The Chatty Boss

Blah blah blah, originaally uploaded to Flickr by theunquietlibrarian.2017 update: We still stand by our advice below on how to get your work done with a chatty boss — but you may also want to check out our latest discussion on how to deal when your assistant talks too much.

How do you get any work done when your boss is a Chatty Kathy? Reader K is having some trouble adjusting to her new boss’s management style…

I have recently switched jobs in the legal profession and am having trouble adjusting to the management “style” of my new boss. My previous supervisor was a hands off type of person, to whom I spoke only sparingly when necessary.

My new supervisor is the total opposite. He is very chatty about everything under the sun and if I am not careful he will consume half of my time (literally) during a given work day to chit chat, mostly about non-work related topics. I end up zoning in an out of listening and am afraid I will soon start pulling my hair out due to the unproductive nature of our interactions!

I pride myself on being very productive and am having trouble adjusting. What advice might you have for my situation?

Wow — great question. I particularly see this management style more in smaller offices where everyone is friendlier just because they’re working in close quarters — but it can happen in big offices, as well. Especially when you’re the newbie, you don’t want to be unfriendly — but you also want to finish your work and get out of there at a reasonable hour. We’ve talked before about how to discourage chatty coworkers, but we haven’t really talked about how to deal with it when it’s your boss. (Pictured: Blah blah blah, originally uploaded to Flickr by theunquietlibrarian.)

1) Observe how other people in the office interact with him. What do your colleagues do? Do they walk away? Limit their interactions with him? Or do other people work longer hours than necessary to get all of their work done? I might even suggest, very gingerly, approaching one of the people you’re friendlier with in the office, and asking his or her advice (avoiding a complaining, gripey tone at all costs).  On the other hand, if he’s just targeting you for these conversations… look at the situation.  My guess would be that it’s totally harmless, human behavior — you’re the new person and therefore more interesting; you’re also more likely to indulge him and listen to his stories and opinions because you’re still being polite.  That said, there is a slight chance that this is more nefarious in some way — is he hitting on you?  Making some power move to show you that he’s the Boss of you and your time?  That’s not the sense I get from your email, but I thought I’d throw that out there as well.

2) Look at your own side of these interactions — are you sharing stories as well, or asking questions that prolong these conversations? It’s natural in conversations to want to share stories on equal terms, but nothing prolongs conversations more than that!  Laugh at the joke, offer sympathy to whatever gripe, and maybe (depending heavily on the situation) offer advice — but don’t come back with your own story!  If he gets on a tangent, can you move the conversation towards the end by saying something like, “I’ve got to get back to work on Project X, but remind me to tell you sometime the story of Y.”  Similarly — particularly if he’s voicing opinions about politics or religion — you can try noncommittal phrases like, “Huh, I’ll have to think about that.”

3) If he’s in your office, use the “walk and talk” move to get him out of your space.  Get something from the printer or suggest you both grab coffee in the coffee room — but keep him from getting cozy in your visitor’s chair. If you constantly find yourself trapped in his office, I recommend scheduling meetings with him only before other scheduled work obligations.  For example, schedule a 20-minute meeting 45 minutes before you have to leave to take a client out to lunch.  You can also observe his practices (he goes to lunch every day at 12:30, on the dot) and schedule meetings closer to this time.  If he’s catching you unawares in the coffee room or some other public space, consider bringing your own coffee or otherwise avoiding the public space for a while.

4) Maximize your productivity by knowing your most productive times.  If mornings are great for you, protect that time — don’t let him schedule meetings, and if he asks a question that turns into a thing, don’t feel bad about saying, “I was right in the middle of this thought — do you mind if we pick this up later?”  On the converse, if you know you have a consistently unproductive time (such as early afternoons), take advantage of that slump time to schedule a meeting with him.

Readers, how do you deal with chatty bosses?  What other management styles do you find challenging, and how do you deal with them?


  1. anon-na-na :

    Okay I just read the follow up to my (twice) post yesterday and I wanted to apologize to anyone for sounding mean. I only re-posted on the suit one because it was suggested I do so on the computer game feed (I didn’t KNOW there was gonna be a suit one…). Also, not all of those suggestions came from that specific interviewee. Some were examples from other interviewees.

