Are you the office chatterbox? 4 steps to shutting up

Being friendly at work is helpful to your career, as long as you don’t overdo it. 

Beware of talking too much or monopolizing your co-workers’ time when they’re trying to get work done.

To gauge whether you need to scale back on your chitchat, consider these questions:

• Do you often talk nonstop for more than a minute?

• Do people describe you as “chatty”?

• Do you come up with a lot of ideas and try to express them all at once?

• Do you tend to get sidetracked and wander off on tangents?

• Do you explain everything in minute detail, or recount conversations word for word?

• Do you consider yourself more of a talker than a listener?

• Do friends sometimes describe you as self-absorbed or oblivious to others?

• Do people sometimes seem to avoid you?

• Do you spend a lot of time at work discussing things that have nothing to do with business?

• Do your listeners often seem bored or distracted?

If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, you probably talk more than you realize—and more than you should. Try these suggestions:

• Set time limits. When you stop by someone’s cubicle to chat, practice limiting your conversation to five minutes. When you’re on the phone, use a timer to help you shorten telephone conversations.

• Heed “traffic” warnings. When you’re talking, use this “traffic light” strategy: Consider the light green for the first 20 seconds, yellow for the next 20 seconds, then red at the 40-second mark. Listeners are usually fully engaged for 20 seconds, beginning to lose interest during the next 20, and approaching boredom at 40 seconds. Don’t “run the red light” unless it’s obvious that listeners are hanging on your words.

• Minimize boring details. When you’re telling a story, don’t feel you need to re-create the event exactly as it happened—including what everyone wore, what people ate, every word that was uttered, what exact time each incident occurred, and so forth. Stick to pertinent or entertaining details and forget the rest.

• Ask engaging questions. Showing interest in others is the key to being a good conversationalist. Rather than telling your story, ask your colleagues to share theirs. 

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