This is a bit of a tough situation and I would like to get some advice as I don't know what to do. I want to make it known that this person is a co-worker and I am not their manager:

There is a long-time employee here (over 20-years) who has a problem with talking way too much to others and distracting them. The person has been known to spend up to an hour (or more) in other people's cubicles droning on and on, even when the other person is very busy and does not have time to listen.

The tough part is that the talking is usually work-related and the person is honestly trying to be helpful. The person is very intelligent, very nice and always means well, so the others just cannot bring themselves to tell them to go away, etc. Even the manager isn't sure what to do. You see, I'm pretty sure this person has mild autism and is not aware of social cues that most people pick up on (the other person is busy, the other person is not interested, the other person has stopped responding, the other person is looking at their watch, etc.) I truly, honestly think that this person means well and really can't help the way they are.

So, what in the world do you do? Other managers in the past have tried to address the issue and the person gets very upset and defensive because they truly did not realize they did anything wrong. However, others just CANNOT spend such a large time of their workday in these long conversations... there is just no time and it's too distracting. I mean, this person has been known to follow people to their cars outside and still keep talking when the person is starting their car and trying to leave!

It's a tough one... very tough. All advice is most-appreciated.

TomW's picture
Training Badge

I'm going to go out on a limb here... have you tried MT feedback? Behavior, consequences, future change?

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

If you don't do anything, it's your issue.

FEEDBACK, like Tom said.


tcomeau's picture
Training Badge

I had almost exactly this problem with a technically strong but socially... challenged direct report. He would hear about a problem or issue, show up in somebody's doorway, and think out loud for extended periods. Usually he was focused on the work, though he would do the same to me with non-work issues, and sometimes with social/political issues.

We had several conversations that ended up sounding like:

[color=darkblue]Bob, do you have a minute for some feedback?

[color=darkblue]I noticed you talking to Laura this morning about the FidWidget problem. You were standing in her door for quite a while, nearly an hour, while I was meeting with Ben and Steve. When you spend that much time talking to her, you slow down her progress, and you aren't making progess on your own assignments. Can you think about some alternatives to those kinds of chats?[/color]

[color=darkred]Oh, gee, I was trying to be helpful. It's not like it wasn't a work discussion![/color]

[color=darkblue]I understand, and I know you want to help. I know thinking out loud helps you work through options, and I also know that other people have different problem solving styles. Could you think about writing up your thoughts in an email, and let Laura come to you if she wants to chat? That would let the two of you think about the issue separately, and have a more focused discussion.[/color]

This emphatically did not work the first time. I did not mention that Laura had complained to me, I did not tell him not to work on things not assigned to him, and I would later suggest that he schedule 30-minute meetings with people when he had ideas. Putting a timebox on the discussions forced him to organize his thoughts.

When I started, I really didn't believe it was going to work. I was sure I'd try this for a month, and then have to implement a "doorway ban." Instead, I learned that I haven't been giving feedback, using the model, often enough. He still gets parked in some doorways, usually with codependent think-out-loud engineers, but it has far less impact on the team.

(names changed to protect... well, me, actually!)
Tom Comeau

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Tom -

Well done and well said!


too_much's picture

Tom, that is a great idea! I will relay it to the manager and see if it helps.