Recently we dove into the question – are you talking too much at work? In this earlier post, we looked at people talking too much about their personal lives at work.
This week I wanted to take a look at too much talking at work when it comes to all things business.
Let’s look at some of the different situations you might find yourself in at work and how to handle when too much talking is involved.
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Talking in open plan offices
A lot of companies no longer have offices for management. It’s becoming common to have everyone sitting in an open floor plan environment (though senior executives may still have an office).
Open plan offices can take a little getting used to if you are used to having your own office or if you struggle with people talking around you.
With so much going on in a busy office, sometimes we don’t hear the client on the other end of the phone or even the person sitting next to us as well as we would like.
More often than not, we get used to the noise levels – it just might take time to adjust.
Open plan offices mean that people can hear you when you are talking. This can be troublesome if they interrupt you while you are on a call (they are actually listening to your conversation and adding their own input) or they are listening in (and you don’t want them to). More on how to deal with this below!
Background noise can also be a problem. In my old role as a personal assistant, I’ve had to tell someone the person they were wanting to speak to wasn’t in the office. It doesn’t help if the person in question is talking loudly in the background. Be careful with this one. Those pesky little phones actually pick up sounds too. If you want someone to cover for you or lie – keep quiet!
More work related content –
- How to Be Happy at Work
- Why Do You Go to Work?
- 3 Serious Communication Mistakes You Could be Making at Work
Talking in confidence
It goes without saying that if you want to have a confidential conversation, you need to find an office with a door that shuts securely.
Don’t leave the door open slightly, it’s amazing how sound can travel.
Word of warning, don’t assume just because you went into an office and shut the door no one outside can hear you (particularly if your normal talking voice is quite loud). I’ve heard parts of confidential conversations through the walls of an office (and no I didn’t have a glass up against the wall or anything I promise).
Some walls are a lot thinner than you realize!
If you are a loud talker and the office has thin walls you might want to dial it down a notch. People outside might not hear every single word but they might hear a lot more than you want them too.
If you need to have a private or confidential conversation go somewhere private.
Related post – The 12 Types of People You Will Talk to About Work
Talking on phones and mobiles
With people talking on mobiles as well as office phones (hopefully not at the same time, though I’m sure people try this as well) things can get noisy.
Using headphones instead of a normal phone handset (headphones may be the only option available) may help since you get the audio in both ears instead of only one.
A lot of people are comfortable talking on their mobiles when they are walking around outside the office.
I’ll admit I’m not one to have my mobile glued to my ear or walk around in the street talking.
I once had to do a pre-interview whilst I was walking through a major shopping center in town and I found it incredibly distracting and disjointed. I couldn’t hear the interviewer properly and they couldn’t hear me. It was frustrating. I tried to find a quiet place but that just wasn’t possible at my location. How anyone walks around the street talking to people and hears everyone clearly is beyond me!
If you are doing business this way and I appreciate that a lot of people are, just make sure that your message is coming across clearly.
Related post – 12 Best Books on Having Better Conversations
People talking and your concentration
This is probably the most common reason people don’t like open plan offices.
People talking all around them as well as the onslaught of others noises (noisy printer from hell anyone?) can really disrupt people’s concentration particularly if part of their role involves being creative, problem-solving, working with complex numbers or coming up with new ideas or concepts.
Probably the best way to work through this problem is to find a quiet place in the office to work when you most need to concentrate. With the open plan theme, many companies provide small offices or quiet areas where you can work.
Unfortunately, you probably can’t stay there all day (people might wonder where you went?) but it could be a good idea for the bulk of your creative or problem-solving work. Most of our jobs have an element of routine administrative work that we can do back at our desks.
If your office doesn’t provide a breakout, quiet or private area getting a moment to yourself to concentrate might be more difficult.
This can definitely be the case if you work with other people in a small office in somebody’s home. There simply might not be anywhere you can talk in private to clients particularly if you simultaneously need access to hard copy files or a particular software on another computer.
If you have the ability to work from home, do the work that involves a lot of concentration at home where it’s quiet and you won’t be continually interrupted (this will only work if your home is nice and quiet, so keep that in mind). Also, make sure you ask first to make sure it’s allowed.
