Work Dilemma Weds: Advice From an Expert

Career coach Jane Jackson answers readers' anonymous work questions.

Q. My slightly junior coworker won't stop talking. I’m in an open-plan office and she constantly interrupts with questions about work, as well as random comments and gossip. I don’t want to be rude, but I’m finding it hard to focus. Half the questions she asks are the type she could easily Google herself. How can I get her to pipe down without offending her - and how can I encourage her to be a bit more enterprising with finding answers herself?  - Pipe Down, Sydney

A. It can be so frustrating when you are concentrating on a project or urgent piece of work and get interrupted for trivial matters. There are a number of ways to handle this situation:

  1. Wear headphones while working and it will look like you are on the phone to someone or listening to a training webinar – the fact that you have headphones on means that your junior coworker will have to capture your attention visually before you will look up at her and you’ll have to make an effort to remove the headphones to listen to her.  Just having headphones on means that you could gesture to her that you are busy and hopefully she’ll get the message.
  2. If she comes to you for a gossip or random comment, all you need to say is, “I’d really love to talk to you but I have a deadline to meet.  We’ll have to talk later” and then turn back to your work. There is no need to add any more excuses after that. If you are firm, she will start to get the point.  The important thing is to allow her to see that you have boundaries and that your time is a commodity that you don’t want to waste.
  3. When it comes to the information that she can easily research for herself, I suggest that you create a document with some useful links (not just Google but links that will direct to relevant information on your company intranet or research links that are industry specific to where you work). Then you can let her know that you’ve been thinking of her and some of the queries that she’s been concerned about. Let her know that you have created a useful reference list for her that will enable her to easily find most answers that she needs and then give it to her. She should be very appreciative that you had taken the time to create something just for her.

 It’s important to let her know that if she really gets stuck then you are here to help, and that resourcefulness is a skill that you had to develop too.

Use these suggestions and be firm with her and remember that, in the long run, you are teaching her self-leadership skills.

- Jane Jackson, Sydney-based career coach (Twitter: @JaneCareerCoach)