How Introverts Can Deal With Overly Chatty Coworkers

an introvert sets boundaries with an overly chatty colleague

Introverts prefer to focus quietly. Overly chatty coworkers can wear them out and make it hard to concentrate.

The thing about being a “good” listener — or being recognized as a quiet person who doesn’t talk much — is that it opens the door for other people to fill the silence.

But… introverts like silence. A lot. (Or, in my case, the music coming from my AirPods.) When we’re trying to get work done, sometimes we need space — and minimal chatter — to put our best foot forward. 

Susan Cain’s groundbreaking book about introversion, Quiet, is aptly subtitled, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking. 

Introverts are not, as a general rule, talkative.

And, sometimes, we wish the rest of the world would follow our lead.

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Lots of Chitchat Drains an Introvert’s Energy

In my professional life, I’ve taken a proactive – rather than reactive – approach to asserting boundaries. I try to pre-empt, fend off, and extricate myself from situations that get overly chatty. 

Let me be clear: Introverts do like people. We love engaging in meaningful conversations (vs. shallow socializing). I love finding common ground, hearing what people are up to, and joking around, both at work and in life in general. 

But as an introvert, chitchat has to happen in moderation, since it can quickly drain my energy. If there’s too much of it, I run the risk of zoning out and becoming less fun to be around — and I become less productive at work.

Any time a meeting goes on too long for me to continue to feel present, or I get bored in virtual break-out room conversation, it adds stress to my day because I know I could be working on something else.

We introverts like (and need!) our alone time, require space to focus, and prefer meaningful small-group or one-on-one conversations to idle chitchat… or to being stuck in a long meeting where the same points get rehashed by someone who loves hearing the sound of their own voice.

So, how do we introverts avoid being rude while still setting boundaries when colleagues get overly chatty? Here’s what I do.

How Introverts Can Set Boundaries in a Chatty Workplace

1. Create privacy in your work space.

The types of boundaries you set — and the way you approach getting out of overly chatty situations — will depend on your office environment. Is most communication via email, instant messaging, or in-person? Do people have private space, or is it communal? In which spaces do people most interact — the main office area, the breakroom, or the hallways?

I’ve worked in both open-office plans and in private office spaces. And I’ve worked “extroverted” jobs. Like many others, I’ve attended tons of virtual meetings. Through all of that, I’ve learned to set introvert-friendly boundaries.

For example, while an open-plan office can be fun at times, it’s also draining. When I worked in one, I felt like I always had to be “on” (introverts aren’t usually fans of this). So, I spent lunch breaks alone, sometimes turning down invitations to chat with coworkers at a local restaurant or in the break room. 

When I’ve had my own private office space, I had to be selective about joining hallway conversations, knowing that I’d have more energy for chitchat at certain times of the day (like after some alone time in my own space).

If your job requires you to work in an open-plan environment, I suggest putting up “walls” of some sort, like plants. I’m not talking about building a fortress, just some ways to block yourself off from others physically and give yourself a better sense of privacy.

Do you ever struggle to know what to say?

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2. Establish simple “do not disturb” signals for your coworkers.

It’s not easy being an introvert in the workplace. But as you increase your awareness at your new (or longtime) job, try a few not-unfriendly techniques to establish boundaries.

  • Establish virtual boundaries. Block time on your calendar for specific tasks or breaks. Set your status to “Busy” when you’re in a meeting or need focused work time.
  • If you have an office door, close it. If your office is, for some reason, averse to closed doors because it’s not part of the company culture or whatever (I’m so, so sorry, introverts!), talk to a supervisor about acceptable ways to ensure you have the space to get your work done. For example, perhaps you can keep your door shut for brief periods throughout the day. 
  • If it’s okay to wear headphones, and it helps you focus, go for it. Wearing headphones will typically mean that someone approaches you more cautiously or recognizes that you’re busy. It also — bonus! — blocks out any noise, i.e., office conversations happening anywhere near your desk. 
  • Simple door notes. Here’s an instance when signs don’t have to be passive-aggressive (we’ve all read those anonymous “Please do NOT leave dirty dishes in the sink” notes). You can keep it simple: Hopefully, most people will heed a “Please knock!” or “Focus time” note on your door (or cube).
  • Use traffic-light-inspired signs. Red = Go away; Yellow = Please knock; and Green = Come on in. Most people will respect these signs. It’s a simple way to be aware of, and courteous toward, one another. 

