things including noises. Then we will not notice them if their are not critically important for us. How much a thing trouble us depends upon how much we think about it. Thinking a lot about a problem sometimes fuels the very problem. When we stopped thinking and giving any undue importance to it, it stops troubling us. It works and it is not escapism.

    By Anand W on May 20, 2007

  4. I am currently experiencing the same problem. I am usually very adept at “tuning” my coworker out but that only works for so long. In my personal situation, the sound of my coworker’s voice has become unbearable. I have addressed the problem with management and nothing has changed. The head of our department sits right across from her and nothing has changed. It is very frustrating.

    By T.M. Jihan on Oct 25, 2007

  5. I can relate with all of the above. Not only is my co-worker chatty she is also hyper. Just today I unknowingly tossed out her post-it note with a patient’s name & phone number in the confidential bin. She went berserk and told me not to touch or throw out anything from her desk. I assumed this was garbage since it was crossed-out on the writing pad. Besides it wasn’t confidential to leave a person’s name & phone number in public view so I tossed it in the confidential bin for shredding. Can you believe my co-worker is a dietitian counselling patients at our hospital. I hope what goes around comes around for her.

    By maitai on Sep 16, 2008

  6. Oh, I have the same problem, but its my boss, she talks and talk, 50% of the times she repeats herself. I hate going to lunch with her cause she monoplizes the conversion. I have told her that she drifts, and doesn’t get to the point, but it hasn’t helped. I hate to hurt her feelings, but I am going to go out of my mind. I am looking for another job, but as we all know, there is nothing out there. — I think I am going to have to ask to move my desk. —signed: msinsane

    By julie on Sep 16, 2008

  7. I totaly understand what your going through I have a co-worker however she is a female and the owner likes the way she looks so any complaints are ignored and this chick is honestly the lazyist person in the world and gets paid more than anyone else in our departmant. I swear the only thing she does all day is count paperclips she is driving me crazy!!! And to top it all off our superviser gave her the responsiblility to order suplys to help aliviate her lazyness so now she thinks that gives her authority over us cause we have to ask if we want post it’s -ahhhh

    By Heather on Mar 30, 2009

  8. Being an extreme introvert in a high-profile, customer service position is probably the greatest challenge I have ever faced in the workplace. The people who thrive and dominate in this environment are extreme extroverts, with attention-seeking personalities.
    So often I feel drained after being around these high-energy, very interactive folks all day.
    I don’t hold it against them, but I just have to work on stress management so I don’t feel like a wilted lettuce leaf when I walk out each evening.

    By Mel on Jun 17, 2009

  9. I have a coworker that all she can do during the day is talking non-stop. It’s not just talking, it’s whining about all the bad stuff that happens to her. I swear gawd, it just seems every single thing that could go wrong goes wrong for her. She probably thinks that nobody else in the world ever has problems and that she is the only victim. When I have things that are bothering me, I really DO NOT WANT to hear every single unimportant problem she has. Also, she was hired not long time ago, and all she does is keep saying “At XX we do it this way,” “At XX we don’t do it because …” Can’t she just live in the present already? What is she trying to say?
    As someone else said, I too cannot stand the sound of her voice and it is just impossible to tune her out. Not that she would let you. She cannot read people’s cues. If I’m writing an email, she’ll keep talking to me to the point that I cannot hear the thoughts on my mind, and so writing a simple email may take 15 minutes. If I’m doing something that requires attention, she’ll make sure she walks over to make herself heard better … like if it’s necessary! I had to stop going to lunch with my coworkers trying not to go insane, but she just keeps going on and on and on during the rest of the day and I cannot leave the room or move my desk. I find myself constantly sighing, I believe in an attempt to release the stress, but believe me, it’s just not enough. I’m so frustrated. I love my job but it’s been so hard since she came on board to the point I even considered finding another job.

    By manu on Nov 3, 2009

  10. I have similar situation where my co-worker is on personal calls much of the day, but she doesn’t use the company phone for these calls, she uses her own bluetooth. She closes her door to her office whilst everyone else’s doors are open. So if you come into her office, you pretty much can’t talk to her because she’s chatting on her bluetooth, or she’ll try to pretend she’s not on her bluetooth and get very quiet. Meanwhile, she’s our company receptionist so she tries to answer the phones at the same time to make herself feel better about being on personal calls 24/7. This behavior alienate herself from the rest of the office as no one can really talk to her since she’s constantly on the phone. She just got spoken to from the boss about her visitors staying for 2+ hours at a time, but she answers the company phone while her visitor is here to make herself feel like yes, she is actually working when really she has company. I just wonder where people get their work ethics from. The company doesn’t pay us to talk on our cell phones all day long, right? Ugh…just needed to vent.

    By Jorge on Dec 3, 2009

  11. “She cannot read people’s cues. If I’m writing an email, she’ll keep talking to me to the point that I cannot hear the thoughts on my mind, and so writing a simple email may take 15 minutes.”

    God bless you for posting this. I was afraid I was the only cursed person in the whole world. The only thing that works for me is putting on my headset and cranking up the music as loud as possible. She takes a hint, but that’s the only thing that does it. I would LOVE to change jobs, I’ve never had to deal with anything like this, it’s a pure horror.