    I truly posted that because I want women to know why a panel of three guys and one female – me – rejected a nice applicant. I want to help the ladies out! The most frustrating thing is I was really pulling for this applicant because my friend recommended her. I read this blog a lot. I rarely post. But I truly just wanted to share what was unanimous among the men interviewers and I: that those responses are not going to help you get the job (they didn’t even notice the lack of jacket but probably would have noticed on a guy if no suit and tie).

    And I do not have a hobby. The one listed on the website under my bio, I did ONCE. Shhh… I am not saying cooking, reading, and watching TV are not good hobbies to say, just expand a little so we know you are still alive. One applicant said that in her very little free time she watches TV and said what show and admitted it was a total guilty pleasure. One of interviewers watches it too. So there is not a wrong answer. But if you say nothing either you have not thought about it (so I feel like you are not prepared) or…you are a killer. Even explaining that you HAVE no spare time because of ABCD&E works. I LOVE the NYTimes crossword answer.

    Oh, and I asked my friend and she does not have aspergers but my cousin does and I am familiar and sympathetic to those types of characteristics vs. apathetic answers. My cousin is an amazing artist :)

    • What troubled me about your critique was that it had so many personally identifying details about the interviewee. I would encourage all of us to refrain from including such personal details about third parties without their express permission.

      • I think this is MY issue to!!! The manageing partner always talkes to me and is busy stareing at me! FOOEY!

    • Lawschoolette :

      On the one hand, it does help people like me remember those things (wear a suit and say interesting things in your interview — good tips!); on the other hand, you were venting and sounded angry, and if the woman had read the post she would probably not feel like “thanks, now I know what not to do in the future” but rather “I feel really bad about myself for blowing that, and now everyone on the internet will see”.
      Anyway, enough has been said about this, and we will all move on. I hear someone needs advice about her chatty boss!

      • anon-na-na :

        True that. Just wanted to apologize for being offensive because I did not read again until today. The whole point of why it is upsetting to me is that there is no way that person could identify themselves from that post because she did not stand out. And as I said it was not all from one person.

        As I stated, I work with all men. None of them are chatty. Sorry Reader K.

    • For what it’s worth, I didn’t think your post was mean.

      • anon-na-na :

        Thanks b23. I just really wanted it to help so I hated that I offended.

      • I didn’t either.

        I would also say that while we should all be mindful of the fact that folks we know/are talking about may be reading this blog, we should also consider that perhaps the wise posters on this site have already taken that into account. Personally, I often change some obvious identifying details if I post about an annoying coworker or a friend dilemma, etc., and I never say that I am doing this. I just change a few details without identifying which ones. It sounds like even though it was not clear, Anon-na-na did some compositing as well.

      • I didn’t either. I thought your post was fine.

    • I think it was clear you intended to be constructive in your original post, but agree with some others that some of the way you expressed it came across as venting. If my response came across as defensive, I admit I get defensive when aspects of introverted personalities get criticized as professional or character flaws. Not that you did that, but I see it happen a lot–particularly in litigation–and I don’t take kindly to it, being an introvert (IRL, anyway. Somehow I become an extrovert online. Kanye shrug).

      And I know it’s been discussed a lot before, but I find the trend of including hobbies on a student resume a bit silly, maybe because when I was in school (10+ years ago) it was definitely not encouraged. Anyway, I’ve seen much worse than “reading.” I once interviewed a candidate whose only entry under the heading “Hobbies” was “The Wall Street Journal.” NGL, I worried about that guy a little.

      • Former MidLevel :

        I agree on the hobbies issue. Even if it’s a good idea in theory, I’ve never seen it executed well. All too often, the list comes off as either silly or pretentious.

        • I hate that line on resumes. But I think it’s often a question that comes up in actual interviews.

          • AnonInfinity :

            A partner at my firm yesterday said that sharing hobbies on a resume “is not the way to get hired at a law firm.”

