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Your Office Coach: Turn Tables on Talkative Co-Worker

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By Marie G. McIntyre

talkative_coworker(MCT)—QUESTION: I’m having difficulty with the person who was recently assigned to be my mentor. “Mark” is supposed to help me learn procedures in the research lab where I work as a graduate assistant. Although we get along well, he tends to ask a lot of personal questions.

Every Monday, for example, Mark asks what I did over the weekend. If I mention eating out, he wants to talk about the restaurant. Whenever I wear something new, he asks where I bought it, then makes comments about the store. Sometimes his questions sound like lectures. For instance, he might say, “Do you know how much salt is in those chips?”

This makes me uncomfortable, but since Mark will be grading me on my lab assignment, I don’t want to offend him. Do you have any advice?

ANSWER: While some people hate divulging personal information, others view their life as an open book and will happily share almost anything. If you and Mark are at opposite ends of this spectrum, you may have conflicting communication styles. His questions don’t sound particularly intrusive or creepy, so he’s probably just trying to make conversation.

To evade these inquiries without being rude, you need a conversational escape plan. One simple strategy is to provide a brief answer, then quickly change the subject. For example, when Mark asks what you did on the weekend, just smile and say, “Nothing very interesting.” Then introduce a work-related topic before he has time for another question.

A friendlier way to shift the spotlight, though, is to start using questions yourself. On Monday morning, beat Mark to the punch by asking how his weekend went. When shopping or dining is mentioned, inquire about his preferences. Before long, you may discover that these one-way interrogations have become two-way conversations.

Q: My boss keeps mentioning that working through lunch is a good way to get more done. I’ve told him repeatedly that lunch is very important to me because I’m a diabetic, yet he continues to make these comments. On top of that, he frequently reminds me how many sales I must make in order to offset my salary. This constant badgering is both annoying and stressful. How should I respond to him?

A: Wimpy managers fear giving direct feedback, so they often express their concerns by dropping hints. Since your boss apparently falls into this category, the odds are good that he doesn’t really care what you do for lunch. He’s just not happy with your productivity.

To curtail these random references, try initiating a conversation about the real issue. For example, “I know that I’m slightly behind on my goals for the year, but I have some thoughts about how to catch up. I would also like to get your ideas. Could we schedule a time to discuss this?”

Draft a step-by-step plan for meeting your goals, then regularly review progress with your boss. Once your sales are back on track, I guarantee that he will be much less interested in your dining habits.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.”

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