There is a woman at my office who talks all the time. I am busy and have stuff to do! I often try to signal to her that I’m doing something by looking away and working on my computer — but she doesn’t get the hint. How do I (politely) get her to stop yapping?
— Peace and Quiet
The most passive way to be stuck in a place with people you don’t want to talk to (frequent ferry travel anyone?) is just wear headphones. You don’t have to be playing anything through them (not that anyone needs to know that) but something about white (or other obvious colored) things sticking in your ears says, “Don’t talk to me.” If she is talking around you, try actually playing something into your ears that won’t distract you from the task at hand (I personally enjoy music in another language for this purpose). If you feel like being an actor, when she interrupts you can make a small production out of moving the headphone to say, “Sorry, I was really concentrating on this- what were you saying?”
If you are worried about the boss’s raised eyebrows at your new headphone obsession, you can mention you are wearing them to be less distracted by office talking — I bet that may even get this persistent talker talked to!
Once her behavioral pattern of coming near you is broken, you can keep your new favorite accessory in your desk drawer for insurance.
In a headphone-free office, try getting up and going to the break room (or somewhere away from your desk) when she approaches. This will force the conversation elsewhere where you can stop her five minutes in and say, “Thanks for the chat, but I think I have to get back to work!” This also may help her realize how often she does this and how counterproductive it is.
My co-worker, whom I adore, dresses risque at the office, and I don’t think it’s appropriate. It actually makes me uncomfortable. What can I do about it without being a jerk?
— Eyes Averted
First of all, if this behavior actually violates your company dress code, you get to say something. Many workplaces have policies (even my tiny workplace) to avoid awkward conversations and to set expectations. But if your company doesn’t have any rules about, say, exposure of underwear, you can’t really say anything. This may be a good time to approach HR about clarifying dress code for the whole office so everyone can be on the same page.
Now you say you’re uncomfortable. Why is that? Do you feel insecure in your own clothing? Do you think this person is getting unfair (positive or negative) treatment because of what they are wearing? If you are the only one uncomfortable, getting at the root of your feelings may actually have a better result than trying to control what someone puts on when they wake up in the morning.
My aunt just broke up with her boyfriend — and now she wants me to set her up with eligible men where I work. I’ve tried to tell her that I don’t feel comfortable, but I don’t think she’s taking me seriously. How do I tell her “no way, Jose” without hurting our relationship?
— Stuck in the Middle
If you tell your aunt that setting her up romantically could hurt your future financially, as a reasonable person she should understand. Maybe instead of setting her up, you can help her navigate meeting men. Help her find an adult ed class, a meet-up group or volunteer activity where she can meet like-minded people. You can even help her set up an online dating profile. By channeling her interest in finding a man into something proactive for herself, she’ll get the support she needs from you while you avoid awkwardness at work. She may even find that by pursing men she’s interested in (versus letting people like her niece make those decisions), she ends up with better dating options than she would have had otherwise.