Co-worker Won’t Shut Up? Ask Madeleine

Customer ServiceDear Madeleine,

I work in an open environment type of setting, and for the most part it works. I manage a large team and I recently hired a new team member. She interviewed well and had great references, but now that she is settled in she never shuts up and we are all going insane.

You can’t ask her how she is because she will stop and tell you in exhaustive detail. She gets going and can’t stop. We all know more about her parents, her siblings, her cat, and the guy who just apparently dumped her (we all know why!) than we want to.

Anyone within earshot cringes when she starts talking—and that is a lot of people.

Everyone avoids her now, including me. I try to have regular one on ones with her, but I can’t seem to get them done unless I have an hour and half. She can’t just answer a question—she has to give the whole back story, going back to how a customer reminds her of her second grade teacher.

She gets her job done, but she is driving us all nuts and every single person on my team looks at me pleadingly with “do something” in their eyes. I know I have to do something, but what?

She Never Shuts Up


Dear She Never Shuts Up,

I am sorry for you. I am sorry for your team. Most of all, I am sorry for your chatty employee. Generally, people who are that oblivious to social cues are in the grip of some huge need that they are not able to get met. She might be going through some kind of personal crisis that has thrown her off balance, or perhaps she has always been this way and no one has ever told her she needs to cut it out.

I am sorry for you because you are the one who’s going to have to either do something or risk losing the respect of your team. It stinks. I think you need to go at it head on—don’t soft-pedal or pull any punches. This is one of those extremely difficult personal things you have to deal with as a manager. It will require all of your courage, patience, and kindness. And you may not be able to fix the situation.

Set up a meeting with your chatter box, maybe in another part of the building or at the end of the day. This conversation is going to be hard enough without an audience.

Before you go into the conversation, get very clear on your motives for giving the feedback. Are you making a suggestion that she change her behavior for her own good, or are you making a non-negotiable request? When people get defensive they have a hard time hearing, so it will be up to you to be brutally honest and crystal clear. Consider supporting yourself with some kind of process. I am a big fan of Susan Scott’s process outlined in her book Fierce Conversations.

  1. Name the Issue – She simply talks too much, shares too much personal information, and goes on sharing long past the point where people are interested. Make sure you are clear that it isn’t personal, and that you want her to be successful and will support her in changing her behavior.
  2. Select a specific example that illustrates the behavior or situation you want to change – It’s a good idea to have 2 or 3 examples.
  3. Describe your emotion about this issue – You are avoiding her because every interaction takes longer than it needs to, you find it distracting, and you don’t want to be mean but you are going crazy.
  4. Clarify what is at stake – Be very clear about this—are you going to let her go if she doesn’t change? It sounds like you might have to. Also let her know that this behavior may impact her future career no matter where she ends up. You might mention the long term ramifications of her inability to read when people’s eyes glaze over.
  5. Identify your contribution to this problem – Is it possible you have let this go on too long? You should own that you have taken too long to say something, if that is the case.
  6. Indicate your wish to resolve the issue – and be specific about what “resolved” looks like to you. This is critical and will provide both of you with a measure so that you will both know the fix is successful. If she stops the verbal barrage, what will that look like? Really paint the picture of what a good job looks like—give her examples of appropriate ways to respond to questions like “how are you?” and “what did you do over the weekend?” Be clear that the problem is that she doesn’t realize when she has lost people’s interest. For many people, when they notice they’ve lost someone’s interest, they keep talking to try to get it back—which is of course, the worst thing she can do.
  7. Invite her to respond. Chances are she will be stunned, so be ready for her to be defensive and upset. She may start talking and not be able to stop. You will need to be prepared for that. You will need to put your hand up and say “stop.” She may reveal that she has heard this feedback before but doesn’t know what to do about it. So you will want to offer her help and solutions. There are plenty of good articles with tips out there. This is not an uncommon problem. Maybe print out some articles with some suggestions. If at all possible, you might be ready to offer her a coach to work with on this one thing. Perhaps your organization offers counseling through the employee assistance program.

If you have a strong HR group, get some support from someone there as well so that you will be extra prepared. Practice what you are going to say and be ready to repeat the same things several times. And for love of Pete, don’t let your discomfort drive you off track to a place where you end up babbling! Be a role model for clarity and brevity.

Best case scenario: she hears you, gets it, and gets to work changing a terrible habit. She might even thank you some day (but probably not). Worst case scenario: she is mortally offended and quits. Either way, you will have stepped up and done your job.

Good luck to you.

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine_2_Web

Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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