DEAR HARRIETTE: My assistant is very talkative. We get along well and I do like to hear a bit about her life, but we do not have time for prolonged conversations about the weekend, family matters, shopping, whatever it may be. At the same time, I know that it makes her feel at ease if she can have a little banter before diving in to her work. How can I strike a balance with her so that she feels that I care about her personal life but that we get to work quicker? This chitchat is taking up way too much time. -- Hush Up and Work, Dallas
DEAR HUSH UP AND WORK: I use the five-minute rule. The maximum I allow for personal office banter is a five-minute window. After that, I tell my employees that we have to get to work. I let people know up front that this is my policy so that they can feel comfortable understanding why I do it.
During the day, if we get into a bit of conversation, I let them know that they have to be able to multitask in order to keep up the chitchat. Also, if things are very busy or if we are under deadline, I make it clear that there is no time to talk. Everybody has to hunker down.