Maintaining focus on a single task until completing it might require a lot of effort, to me. While I'm a talkative person and enjoy long conversations myself, I still can't work/study and talk at the same time.

Usually, I avoid this situation by wearing noise-canceling headphones and most people will just get it. However, one of my coworkers is also the type that enjoys talking for hours and she's unfazed by my cues. She will often interrupt me to make small talk. If I mention I'm trying to focus on a task that requires my full attention, she seems to understand for a few minutes, but then come back with a work-related topic that she manages to extend into a long conversation.

I have also tried explaining that I use headphones because I can't work and talk at the same time, and that I prefer to keep work-related topics in written form, so we can search it later if we need to. Yet, she'll still find other ways: asking if I "also heard someone knocking on the door"; asking for help moving stuff around (she's recovering from a hand injury); asking for help with tech or English terminology; even getting me coffee so I'd have to say if I wanted sugar on it.

Bear in mind she's a really nice person, and she'll act similarly with other people around. Of course, when there's someone else at the office, they soak up her attention and I don't get interrupted as often. Our managers are aware of her behavior and they don't mind, so I have no intention to make a formal complaint.

How can I keep these conversations to a minimum? Even if she needs my help, I'd rather be messaged first (we have corporate instant messaging at our disposal, but they're not enforced) and attend her when I'm ready instead of being interrupted, unless it's an actual emergency.

I want to avoid being blunt with her if possible, but I'm running out of ideas of how to make it work.

  • 1
    Do you have any idea why she is so talkative (outside personal issues or such)? You might also add if you have tried having a casual, away-from-the-desk conversation with her. Possibly discussing your concerns directly? I wouldn't expect that to be a problem if "she's a really nice person".
    – user3169
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 20:43
  • Where are you located? Interpersonal skills are often culturally specific, and your location is important to help us determine your culture.
    – user288
    Commented Sep 23, 2017 at 22:56
  • 4
    Are you using the headphones specifically to keep her away, or just as a generic aid to concentration?
    – user2135
    Commented Sep 24, 2017 at 11:49
  • @user3169 She says it's part of her personality. In fact, I didn't ask, she commented about being "extroverted" and "drawing energy from people". Also, while I'm a developer, she's a social media manager, so talking to people all the time is expected from someone at her job. I did talk to her about it (I have TDAH), but it didn't make much of a difference.
    – Ramon Melo
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 15:11
  • 3
    @Hamlet I'm in Brazil. Office culture here is not that different from the US, apart from the fact that being late is universally accepted as inevitable.
    – Ramon Melo
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 15:15

5 Answers 5


Smile, and say "Hey, I'm in the middle of something. We'll catch up later." If she comes back, tell her you're still in the middle of something, let's grab a coffee at [time of your choice; eg. 3pm, quitting time, in the morning].

Basically, make it clear (without elaborate phrasing) that you don't want to talk now, but you want to talk at another time.

  • 2
    I find it surprising this answer was not upvoted more. This was the solution that worked the best for me, so I'm accepting it.
    – Ramon Melo
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 20:26

I know you say you don't want to be blunt, but it's reasonable to be direct. I would tell her something very similar to how you started here.

I have a hard time being as productive when I am interrupted. It makes me lose my train of thought and rhythm to my work. Whenever it is possible, please message me instead of talking to me. Then I can finish my thought, or whatever before I take a look and it helps me stay on focus. If you absolutely have to speak to me, that is fine, but any time you can, please message, even if asking to grab coffee. It just helps me get more done in a better time frame. Thanks.

I wouldn't see that as "blunt" but it is very clear. It is possible that your cues are rather subtle and something many people would miss. It is also possible she isn't great at reading cues in general. It could be a combination of those as well. Whatever the case, until you are very specific with her, she may not have any clue this is troublesome. As you say that management knows and is okay with it, it might be that most people do not have trouble with it, so she isn't aware that you might.

  • Thanks for the answer. I'll try to have a one-on-one talk with her through that lens. When we talked about it, we discussed more in terms of general work environment.
    – Ramon Melo
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 15:27

Being blunt and being rude are two different things. If she approaches you with a question just tell her to send you a message so you can devote the time needed for an answer when you have the opportunity. If it's coffee, say no, thank you (if you want some get it yourself, it'll be less time consuming). If she persists, remind her of HER work that needs getting done.
There is always, "I am busy, I will contact you when I have time." "I'm busy right now. We can chat later."

Just remember, it's your job at risk if you don't get your tasks completed. She isn't your sister, or your BFF, if you do offend her what's the worst that'll happen? She won't talk to you any more?? If she complains, management already knows she's a nuisance, just tell them she was stopping you from completing the work they gave you.

