9 to 5 Culture

5 Ways to Deal With Nosy Co-workers

There are many mornings when I just want to be left alone at work. I may be tired, stressed out, busy, or just plain not happy to be in the office. What ever my reasoning may be, it does not make me happy when co-workers come up to me and invade my personal space with stories about their latest purchase, requests for me to do their work for them or just generally hover over my computer watching me do my work. When it’s my boss, it’s even worse.

What can you do to combat these irritating invasions of space that your co-workers so recklessly enjoy? Here are some ideas:

1. E-Mail them into Submission

Send out a notice to all your co-workers via e-mail that you are not to be disturbed between the hours of 8:30 and 10:30am (or your choice.) Cite examples of increased productivity and need for space to focus during that time. Make sure that the e-mail is friendly, professional, and doesn’t sound negative.

When doing something like this it is important to emphasize the positive. State that you work really wonderfully during this time of the day and that minimal interruption is best. Leave open the the possibility of discussion “in case of an emergency.” Also, make sure you check with your supervisor if this is ok. I would not recommend ever doing this without first letting your employer know.

Not a social morning person? Now you don’t have to be! Just make sure that you ARE actually productive during this time, especially at first, or they may call your bluff. If it works, you will have a chance to wake up and you’ll be left alone for a couple hours.

2. Be Cold and Distant

Give one-word responses and don’t look the offending person in the eye. Disengage. It may seem like you are being an impersonal, aloof jerk, but you are at a place of work, not a party. Since you are both trapped in this sterile nightmare together, the least your offending co-worker can do is give you some space if you aren’t being conversational.

3. Leave Me A-Phone!

Pick up the phone and begin dialing a fake number as soon as the potentially nosy employee walks into the room. When they see that you are on the phone, they’ll probably keep walking. If, in the rare case this doesn’t work and they talk to you anyway, just hold up a finger and say, “Come back a bit later, please.” 9 times out of 10 they weren’t there for anything that important anyway and may not return. This one has the added advantage of working on supervisors without endangering your job.

4. Drown Yourself (In Paperwork)

Pretend to be very busy. Better yet, actually BE very busy. In either case, you can refuse to talk to someone because you are working hard and don’t wish to be bothered. If they continue to talk to you/ask you to do something, say politely, “I am in the middle of something important.” Generally it’s offensive to interrupt someone while they are working, so use this to your advantage when you need to be left alone.

5. Tell the Truth

This is the best of the 5 options. Be honest.

If you need some alone time or you just aren’t in the mood to be interrupted (and really, who is?) tell the offending party so. You’d be surprised by how effective honesty can be, and will NOT make enemies of your co-workers. Most people are pretty understanding.

“I’m sorry Mary, but I have a lot of work on my plate today and I need some time to just focus. Can we talk later?”

That’s all that really needs to be said. This accomplishes two things. First, it lets you have your alone time and will send the nosy person away. Secondly, you aren’t hurting their feelings by sending them off and in fact inviting them to talk later. Honesty and directness go a long way toward making everyone a bit more content. At the very best, directness like this cuts down on passive-aggressive office politics.

If you have to suffer at your awful desk job, at least now you can suffer in peace.



  • case May 23, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    printing this article out and leaving it on your desk helps, too


  • shilohdream June 26, 2012 at 5:09 pm

    I might have to eat lunch with these nosey people in the near future since my job title will be changing. There is no other place to eat on my job but in the lunch room. There are no restaurants or eateries to eat at and we aren’t allowed in the backyard when the children are back their or if the weather is bad. What do I do then?


  • Mike July 19, 2012 at 7:28 am

    Haha – you are always welcome to print my articles for the purposes of scaring off nosy co-workers!

    Shilo – that sounds like a pretty tough work environment. Do you have to eat at the same time your co-workers eat? If you have a flexible lunch schedule you might be able to eat after the others do… or before. I find that taking a slightly late lunch actually helps in another way – when you are done there are fewer hours to go in the day.


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