How to deal with an office chatterbox

Dear Joan:
I work in a small sales office, in an open cubicle/workstation situation.  We are generally an energetic group, but one of the administrative staff is a non-stop chatterbox.   I have to avoid engaging in conversations with her, because they never end!   She is always talking, laughing, giggling – even to herself – or making jokes and references to things I don’t even understand (she is older than most of us).  I know she just wants to be friends with everyone, but I think her constant chatter is affecting her work.   
When she works on projects for me, more often than not they come back with mistakes, typos, etc.  I can’t help but think it’s because she’s not concentrating on her work, but is too busy talking!  She is a big-hearted person, but just so exhausting.  We are moving into a new office soon, and no one wants to sit near her for fear of never being able to get any work done.
Any ideas?
It all boils down to the work. I’m sure it’s difficult to confront her because you don’t want to crush her good-hearted nature. And a small office environment complicates matters because if she is offended it could make things tense. But if she is making that many errors and people are worried about sitting next to her in the new office, she needs to be made aware of how her behavior is affecting others.
If you are her manager you should ask yourself a few questions to help you decide on your approach. If she is unable or unwilling to change is that okay? You need to ask yourself what the consequences are if she doesn’t change her behavior. Is it bad enough that she could be fired? If she truly is exhausting and distracting others, would the office be better off without her? Are you spending an undue amount of time checking and rechecking her work? These questions are important to ask yourself because if you confront this behavior, you need to know how far you are willing to go.
If you aren’t her manager, and you complain to her manager, will he or she handle the complaint tactfully? In other words, will her manager say something clumsy such as, “Shari came to me and complained about your constant chattering and laughing. She wants you to be quiet so she can get her work done.” Hopefully, the manager would not make you the bad guy and pit you against her. A sophisticated manager would use first-hand examples and leave you out of it.
The straightforward approach would sound something like this:” Betty, I’ve been noticing that there are a number of errors in your work. For example, this expense report has several numbers transposed and that has been a pattern I’ve seen. And when you type a customer letter I feel I always have to go over it to catch any typos. I think you may be making these mistakes because you are distracted. I see you—or hear you—frequently talking and laughing with others and even to yourself. I can understand that you are a social person but if you aren’t concentrating on your work it’s a problem. I’d like you to cut down the social conversation and focus.”
If that doesn’t work, you will need to get even more direct. “Betty, I noticed that you cut down your socializing for awhile after we talked a few weeks ago. But now you’re sliding back and doing more talking and now this report has to be redone because of the errors. Betty I’m sure you don’t realize it but you’re also distracting the people who sit around you. Our office is small and it’s hard to get work done when you’re talking and laughing. Your coworkers don’t want to be rude to you but they don’t want to socialize when they are so busy. I know you want to be liked—we all do—but your behavior is interfering with their work—and yours too. You need to change your behavior. It’s getting in the way of your performance.”
If she can’t curb herself it’s three strikes and you’re out. The final warning could sound something like this: “Betty we’ve talked about this before and I feel it’s only fair to tell you that if you can’t turn this around you could lose your job. It’s affecting the productivity of the office and I hope you don’t force my hand on this. We’d hate to lose you but I would have no choice.”
There may be other tactics that could work. For example, in the new office there may be a section that is more removed from the group, however, I wouldn’t spend any extra money to create one if none exists. Or you may have success with more subtle suggestions or good humored ribbing about her socializing. But my hunch is that she is not very self-aware, or she would have noticed by now that others were annoyed. Gentle suggestions usually only work when someone is astute about social cues. 
The bottom line is the work. There is a limit to what is tolerable in a workplace—even if she is a big-hearted person who means well. The workplace is not a family or a social club. There are rules of engagement and one of them involves contributing to a productive atmosphere.

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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