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Career Q&A: Chatty colleagues don't realize they're disruptive

Q: I am constantly distracted by people chatting near my desk. My cubicle sits next to a hallway, so there is an endless stream of employees passing by all day long. For some reason, this seems to be the place where they always stop to talk.

Most of these discussions are personal and have nothing to do with work. I recently interrupted two people who had been talking for almost 30 minutes and asked if they could find a water cooler somewhere. I'm becoming increasingly irritated, but don't know what to do about it. Any ideas?

A: Trying to concentrate while chatty colleagues cluster around your cubicle could certainly drive you crazy. Unfortunately, since this is the natural result of your high-traffic location, there is no quick and easy answer to your problem.

The ideal solution would be relocation, so consider asking your boss about moving to a quieter site. Perhaps you could trade places with someone who is less bothered by noise. If the traffic flow creates issues for everyone, the entire group might suggest a new cubicle arrangement.

But if you seem to be stuck in this spot, you should start making people aware of your needs. As a first step, you might post a sign that says, "People working! Please don't chat in this area." That won't eliminate the problem, but it may help.

You should also develop a friendly one-liner to politely move people along. For example: "Sorry to act like the conversation police, but I need to concentrate, so would you mind talking further down the hall?" Of course, you must always deliver this message with a smile.

To control your understandable irritation, remember that the real cause of your problem is the office layout, not colleagues who are being intentionally rude. Your chatting co-workers simply forget that people nearby may be trying to work. Offering gentle reminders will increase their awareness and hopefully encourage them to change their habits.

Public humiliation not good motivation

Q: My manager apparently believes in motivating people through public humiliation. He has created a large wall poster showing everyone's progress toward achieving their objectives. He says this will encourage poor performers to improve, but to me it seems very demeaning. What do you think?

A: Although there are different schools of thought about this approach, public embarrassment does not usually fix performance problems. This tactic is typically used by managers who either don't know how to manage performance or don't want to invest the time required to do it well.

For jobs with quantifiable goals, a more effective strategy is to establish clear standards for everyone, then publicly post results for only the top producers. This will help to establish these high-performers as role models who can share helpful strategies with their colleagues.

To assist low performers, managers should provide personalized coaching to determine the cause of their difficulties and create a corrective action plan. If these efforts fail, it may be time to conclude that the employee is simply in the wrong job.

Some make bad wardrobe choices

Q: In our office, the women often come to work wearing skimpy tops, sleeveless dresses and flimsy sandals. Although I realize some companies have a casual culture, that is not the case here. The men all wear coats and ties.

I was always taught that you should wear businesslike attire if you want to be taken seriously. These women may have no idea that they could be hurting their chances of advancement.

A: An old adage states that you should dress for the position you want, not the one you have. This doesn't mean that an ambitious mechanic should come to work in a suit, but it does mean that people should consider the impression made by their clothing.

Today, career-minded women have a variety of suitable options when it comes to business attire. Nevertheless, some of them have been known to make unfortunate choices.

Career Q&A: Chatty colleagues don't realize they're disruptive 01/26/13 [Last modified: Friday, January 25, 2013 6:06pm]
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