      • I don’t see venting here as a problem in and of itself. Isn’t that part of the palliative experience of commenting on a blog? can’t do it at work, spouse gets tired of hearing it- nice to vent to somewhere people get the issue. no it shouldn’t be gratuitous or mean, but so what if she vented.

        • I don’t either; most of us use this space to vent on a regular basis. But if you’re trying to deliver constructive criticism, tone can muddle or even undermine the message.

          Alls I’m saying is, “Are you ten?!” in response to a candidate who says reading and “hanging out” are her favorite hobbies isn’t the most effective use of a teaching moment.

          (And anyone who knows me IRL would probably say venting is one of my hobbies. I’m not against venting per se, so we’re clear.)

    • I don’t think you were mean and if anything, I think the comments chastising you were rude and very defensive. I have no idea why people responded that way because it’s not really consistent with the way in which other posts have been responded to in the past. I think sometimes Corporette regulars think they don’t need to be polite to others less established and it creates a bullying situation.

      Also, I also don’t know what being introverted has to do with being shy or poor at interviews. I’m introverted but I still have lots of hobbies and can articulate them clearly in a 25 minute interview. Unsure of the supposed contradiction there.

  2. In the industry I work in, at my company, we’re required to have something called a “do not disturb” sign with our Human Performance program. Basically, when you’re working on something important, something with a tight deadline, or something that requires a lot of attention, you put up a red, white, and black sign that says “DO NOT DISTURB” with a note to contact your manager or another person, and a time when you will take a break or complete your task. In this case, even the manager is not allowed to interrupt you unless it’s an emergency.

    I would suggest anyone dealing with the kind of problem described in the original post bring up this option at their work place. They can present it as a means to reduce interruptions and allow more time to focus on individual tasks, and explain that it should increase productivity. As a new employee, frame it as an idea to help the company and it shows a lot of initiative.

    It’s a good way to get the boss on board, and I think it is a way to address the need for less interruptions without blaming anyone or seeming avoidant.

    Good luck!

    • I had one of these for a while. Everybody ignored it.

      Mean ol’ lawyers with no manners, amirite?

      • SF Bay Associate :

        Right. The only “Do Not Disturb” signs around here are the ones on the doors of offices of nursing women. The first few included a picture of their baby or a cartoon cow on the sign so that the especially dense would get the message.

        • SF Bay Associate :

          The only ones that aren’t ignored, I mean. Low blood sugar. Need lunch.

          • The thing is, at my office, they are *completely mandatory* to follow. That goes for everyone, management, VPs, everyone. You can leave a note for a person or send them an e-mail, but you cannot verbally interrupt them. I would think in Legal this would be extra important!

            Everyone is trained on them when they come into the company and if they violate them, the person who was interrupted can write up a note (including for the manager) and they’re kept for record. It’s a matter of not only respecting people’s work, but preventing errors. It epically ticks me off when people refuse to obey signs like these, ESPECIALLY with management.

    • Yeah……..having a DO NOT DISTURB sign here would label you as a weirdo. I think we’re gonna have to relegate this sign to the same fate as the peep-toe: bust out only in a know-your-own-office deal.

      • same here you’d be seen as isolationist and weird

        • Once when I was really busy, I closed my office door most of the way and put a sign on it that said, “Knock if it’s interesting.”

        • Liz (Europe) :

          In my office, the “do not disturb” sign is a closed door. People seem to “get it” instinctively. If nothing else, it likely means someone is either a. changing clothes, b. in a meeting or c. on a deadline.

  3. Eloise Spaghetti :

    I have a chatty boss and a chatty associate. The boss is newer to me – about 3 months. I used the chatty associate methods from previous feeds and they worked. This boss totally sucks up half of my day if I let him. The problem is I love chatting with him! I just hate pulling all nighters… I am guilty of the looking at my “side of the interaction.” I look forward to other responses. Here are some of the methods I use:

    I save all work related questions I have for close to the end of the day – about an hour before I have to leave. I keep a list at my desk. This way I do not go to him and get stuck. When he comes to me and starts talking, I refer to my list of questions and change the subject. “I love Simpsons re-runs too! Hey while you are here, do you know when Mr. Smith wanted those figures by? What exactly did he mean by tote bag sandwich?”