Flexible work hours can also help. If you start early you could get a chunk of your concentration work done before everyone arrives in the office. Alternatively, you might come in late and work back once most people have gone home. Ask if flexible work hours are an option for you if office noise is a problem.
When it all comes down to it, we need to find a way of zoning out the noise around us.
Being laser focused on what one person is saying goes a long way. Stop multi-tasking and concentrate on one thing at a time.
It might not just be your concentration that suffers, if you’re an introvert who works in a noisy, busy open-plan office, you may need to protect your energy levels as well and make sure you recharge outside of the office.
If you need help staying focused, the book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Cal Newport might help.
Talking and interruptions
One of the biggest problems people struggle with at work is interruptions.
It goes without saying we need to talk at work. It’s the main way business gets done.
But what about all of the interruptions?
Whether we like it or not interruptions are part of work and life. Stuff happens, messages need to be communicated, decisions need to be made, things change and we need to go with the flow.
Again the best way to deal with this one is to find a quiet place, block out an allocation of time and tell people you don’t want to be interrupted unless it’s an emergency.
It’s a good idea to be clear about what constitutes an emergency. For some the printer running out of colored toner is a crisis, for others, it’s a call from a Board member or the CEO. Obviously, you can’t outline every scenario but be as clear as possible about when and why you are willing to be interrupted.
If you are waiting for a specific call let someone know.
While on this topic, make sure you let people know if you are willing to take any personal calls. I’ve seen people not take a call from a major stakeholder but get upset if I didn’t let them know their wife had called. Totally understandable but it helps people to know straight up who you are willing to talk to.
The loud talker
In one of my earlier roles, one of the managers had one of those big booming voices. He would walk in the office, shout out hello (and I mean shout) and scare the hell out of everyone.
Okay that everyone was usually me, jumping out of my seat but there you go. He was loud. You couldn’t miss him when he walked in a room or talked to someone. If you were on the phone, it was hard to hear anything properly when he was talking.
Hopefully, loud talkers take it into a room somewhere when they need to talk for long periods of time.
Someone is in big trouble
I have heard managers screaming at people in their offices. Yes, you read that correctly screaming.
In one instance, my desk was on the other side of the wall and I could hear every word of the tirade. It was awful and my heart went out to the person in the office. I remember physically cringing at my desk.
I’ve seen someone slam a door so hard after a shouting match in the CEO’s office that the door came off the hinges and could not be repaired.
Shouting and screaming in the workplace is not professional. It scares the staff and puts everyone on edge.
I know people make mistakes and some of them are huge but this is one form of talking that you do not want to have in your workplace.
If you have to deal with extremely toxic people in your workplace, the book The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt may be exactly what you need. Man, I wish I’d discovered this book earlier, it really could have come in handy!
Social gatherings can be part work and part social. They can also be disruptive to people nearby who are trying to work.
Hey, I love a good social gathering so I’m definitely not trying to ruin anyone’s cake or donut plans just make sure that you are aware of your co-workers around you, particularly if they are stressed and on a tight deadline. Maybe move the celebration somewhere else in the office if this is the case.
Related post – How to Deal with Social Cliques at Work
What if no one talks?
No talking (or very little talking) is either heaven or hell for people.
When I worked in Sydney I spent seven years at one company working with a variety of different sales teams. I loved it. It was dynamic, energetic and busy, with a lot of talking going on.
Then I changed jobs and went to work for an investment bank. The first week I was there I started to regret my decision. In this office, you could hear a pin drop.
People sat at their desk and were quiet. If they talked they went into an office and were very damn quiet about it. The first couple of weeks I hated it. I hated that much quiet. I found it unnerving after seven years of craziness and hustle. Despite my initial resistance, I soon adjusted to a different work style. I made new friends, formed my own social circle to talk to and went out regularly for lunch which all helped.
In saying that, I remember one day going down onto the trading floor of the same bank and it was crazy! Talk about one extreme to another.
Most offices and work environments can be quiet at times and noisy at others. It’s all part of the workflow and rhythm of a company. If you have a strong preference for one over the other, choose your work environment carefully.
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