    By Kat on Feb 5, 2010

  12. Office chatter drives me NUTS! Unfortunately for me I work at my dads company and theres only 3 people in the office. One of them talks about everything…endlessly. It’s very annoying. Especially for the fact that shes one of those people who when you say something…anything…they did it better or have it better in some way. I can make a mere comment and it turns into a competition (to her). As for me I just turn my music on and drown the conversation that her a the office manager will then have. Shoot me.

    By Angela on Feb 15, 2010

  13. I’ll offer advice – I’ve been dealing with various combinations of loud, hyper, logorrhea, etc for nearly 30 year of work often requiring intense concentration.
    Front-line managers are usually ineffective (if not overtly apathetic) at solving the noise problem.
    Buy noise suppression ear coverings – I don’t recommend foam plugs – those of you who can still hear the incessant murmuring will understand – and you can still wear ear buds to play news or music inside them. I got mine 15 years ago at a shooting range and they are astounding.
    If you can – walk away from the cube to decompress (sorry if you can’t, I understand your pain), then come back and put on those ear covers if they’re still jabbering.
    Too bad management cant conceive of all the lost productivity resulting from their inability to even offer a simple request for consideration.

    Furthermore, I have asked the induhviduals more than once to talk quieter or move away from the work area (where literally scientists and engineers are trying to concentrate). Its always results in only temporary respite, and often in less than subtle hostility.

    It will always end up back on those of us who need to concentrate to accommodate the inconsiderate.

    By Varden on Mar 11, 2010

  14. I bought a “sleep machine” app that has a bunch of different sounds in it, and plug it in often when the chatterboxes are yapping their mouths. It helps me stay focused and also lifts my spirits. People see that I’m plugged in, and don’t bother me as much. I hope this helps.

    By stella on Apr 16, 2010

  15. Wow at least there is comfort in knowing I’m not the only one. Our newest employee is right beside me and she has a very hard to listen to baby talk whiney voice, and she talks non stop. She also sends countless unnecessary emails, followup unnecessary emails then interrupts me a third time to tell me WHY she thought it was necessary to send me that particular email… i am not her admin or her boss and she is contstantly updating me on her whereabouts. I have explained that I would like her to stop, please just send me emails that indicate some action I need to take, not just ‘letting me know’ – it is time consuming and disrespectful. I have even looked at her during a conversation flow and said, please, I’m writing an email, give me a minute… (She keeps talking) … hang on please, let me finish this thought ( she keeps talking ) .. and I blurt out ‘Stop Talking’. She lets her door swing wide when she comes in and it slams our joint wall, I have told he she actually disconnects my drive from its housing when she does this… but for the love of Pete, how does she miss the LOUD SLAMMING SOUND every morning that her door makes? Sigh.

    By frisky on Aug 12, 2011

  16. I am in my early fifties and do not recall offices being so noisy years ago. It seemed that people had more respect and consideration for others’ needs to quiet. I have been in very noisy office for the past several years and now have an in-law of the boss sitting next to me that talks almost a whole day, often to herself, as she claims but she says my name. I have tried to tell her several times that it disturbs my concentration and she has apologized for interrupting me while I’ve been on phone calls, but still, I can’t think and it’s a struggle. It also seems like she must be unproductive. All I know is that the boss is a bit biased against me for uncertain personal reasons. If I make the smallest mistake, he chew me out big-time. I frankly think he is also responsible for possibly inadvertently encouraging some office bullying that I experienced there. I would also like to say that often times bosses seem to prefer “happy” employees to highly productive and intelligent ones. The happy factor seems to be highly valued for some reason.

    By Kitty on Dec 9, 2011

  17. I’m glad I’m not alone in being driven nuts by all these office loudmouths, but at the same time I’m sorry we’re all being driven nuts. From personal experience, I agree with Varden that asking someone to be more quiet only leads to temporary improvement. I also know that even when these people have been spoken to by team leaders and management, they always slip back into their motor mouth ways. They don’t seem to get that their behavior is inappropriate and don’t seem to be able to control themselves. Then again, maybe they are making some effort and the results just aren’t good enough to make a difference to us. People who want a quiet work environment want QUIET, not a lesser degree of loud noise. I also agree with Varden that walking away from your cubicle helps, and share the frustration that you shouldn’t have to do this, and that managers should recognize the problem and ask people to be considerate. Strangely, I have gotten the impression from the chatterboxes around me that they think people who ask for quiet are the inconsiderate ones.
    I feel a little better in my own situation compared to some others here in that I do like most of my louder coworkers personally and they do have many good qualities as people, I just wish they would keep their voices to a business level, keep the chit chat and guffawing to a minimum and stop the personal phone calls. However, it is discouraging and makes me angry that they get away with what I think is inappropriate behavior while they also are less accurate in their work than I am.
    I also agree with Kitty that there is a mindset that loud, laughing, chattering employees are “happy” and that this therefore means it is a happy workplace. What about people who are actually trying to get work done? What about people who are not loudmouths and who need a quieter atmosphere to be “happy”?
    I don’t have much advice to offer except that if you can stand your office loudmouths personally apart from their decibel level, try to take the bad with the good and definitely get noise canceling earphones. Some types of instrumental music and sounds such as ocean waves, rain, wind or pink noise or white noise are better than other listening material at drowning out the chatter. While I enjoy listening to audiobooks and podcasts, it can be difficult to drown out the office jabbering with other talking. Wearing your earphones and purposely ignoring the loudmouths when you are wearing your headphones does help.

    By Veracity on Dec 18, 2012

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