Be kind with talkative co-worker

Dear Joan:
During my workday my boss keeps me very busy. I am also on a base salary plus fees compensation schedule. Because of these facts I am unable to sit around and chat with the other employees.

My problem is with one of the employees. This person has a bad family life so we are basically her family away from home. Her job at our firm is basically a "go-for" [messenger type] position. She has been with the firm for about three years so the president has brought her under his wing.

My problem with this person is that she thinks I'm her older brother. She is constantly sitting in my office and talking about random things while I am working. She is a very nice person and I understand her position but this gets very irritating. My boss expects certain things from me and it is hard to get them done when this person is always bothering me. I tried being nice, but it didn't work. I can't yell at this person because the president likes her so much. What should I do?

Co-workers who constantly chew the fat on company time are taking a bite out of the bottom line. I'm sure the president would support your desire to get to work, in spite of how much he likes this woman.

Because your co-worker has a troubled family life, she has emotional needs that go beyond what you are able to provide. Although it's important to be friendly to all of your co-workers, "nice" has its limits. This person's behavior has begun to hurt your performance and your income and you have a right to be irritated.

In spite of your best subtle hints, she hasn't gotten the hint. It's time to be more direct. Let's take it in several stages so she has the opportunity to catch on. The next time she comes into your office stand up immediately, talk for a short while and then start moving toward the door. If she doesn't get the hint, tell her you have to make copies, go talk to someone or do some other errand that will take you out the door.

Say things such as, "Boy, I am really rushed today. I'd like to take a break but I've got to get this done." Refer to your salary structure. Since she probably is paid a straight salary, she may need a reminder that your compensation is based on how much you get done.

If these tactics don't work, you'll need to get more direct. Keep the conversation "I" based not "you" based. In other words, don't say, "You must stop wasting my time. You are using me like a counselor and you need help." Instead say, "I've been falling behind in my work and since I'm paid on a commission basis I'm going to have to buckle down and get focused. I'm not going to be able to visit with anybody, so I thought I'd tell you in advance so you wouldn't think I was mad at you." If you also spend time chatting with others, tell them the same thing.

If you would like to continue the relationship, consider meeting her for lunch once a week to talk. However, if you fear that this will encourage her to gobble up more of your personal time outside of work, don't even start it.

If she continues to hound you after limits are set, you should be more abrupt and escort her to the door with a firm, "I wish I could visit but I really can't talk right now." You may have to keep your door shut for a few weeks to reinforce the point.

If the situation doesn't resolve itself after that, it will indicate that she has a serious emotional problem. You should go to her and explain how her behavior is interfering with your productivity. Tell her you will be forced to go to her boss (even if it's the president) if you can't get your work done. Suggest that she may want to find ways outside of work to get her needs met and that you're sorry that you can't spend more time with her.

I'm afraid continuing to be "nice" to someone with these problems will only reinforce their dependence on you. In this case you will need to be kind but firm. If the president does become involved, he will become aware of how much free time this individual has and will likely readjust her accountabilities. I doubt that you will need to worry about the president's understanding as long as you treat her with dignity and kindness while you ask her to respect your needs.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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