    I say sorry, I do not need to be rude, but I need to call X back before they leave at X time with a response. Pick up the phone and start dialing a call I really do need to make, or in desperation, my mother…she is in on it.

    With the chatty associate, I would literally just work on my computer while she talked to me and she would not get the hint but, at least I was answering e-mails or something. This does not work with the boss. He will say “Are you listening? What did I just say?” Busted. “Um the show Entourage is good? No? damn.”

    The point about observing what others do is spot on. My other boss got caught at the beginning of what I knew to be a long story. He just said “Excuse me Name of Boss” and walked away on his cell. I was in awe. I have not tried this yet but, I feel like it has a 50/50 chance of working.

    Finally, I will interrupt him with something I know he needs to be doing like, “Did you see those figures I prepared for you for Abe Lincoln’s file? Okay, I just wanted to make sure it did not get covered up since they are due today at 5 p.m. Let me know if you need anything else on that file.”

    I am going to try walk and talk next.

  4. Anonymous :

    TJ–Sorry if this question has been posted before but I just got a pair of Stuart Weitzman wedge pumps on sale (my first!) And they are sooo comfy but the right side is a little loose. So when I walk, the right side tends to slip off (actually the left side is a little loose too but doesn’t slip off as much). Any way to fix this without ruining the shoes or should I just return as this shoe is probably not right for my feet?

    • What do you mean by right side/left side? Side of shoes are unfixable. You can only try to put insoles in to make the shoe a bit more snug but it’s not a great solution, imo. If it’s a back of the shoe thing, you can put a heel liner in and that usually solves the problem.

      Other than that – if you have a cobbler who’s really good, you could try to have him add a strap to the shoe to make it hold, but I think that’s a risky endeavor and may ruin the shoe.

    • It sounds like they are too big or too wide for you.

    • To jack your jack – I get exactly what you are saying. One of my feet is just over a half size larger than my other foot. It’s a *&^%*&$! to deal with, especially in pumps.

      I recommend really nice heel liners, but for the most part in heels I have to get ones with straps.

    • Anonymous :

      OP here. Thanks all. My heel keeps slipping out. You all confirmed what I was thinking….I should return them. :( And for the other Anonymous, I kept wondering why this was happening with a lot of the shoes I was buying and I googled and apparently like 60% of people have a foot that’s larger than the other (typically the left is larger than the right). So it’s good to know I’m not alone but it makes shoe shopping a pain (despite seeing such cute shoes around!)

  5. I have this kind of boss, too, though it’s less critical for me since I’m in-house now. The problem for me isn’t that she takes up half my day but rather that *she* never gets anything done! I’ve always prided myself on my efficiency and my time management and it’s killing me that she can’t get anything done (even simple 5 minute phone calls) because she spends half her day chatting with others. I’ve managed to escape the time-suck, but mostly because I direct the conversation back to work almost instantly. The flip side is that I’m getting a little bit of a reputation of not being “warm and fuzzy” enough since I don’t shoot the breeze with coworkers, which apparently is a bad thing in-house. Who knew that there’d be things I missed about a firm?

    • this was never a problem at my BigLaw firm. i qould simply say to someone “I need to kick you out of my office now because I have work to do.” everyone understood because they had to do work, too. otherwise, no one would get paid. duh.

      i now work in-house at a government agency. so we don’t have to worry about billing hours so we can bill clients so we can collect revenue so we can meet payroll. and as a result, i don’t know how to deal with my supervisor, who is the head of the (very small) law office.

      she will come into my office at any time without asking whether i am doing something (which means if I am in the middle of a mental-resources intensive task, i lose my entire train of thought and have to start over when she leaves) to talk about her personal life. a lot.

      keeping a list of things i need to ask her about and doing it at the end of the day would never work because i come in way earlier than she does so i can do my work and leave on time. i gave up a LOT of money to take this job, and my reward is that i can leave at 5-ish.

      whenever i try to schedule time with her to discuss works matters, though, it never happens. first, our hours in the office don’t overlap very much because she comes in around 10 or 11. the business hours she is here she uses to meet with clients. (rightly so.) plus, she is always running late and my meetings are the first to get canceled.

      i will say that i need to be better about not feeding the beast. in other words, no matter how much detail she tells me about her family, i should jsut stop telling her anything about mine. both for time management reasons and because, really, do i want her knowign this stuff?

