How to Deal With a Co-Worker Who Shares Too Much
We’ve all had that co-worker who just shares too much information (the kids call it “TMI”).
You know what I’m talking about: That person who gives you the play-by-play of her divorce proceedings. The one who’s happy to share all the gory details of her recent bout with stomach flu. The one who wants everyone to know all the details of what she’s working on at any given moment of the day.
I’ve had several people ask questions during my free coaching call about how to handle this particular workplace nuisance. So today, I thought I’d share some tips for managing the TMI co-worker.
1. Stop encouraging the behavior.
Be careful that you’re not the one starting or perpetuating the conversation. Don’t ask questions; don’t check in to see how she’s doing after all that drama with her boyfriend; don’t lean forward and say, “Oh…how interesting…”
I know you want to be supportive, but the more you pretend to care, the more your co-worker will share.
When you find yourself in the middle of a TMI conversation, disengage. Don’t offer sympathy. Don’t show curiosity. Don’t even make eye contact if you can help it. Your job is to demonstrate total lack of interest. Watch both your body language and your words.
When this person isn’t getting anything out of you, it will become much less satisfying to talk your ear off.
If all else fails, offer some kind of generic excuse:
- “I’m just really busy right now so I can’t talk.”
- “I’m on a deadline and I really need to concentrate. Let’s talk later.”
- “I really need to concentrate so can this wait?”
2. Define the consequences.
For some people, disengagement and polite excuses are enough. We’ve all known that person who is so self-absorbed she doesn’t even notice when no one is listening, and she merrily carries on even when you’ve asked for privacy. So there may come a time when you have to address the situation in no uncertain terms. Yes, that means you’ll have to USE YOUR WORDS.
Before you discuss the issue with your co-worker, however, start by defining why this is a problem. Get clear on how it’s impacting you, your work and your relationship with the person.
Do you feel the constant over-sharing of information is wasting your time and pulling your attention away from where it rightly belongs in the workplace? Or is the conversation actually making you uncomfortable? Are you hearing things that damage your ability to work productively with this person?
Don’t just focus on the fact that this behavior is annoying. Get to the meat of the issue and the real harm it’s causing.
3. Articulate the situation & the preferred behavior.
Once you’re clear on what’s happening for you, it’s time to articulate your feelings and ask for what you want. Remember: This is the workplace. You have a right to a comfortable environment. But setting appropriate limits for your interactions with others is your responsibility. If this person is creating problems, you need to request a change in behavior. The more specific you can be, the more likely the other person will hear you and respond appropriately.
Try following this structure in your request:
- When you…
- I feel…
- And the impact on my work is…
- So in the future…
Here it is in action:
When you share all the details of your son’s drug problem, I can tell how much it upsets you and that upsets me. I feel really distracted… I want to be supportive but I’m not really equipped to guide you through this. And even if I was, this isn’t the place for talking about it. The impact on my work is that I can’t focus, and I don’t get as much done as I need to. I end up stressed and working late. So in the future, let’s keep our work conversations focused on work. If you’d like to talk about your personal life outside of work, maybe we can grab a drink sometime next week.
Here’s another, more generic, example:
When you share personal information with me, I feel uncomfortable. I don’t want it to impact our work or our relationship, so let’s keep the conversation professional while here in the office, okay?
In reality, you’re helping this person by setting some limits for them. You’re not a therapist. You’re not paid to be their personal sounding board. They might feel better by talking about whatever is going on, but they aren’t really accomplishing anything by doing so. In the workplace, their time, energy and attention (just like yours) belong on work.
Even if the over-sharing is work-related, setting limits is still essential. Let’s face it: You have limited resources (again—time, energy and attention), and if those things are being inappropriately absorbed by this person and the information he or she is sharing, your job could be on the line.