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Background

I work in an open space and people there chitchat fairly often. I do it, my coworkers do it and everyone is fine with that (even if it can be a bit annoying IMO).

Today, one of my coworkers was chitchatting with another one and their chat was making me very anxious. They were talking about discrimination and there was some friction between them (they weren't really arguing, but not really agreeing either).

Since I didn't know how to politely ask them to go chat elsewhere without being seen as a killjoy, I ended up leaving the room (hoping that they would have finished talking about that when I would come back).

Question

How could I have asked them to go chat elsewhere without being seen as a killjoy?

Or without being seen as "fake" because I also chitchat in the open space about those topics sometimes?

My relationship with those coworkers

  • One of this coworker (let's call them "Alex") is my "work-neighbor" (sitting next to each other) and we have a nice relationship. We chitchat often and even talk about discrimination together (which I'm fine with, especially because we share the same point of view so talking about this isn't tiring for me).

    Alex doesn't know that I have anxiety issues but I wouldn't have a problem disclosing it to them.

  • The other coworker (let's call them "Otty") is new here. They are very polite and seem nice (from what I have seen so far).

    Otty doesn't know that I have anxiety issues either and I am not planning on telling them (because I don't know them enough).

7

In these sorts of situations, I like to use something like the following:

Hey, I'm really sorry, but I have to concentrate on this (gesture to your laptop), d'you guys mind keeping it down / going to the kitchen?

The key here is that you be apologetic. By saying that you're sorry, you imply that you don't take issue with the conversation, and that it's a subtle way to show that you are on their side.

The reason you want to be 'on their side' is that it'll be less likely to lead to a confrontation, since they would be more sympathetic to your request.

3

This is a bit of a frame-challenge. I'm the OP and I believe this solution could work even if I never saw it used in this context (and didn't thought about using this solution at the time).

Here is the frame-challenge

Don't ask your coworker to go chitchat somewhere else. Ask them to speak less loudly.

Explaination

I have noticed that, when people are asked to speak more softly they will sometimes:

  1. Just stop talking

or

  1. Go talk somewhere else

I saw that happen in university where some students would speak (loudly) in the hallway near a classroom and, when a teacher asks them to be quieter, they will just move and speak somewhere else (so as to not disturb the students that are working).

So, asking people to be quieter can make them go speak somewhere else.

Also, I feel that asking someone to speak quieter is less unwelcoming than asking those same people to go chat somewhere else (but this is only my opinion and it can be different for other people).


What if it didn't work?

If this solution doesn't work and the coworker just decides to continue speaking but more quietly, everything isn't completely bad. At least you have established that chitchatting is bothering you and it will be less difficult to ask them to go chitchat somewhere else next time.

In my experience, people like having some sort of warning sign before something "big" happens.

In this case, the "big thing" is asking the coworkers "could you speak somewhere else?". But asking "could you speak more softly?" is a smaller demand and, thus, can play the role of the warning sign.

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