      • i should have added, a very simple way to get my work done would be to say “i’m sorry but i have to finish X now. can this wait until Y time?”

        BUT personal warmth is valued very highly in this office (unlike at my firm), so although i would get the time i needed to work, i would also get the reputation that could be very detrimental when it comes to succession planning and whether she will support me.

  6. I think every office should have “Do Not Disturb” signs! As someone who works in an associate capacity, I think the issue of disturbing fellow employees stems from both sides. When my boss interrupts me to go over things it’s usually alright, but sometimes I’m working on something that really needs my constant attention and focus. On the other hand, he keeps his office door closed probably 85% of the day, so it’s hard to tell if he’s OK with being disturbed. Additionally, as someone who’s fairly new to my career, it can be hard to say to my boss “I’m sorry, can we go over this later today – I’m really busy.”

    I dealt with this by trying to reflect how he handles things when I request his time. If he is swamped and I have some things to go over, he says “Let’s plan to go over this at X time.” SO, I started doing the same. If I’m really absorbed in a project and he has something that’s not urgent or time-senstive, I just say “I’m working on Project Y – can I touch base with you in 30 minutes?”

    Basically, I follow the “observe the surrounding behavior” advice, and it’s worked well. AND, observe social queues (spelling?!? yikes….) If I’m chatting away in my boss’s office and his feet are up on the desk, great. If he sits up straight in his chair and pulls up his e-mail, it’s time to go.

  7. God…. I lost my entire morning because of office gossip. On the one hand, I don’t mind because I have learned some interesting (and useful!) things this way! My problem with my boss is more the opposite, she doesn’t seem to want to interact with me much, but that’s a topic for another day (maybe I’ll see if I can work up a coherent question about this for Kat!).

    Walk and talk is great advice. I know when I am called into a boss’s office, if I don’t want the interaction to go on to long, I try very hard not to sit down. I think this helps give the impression that we need to just resolve the situation quickly, or hit the key points and then go back to our respective corners to work on the details.

    It was much easier when I was in the lab. You just carried around a timer set for X minutes and when it beeped – Oh, so sorry! Have to get back to the lab!

  8. Can I please say that as someone named Kathy, I feel very restricted from being chatty because of this nickname? I would like to say more but, back to work.

  9. I was the original poster about the chatty coworker.

    An update:
    -First, I only said my coworker was “lonely” because she told me, during many of our chat sessions, that she was. I just figured it was somehow linked to the need to communicate with and reach out to people at work.
    – I was probably being a little too hard on this coworker. I was mostly nervous about appearing to be hardworking to my boss. Once I settled into my position and gained some confidence I began to worry less that chatting with a coworker would reflect poorly on me.
    -Also, as this coworker and I have become closer acquaintances, I have had an easier time signaling when I want to get work done and make time to chat with her over lunch.

  10. Anon-who-loves-cookies :

    Off topic – but sometimes when I approach my assistant with a list of tasks I need her to help me get done, she does the walk-and-talk out of her cubicle thing, or starts picking up the phone with the first task to make the call – (even though I made it clear I have X amount of things to tell her!). It was just a vent. I’ve now resorted to emailing her the tasks as I think of them. It seems to work.

  11. Once in a job I got told by the mid-level manager the top boss thought I was chatting too much with another female. Lesson learned- go to lunch where they can’t see you:) Seriously though- been careful about that ever since. That boss could talk to men whenever he wanted, but did not want to see me visiting her office. Whatever. I guess I could have been working harder but I was severely underpaid and given crappy projects.

  12. My boss is like this, though he’s usually off on some work-related tangent – frequently interesting, but can take forever. I generally try to ambush him as he’s walking somewhere, which somehow seems to help.

  13. I always tell people that I have a conference call in 10 minutes that I have to prepare for. Gets them out of the office and generally works. Then if they are lingering (talking to someone next door or something) I close the door and call my husband or my mom. :)

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