I share a work space with a male co-worker and since he started working for my company about seven months ago, he has not stopped talking about his wife. Everything from their honeymoon night to her inability to find work has come up in conversation. Every day for him is a trip down memory lane where he shares the most insignificant and sometimes inappropriate stories about his marriage.
I do not engage by exchanging similar stories and sometimes flat out ignore him but he still has not taken the hint. Is there a polite way to say I don’t have time to listen to his stories and, more importantly, I don’t care?
THE FIRST ANSWER
Vice-president, human resources, League Financial Partners, Victoria
The short answer is, yes, there are a number of ways to politely express your concerns with your co-worker. How you go about doing it depends on the relationship you have with him.
Let him know you have work to complete and do not have time to engage in non-work-related conversations, (especially those of one-sided monologue variety). If your co-worker is sharing information that makes you uncomfortable, make sure he knows that.
If he’s reasonable and you are honest, you will probably find him receptive to your request. Simply tell him that you need to focus, and that while you think it is great he feels comfortable enough to open up about his personal life, it is quite distracting.
An alternative, given that the open-office concept appears here to stay, is the use of noise-cancelling headphones while working, which is more and more common. Just imagine how nice it would feel when he starts talking to simply point to your headphones, shrug, smile and turn back to your task.
If neither approach works, you may want to seek manager intervention. How your manager chooses to deal with it will likely depend on the sensitivity of the situation and the impact it is having on you and others. The important thing is that you get your work done in an environment that is as pleasant as possible. So do whatever you feel is necessary for that to happen.
THE SECOND ANSWER
Human resources executive, Atlanta
Many people are living in a global, Internet, social media, sound-bite, “look at me” world and there are implications in the workplace. People are working longer, in more venues, and spending more time with their co-workers. We are also experiencing an increased demand for, and response to, transparency. The lines between personal and professional are blurring.
Less privacy, more openness and constant engagement is the new normal. I am no social scientist, but over the past 10 years, my HR colleagues and I have seen this shift in how people engage and build relationships in the new workplace. While Mr. Honeymoon might be guilty of TMI (too much information), it might not entirely be his fault.
For many people, sharing personal information is sometimes a way to demonstrate trust and affinity. Your colleague probably likes and trusts you. That is a compliment, even if it is annoying.
I suggest you let him down easy. Tell him you’re a focused sort of person and you do not like to spend a lot of time chatting during business hours. Suggest a routine break, such as getting coffee together once a week, to catch up. At the first coffee break, take the lead and start the conversation with a topic that is of mutual interest. Keep on point. If the subject of spouses comes up, tell him that you are private about such matters and that while you love chatting, you would prefer not to get into that topic.
You might have to remind Mr. Honeymoon a couple of times but, eventually, he’ll get the message.
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