In a workplace where messaging apps like Slack, Google Chat or Microsoft Teams has become the normal way to work and the place where co-workers socialize, creating boundaries can seem like quite the feat. This can be especially problematic when one of your co-workers is a Chatty Cathy.
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“It’s about recreating boundaries,” says Jeffrey Seglin, director of the communications program at Harvard Kennedy School. “Now that we’re back to a sense of a new normal, we need to figure out how to use the [digital] tools and what is acceptable.
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Now back to Gabby ol’ Bob of accounting. We spoke with three business and communication experts to help us navigate workplace messaging etiquette. Let’s go.
Q: How do I get a chatty colleague to stop messaging me?
The answer to this question may seem simple. Can’t you just tell your co-worker to leave you alone? While, yes, this is always an option, there are a few things workers may want to consider before jumping right into the basics.
First, what are the workplace culture and expectations? Is it an organizational norm or issue or is it just one person? Second, remember that the way people have become accustomed to communicating at work may have changed over the past two years due to the pandemic. This may be how workers get to know each other, as some workers are remote and some are in the office. And third, your social capital may be different if you’ve been estranged from co-workers, see them less, or have never met in person. So you may need to adjust the way you deliver a message that could be perceived as confrontational, especially if it’s a digital platform where vocal tone and body language are lost.
Managers are a great starting point when it comes to setting social norms in the workplace. And now could be a good time to take stock of how the team has worked over the past two years and reset some boundaries, experts say.
“Look in the mirror and see what kind of culture you’re unwittingly creating,” says Dustin York, associate professor of communication and leadership at the University of Maryville. “Even if you’re a night owl, you can schedule messages [instead of sending them.]”
How to know if you are talkative
If you pay enough attention, you may find that you could be the talkative co-worker. There are easy ways to find out on digital platforms, says York, of the University of Maryville.
- On messaging apps: Look at the response rate. If you send six messages and get a short response, you may need to relax.
- On video apps: Look for non-verbal cues. If co-workers are focused on another task or giving no sign of listening, you may need to wrap up.
Email providers, including Microsoft Outlook and Google’s Gmail, as well as email apps like Slack, allow users to schedule a message to be sent at a specific time in the future.
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You can also create spaces dedicated to organizational socialization. Workers or managers might want to create separate subgroups on their messaging platforms — in Slack, you’d start a new channel, for example — for people who want to chat more casually or on specific topics like what’s going on. they watch on Netflix, York said. . This gives workers the flexibility to decide whether they want to join in on the additional discussions or just stick to the work-related chatter.
“Forced joy should not be expected,” says Seglin.
Building community and workplace safety
As a worker, if the issue is organizational, you may want to take the approach of raising it as a question rather than a request from your manager or team. Framing it as an issue for consideration and for improving worker well-being and productivity could make it less confrontational, says Heidi Brooks, senior lecturer in organizational behavior at Yale University’s School of Management. “Start by creating the condition of curiosity and collaboration,” she said. “You might say, ‘I notice we’re…talking 24 hours a day, and I think the team is burning out. Can we talk about it?
When a group works together, they can find boundaries that work for everyone and allow everyone to feel part of the process. The idea is to make the conversation feel like a shared challenge and a shared solution. The same approach can apply if it’s a talkative colleague in particular, Brooks said.
But if that doesn’t work out, Brooks said to treat it like a labor dispute. Be more direct with the issue by saying something like, “I feel the strain of this constant communication.”
Seglin said the pandemic has forced everyone to be a little more aware of the mental health and well-being of others. So if it’s a recurring issue with a particular colleague, sometimes vulnerable honesty is the best etiquette.
“You can say, ‘I love that you include me, I’m just not ready to socialize,'” he said.
And if all else fails, you can turn to the technology itself, York said.
You can change your notification settings so that you are only alerted by certain messages or at certain times. In some apps, you can change your status to unavailable. You can change your phone settings to do not disturb during certain hours. Some apps allow you to send automatic replies, similar to an out of office email, within the app and others may be bundled with third-party auto-reply apps.
Or you can simply change your behavior to set new expectations, York said.
“It can be as simple as texting in the morning,” he said. “After a week or two, Chatty Cathy will get the hint.”