Muzzling the Motor Mouths: Silencing Workplace Windbags

As you see Susie round the corner to your desk, you try to look busy, pretending to make an important call. Susie, you see, is the office motor mouth. And, unfortunately, avoiding her doesn’t usually work. So just what can you do to get Susie to be quiet without being rude? Here are 12 tips that can help.

Nonstop talkers surround us. They appear to have no concept of time, as they ramble on endlessly–following their request to “talk to you for a minute.” You want to treat them courteously, yet demonstrate that you need privacy to finish your work.

During my twenty-three years in management, I dealt with blabbermouths frequently, so for the last ten years I have advised clients on how to silence the workplace windbags. Here are my twelve suggestions for muzzling the motor mouths:

ONE: Offer nonverbal cues. If you continue your work and don’t make eye contact, many people will take the hint and decide to leave. Another approach: Check your watch repeatedly. A more prominent gesture: Put your hand up like a policeman stopping traffic, a universally understood position. Start packing your briefcase, signaling your departure plans.

TWO: When subtle cues won’t work, explain why you can’t have a conversation. “I can’t talk right now, because I’m in the middle of a project that’s due tomorrow. I’ll get back with you later.” Notice–that puts you in charge of the next move.

THREE: Try giving a time limit: “I’ve got five minutes. What can we cover in that amount of time?” Then stick to the announced limit rigidly, and get on the phone or walk away when the five minutes have expired.

FOUR: Make sure you meet with gabby people in their offices, not yours. Why? Walking away is much less awkward than trying to shuffle someone out of your office.

FIVE: Wherever you meet, schedule the get-together just before lunch or closing time, when they will be more conscious of time limits themselves.

SIX: Enlist an assistant’s help. Before the chatty person arrives, tell a co-worker to interrupt you if the visitor is still there after fifteen minutes. A comment like “Do you remember that appointment you have now?” will justify your ending the conversation.

SEVEN: Compliment the talker by saying, “Gosh, what you are saying sounds worth considering. Please go back to your desk now and put your recommendations in writing, so I can share them with the staff.”

EIGHT: Remove the usual comforts by having a stand-up meeting. This symbolically conveys that you are not going to settle in for an extended appointment.

NINE: In a group meeting, tell the windbag, “Really appreciate your input on that, Marvin. Now let me give Sharon and one or two others a chance to respond.” Another ploy: “We’re on a tight schedule, so I have to move us to the next point on the agenda.”

TEN: Ask for a conclusion: “Sandra, I think I get what you are driving at, but just to be sure please sum it up for me in a few sentences.”

ELEVEN: Get up and walk toward the door, saying, “Let’s finish this on the way out.”

TWELVE: Introduce them to someone else: “I want you to share your ideas with Norman, because he heads this particular program.”

Next time the company chatterbox confronts you, try these approaches. They work, and they won’t shatter relationships.

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