I’ll share an example that’s worked well in giving me space at work. During a busier season, when I have to knock out a bunch of work in a short period of time, sometimes I’ll leave a fun note on my closed door, letting colleagues know that I’m focusing and listening to some sweet tunes (but they can come in if they need to). It establishes a boundary — people don’t want to interrupt (knowing that I’m “in the zone”), and it also lets everyone know that I’m not totally averse to communicating.

3. Create an introvert-friendly routine.

Think about it: As you and your coworkers have gotten to know each other, you also get to know each other’s routines. Maybe one of your extroverted colleagues takes a spin around the office at 3 p.m. every day to stretch their legs and catch up with everyone. Whether you realize it or not, your coworkers are probably aware of your routines, too.

My team knows a few of my routines quite well. For instance, every morning, I block off the first hour in my calendar as “Focus Time” to respond to emails. During this period, I’m less responsive on instant messaging platforms, signaling that I’m in deep work mode. Similarly, I have a “Do Not Disturb” status set for a short period after lunch, which my team knows is when I might take a power nap to recharge. They know that I’m only available if something is literally on fire. 

If your colleagues know that you have certain habits and routines, that’s a boundary that you’ve set. (And, again, they should respect it.)

4. Be kind — but firm.

If setting boundaries doesn’t work, it’s okay to say directly that you need to focus on… well… work. Of course, you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, especially if they’re trying to be friendly and they don’t understand your needs as an introvert. Or if they don’t realize they’ve let the meeting drag on way too long. 

But you do need to say something. If you let it go, that opens the door for them to continue being chatty. 

I know, I know: Introverts aren’t big on conflict. So, when we need to set a boundary, it can be difficult. Not because we’re pushovers, but because we may not know what to say. Plus, conflict can feel overstimulating, especially if you don’t have much experience asserting yourself.

If you do find yourself in the midst of a long meeting or conversation, be kind but firm. As soon as you can jump into the conversation, go for it. Don’t be afraid to interrupt with a signal first, like lifting your hand, standing up from your desk, collecting your materials, or saying the person’s name to get their attention.

It can also be helpful to have a few go-to phrases ready so you’re not hunting for words when you get the floor. Try some of these statements:

  • It was great catching up, but I need to get back to my work now.
  • I have another call/meeting to prepare for, so I’ll need to leave now.
  • Can we continue this conversation later? I need to focus on a pressing task right now.
  • I’ve just realized I’m running behind schedule. I should get going.
  • I need to take a little break, but let’s touch base later.
  • I won’t keep you any longer; I’m sure you’ve got a lot on your plate too.

5. If needed, talk to a supervisor.

If a colleague’s chattiness becomes a problem that affects your productivity, and you haven’t been able to draw that line yourself, it may be time to have a tactful conversation with your supervisor. 

As far as how to frame it, don’t think of it as a complaint. There’s no need to disclose the name (or names) of any super chatty coworkers if it’s unnecessary. Think of it for what it is — a simple request for boundaries. (See “Can I keep my door closed sometimes?” above.) 

For example, you might lead with, “I love catching up with the team, but I find that I do my best work first thing in the morning. I’ve noticed that my work has been interrupted during that time quite a lot lately, and am concerned about those interruptions affecting my productivity.” 

Then ask if you can put reasonable boundaries in place that make the most sense for you and your work environment. Chances are your supervisor will appreciate your forthrightness and honesty — they don’t want you to be less productive, right?

Don’t Feel Guilty for Setting Boundaries 

Have you ever felt bad when someone says to you, “Oh, sorry, I guess you’re busy, but…” Yep, I sure have. 

But… no. Nope. There’s no reason to feel bad. We all deserve to feel respected in the workplace, and that includes setting boundaries that keep our social batteries from draining. That way, we can do our best work. 

On the flip side, pay attention to your colleagues’ cues, too. They may also be setting boundaries for themselves. (Maybe you’re an “extroverted” introvert and are the chatty one in the office.)

Try these tips to help you deal with coworkers who talk a lot and interrupt your work. Remember, about half of the people you work with might also be introverts like you. They could be having a hard time with chatty coworkers, too. If you lead by example and start setting limits, it might help them as well — and ultimately shift the overall tone of the culture.

Introverts, do you have any tips to add? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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