Office Politics Versus Idle Chitchat

Every office has one.  A coworker who wants to and will hold a conversation with you for more than an hour.  During this conversation monologue you are waiting for a break; a chance to escape.  It seems it will never come.  When it finally does you promise to not let it happen it again, then scramble to resume your work.  But, how do we draw the line with engaging in office politics and idle chitchat?

Don't get lost in the conversational rabbit hole.
Don’t get lost in the conversational rabbit hole.

Know the difference
Office politics are important.  They involve socializing and taking personal interest in your coworkers and superiors.  Therefor, it’s OK (and necessary) to take some time out to build relationships.  Chitchat happens on a regular basis and errs on the side of gossip and meaningless conversation.  Chitchat can quickly take value away from your work, while politics will often add value.

Set Expectations 
You know if you ask this particular individual a question you will get a thirty-minute, labored response.  It’s a rabbit hole, but this person has the answers.  Set expectations: lead your question with a deadline, even if it’s just a personal one.  You could say, “Hi, Coworker.  I am in the middle of this project and I need to ask you about X.  I have an hour left before the deadline, but really need quick input from you.”   Here, you’re telling them twice you intended for a brief exchange.  If showing a sense of urgency doesn’t work, be a little more blunt and state up front that you don’t have much time to talk.

Answer A Question Followed By Closing
When the conversational ball is in your court and you’ve been asked a question, use this opportunity to close the conversation.  Politely answer their question as briefly as possible and conclude that you hate to be rude but you have to get back to work.  Being honest and placing the blame on work should keep the person from taking it personally.

Ask If It’s Work Related
The moment someone comes to your desk and says your name or asks if you’re free ask them if it’s work related.  Let them know up front you’re in the middle of something important, and if it’s work related you will take five minutes to talk with them.  Tell them otherwise, it will have to wait.  Most can appreciate that being interrupted is bothersome, especially if without good reason.

Cut Them Off
When being polite or body language doesn’t work, interject.  Try to find a week moment in the conversation, and say, “I really hate to cut you off, but I have something should get back to it.  I’d love to catch up over lunch, however.”  Of course don’t offer to resume the conversation if you don’t want to; in which case you could add, “Thank you for understanding.”

Limiting these types of conversations will help keep your work on schedule.  Express an appreciation and understanding of your coworkers’ eagerness to talk, but remember your daily goals and deadlines.  Decide if each conversation is an asset or a liability and handle accordingly.  For more on office politics, see Forbes‘ “Office Politics: The 5 Key Blunders,” by Rob Asghar.

If you have any additional ways to end these conversations, please share!