  • Thanks for the reply. There are a couple issues, though. I don't track her tasklist (I don't even know if I have access), and there's a chance that she's getting all her work done while she's talking. After all, I'm the one with multitasking issues, not her. I do want to avoid filing a complaint, however. It would be frowned upon and might not even solve the issue.
    – Ramon Melo
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 15:41

You may be looking at this wrong way.

You see this as a nuisance and they (including other office workers) may feel they're trying to help you become more socially active.

There is a possibility this woman fancies you and only you know how plausible that is. I won't get into that in detail.

The point is you describe yourself as someone who does not engage in office conversations. They (your co-workers) may feel you're actually a little shy. They, and this woman in particular, may feel you need to be encouraged.

Also, note that many people need to talk and to break away from work to remain productive (many people don't understand this, but breaking away from a problem and coming back to it with a clear mind can be a great help). Maybe you don't need that, maybe you do and don't realize it. You may be resisting this a bit too much for your own good.

If you really have an issue with this, maybe you should see if you can be moved to another part of the office, just a little further away from her, and see if that makes a difference.

The number one trick to show you are busy is to remain focused (or appear to be) on what you're doing and do not make eye contact when asked a question. Your demeanor has to show your are "deeply engaged, too much to even look up at people".

  • Thanks for the answer. I got a laugh out of "There is a possibility this woman fancies you", though. I'm openly gay and she's engaged.
    – Ramon Melo
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 15:43
  • I don't believe anyone thinks I'm shy, to be honest. I'd bet on the opposite. I can ask them just to be sure. It would make a lot of sense. Also, "remain focused (or appear to be) on what you're doing and do not make eye contact when asked a question" doesn't work. She gets up and pokes me. She also made a video of herself calling me for over a minute without being answered (I wasn't ignoring her, I was just so focused I didn't hear).
    – Ramon Melo
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 15:47
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    The fact you're gay and she's engaged would not necessarily preclude her fancying you. Would that the world were that simple. :-) But I take the point. "Gets up and pokes you../.. videos...." She sounds like a plain old narcissist because it's all about her. Maybe you do need to get formal about this ? Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 16:21
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    If she's indeed a narcissist, then getting on her hit list is the last thing I want to do. However, she doesn't have most features I'd expect from a narcissist. She's really good at listening, takes criticism well, and doesn't shy away from admitting defeat in a discussion. I want to avoid getting formal because (1) it will look like I wasn't able to deal with it in a personal manner, and (2) she's well liked around the office and I don't want to risk them taking sides. While this is a workplace issue, I'd rather address it with an interpersonal approach.
    – Ramon Melo
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 21:33

Tell her when you are interrupted in the middle of a task it creates tremendous stress for you as well as takes a lot of time to regain your ability to concentrate afterwards. Ask her to please not interrupt you VERBALLY at work, period. If she needs your help with something work-related, she may email you or otherwise send you written messaging so you can either decline the request if you don't have time or schedule the time to help when you do.

If you WANT to socialize with her, you can offer to spend some time during lunch break chatting. If she initiates small talk, just cut her off politely with, "Hey, I'm busy right now -- let's talk about that at lunch break."

Then you need to be firm and be a broken record for the next 4-6 weeks or however long it takes to get it through her thick skull that HER approach will NO LONGER WORK on you or with you. Every time she interrupts verbally, tell her "no". You can be as firm or gentle as you wish, but she gets no reward for doing it wrong. And EVERY time, follow it up with a reminder, "could you please not interrupt me verbally when I am working? I know I have asked you before, but it's very important to my ability to do my job to not be interrupted on the spur of the moment." After several weeks of constant "NO"s -- no matter how nice and sweet those "NO"s are phrased -- and the broken record reminder of your request, hopefully she will get the message.

During this time, document the interruptions. Note date, time, length, and nature of the interruptions and what you did in response. You can use shorthand, it's just notes for yourself to refer to later if needed. If you have a standard method of responding like outlined above you can just mark it as "SR" (standard response) rather than writing it all out, etc.

After 6 weeks if there is no measurable improvement, take your concerns and your documentation to a mutual supervisor or boss and ask for official intervention. Tell them you simply cannot accommodate this co-worker's emotional/social needs AND your paid position at the same time, that you have tried your best to deal with it on your own (important!), and that you really need some intervention and some firm boundaries coming from someone to whom Miss Chatterbox must answer. (If you want, you can warn her for the last 2 weeks of that 6 week stretch that if it doesn't stop by [date], you will have no other choice but to involve your boss/supervisor/whomever.)

I totally feel your pain ... I'm stuck in an open air cubicle area and the noise is constant, and there's literally nothing I can do about it -- I can't demand co-workers not use shared space after all. At least with your situation, it sounds like tackling it head on could work out in the end.

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