Whether you are trying to keep up with your growing pile of paper work, make a few contacts over the phone, or simply take a quiet break at your desk, sometimes it seems there is always a face hovering over your cubicle wall wanting to chat, gossip, or otherwise distract you from you need to, or rather would be doing. Going to work can often seem like an affair of endless socializing at the expense of productivity and time for personal reflection. Fortunately, there are ways to politely mitigate the effects of chatty coworkers in order to create a more relaxing and hospitable work environment.
One way to potentially scare of the less assertive (read: intrusive) of the coworker bunch is simply to wear a pair of headphones. Whether or not you are actually listening to music, the perception of you in your own world may aid in adding a subtle “Do Not Disturb” sign to your cubicle wall. For the purposes of ridding yourself of unwanted visitors, it is probably more useful to wear highly visible (though not necessarily bulky) headphones so that you are more obvious. Earbuds may be easily overlooked, or even ignored, by anyone seeking your attention.
If your workplace doesn’t allow for even the appearance of listening to music at your desk, or you’d just prefer not to wear a pair of headphones all day, you may want to consider developing a few trigger phrases or conversation “traps” to end coworker interactions through the use of language:
During particularly busy times, let the intruder know that you are pleased that they stopped because it has given you the opportunity to ask him or her to help you catch up on tasks that you wouldn’t otherwise complete due to your increased workload. Cash in a favor and send them away with work to do. Not only can this potentially help you achieve more work but also sends a message that if a coworker wishes to interrupt you during peak hours they can expect to be solicited for help.
Focus your conversation topics on subjects that you know your coworker knows little about or dislikes. While you may still be stuck participating in a conversation, there is a good chance that it will be much more brief than if you engaged your colleague in a topic that he or she loves.
In a similar vein, explicitly state to your coworker that you are not interested in whatever it is that he or she is talking about. This is sure to shorten the conversation because it will devolve into a one-sided conversation of explaining why the initial conversation topic is interesting to begin with. And odds are that after enough attempts at conversing with an uninterested person, he or she will look elsewhere to find two-sided conversations.
If the passive-aggressive nature of these strategies is too much of a turn off for your personality, you can always simply be up front with your desire to be left alone. Being assertive doesn’t require that you be rude or mean. It’s just a matter of remaining calm, composed, and polite while you explain to the person that it is important that you be left alone to focus on your work.