In the course of your work, you may have a need to give overly chatty or nosy colleagues the brush off. In hopes of boosting productivity, the Company suggests these strategies.
Disengagement: When colleagues feel compelled to unburden themselves to you (e.g., "My cat spit up a nasty hairball;" "I found my husband in bed with three other people;" etc.), try blunting the assault with nonverbal nods and grunts. Do not attempt wry humor or sly putdowns, which can be misconstrued as signs of interest. Always avoid eye contact.
Fake spreadsheets: Nothing fends off a verbose coworker like an important-looking spreadsheet. Employees can generate their own—or copy one from the Company's intranet in read-only format. One advanced tactic: Ask the interloper for help refining a nettlesome macro. Note, however, that use of the company spreadsheet to mask consumption of pornography in the office may result in harsh disciplinary action.
Gratuitous interruptions: If colleagues persist in "unloading" or in pumping you for gossip, it is acceptable to appear busy. If a phone rings, answer it right away. If someone is lingering near your desk, ask if they need help. If not, draw them into the conversation—then gracefully duck out.
Colorful language: On rare occasions, you may actually have work that requires your attention. If this is the case, and if other methods fail, you are authorized to judiciously employ expletives. (E.g., "Dammit, Fastow! How am I ever going to un-tangle this f***ing accounting with you yammering on about that Chewco and JEDI thing?")
Seven words: "I have to go to the bathroom." If the coworker actually follows you into the facilities, notify security immediately.
A version of this article appeared in the January 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.