How do I manage the downside of working in a happy office?

How do I tell my overly chatty colleagues to stop talking too much in the office?
How do I tell my overly chatty colleagues to stop talking too much in the office?

Question: My workmates are chatting too much right now and I, not wanting to be a party pooper, feel like I can’t interrupt.

How do I manage the downside of working in a happy office?

Answer: It sounds like such an obvious statement, but a happy office is a wonderful environment to be a part of. A happy office is a relaxed office and, mostly, when I was working in offices, I found that relaxed employees found an excellent balance between enjoying themselves and getting stuff done. A kind of virtuous cycle occurred where enjoyment led to a lack of worry, which led to better and more efficient work, which led to more time for enjoyment and so on.

(I also worked in offices where bosses thought staff worked best when they feared the consequences of errors or missed targets. The management theory they were working on never seemed to lead to practical results.)


I have to admit, I loved a chat when I worked on-site. I wouldn’t call myself a garrulous person by any means, but it broke up the day and helped me get to know co-workers outside the context of our respective roles or project we were working on. Colleagues tended to work better with one another when they had a bond that transcended work banalities.

Illustration by John Shakespeare
Illustration by John ShakespeareCredit:

Having said that, I can empathise with you here.

Happiness manifests in different ways and sometimes workmates get carried away with chat that either lasts too long or is so inane it stretches the bounds of fun and just becomes irritating. If it’s both, it becomes unbearable and begins to adversely influence the happiness of others.

And to make sure that you, and others who don’t appreciate the blabber, continue to enjoy your cheery workplace I think there are a few ways to approach this one.

If you know and get on with the talkers really well, I’d go to them directly. Don’t worry – I’m not suggesting you interrupt, which I agree could easily be taken the wrong way. Instead, discuss it with the person from the group you trust most – but not when they’re deep in discussion; perhaps at lunch or near the end of the day. Rather than talk bluntly about your frustration, maybe begin with how healthy you think the office environment is and ease gently and subtly into a mention of the over-chat.

If you’re not particularly good friends with them, you might prefer an email or going through a friend of a friend, but the same principle applies: tone is everything. If you express annoyance, you might come across as an earnest goody-goody – or worse, a jealous stick-in-the-mud. Make it clear this isn’t about telling them to stop having fun – or that you think they’re being deliberately annoying – but rather offering a friendly reminder about how their discussion affects neighbours.

It doesn’t sound like this is likely given you’ve talked about a happy office, but there are two other possibilities.

The first is that the people causing the disturbance are the kind of powerful clique you simply shouldn’t mess with – no matter how politely – for political reasons.

If this is the case, you may need to consider buying a pair of earphones, blocking the noise out and conceding that side-stepping the problem is preferable to confronting it.

The second is that the talkers are being intentionally rude and don’t deserve your discretion. In this case, put your fear of party-poopery aside and just shoosh the rude oafs.

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