Listener Brian wrote in with a dilemma. Like many office workers, he works in an open cube environment. He’s friendly and easygoing, but finds he’s a magnet for coworkers taking a break from their own work. People pull up a chair next to his cube and chat, sometimes for up to half an hour! And when they’re not hanging out in his cube, they’re often hanging out nearby, having a loud conversation or talking on the phone. 

Brian’s work involves a lot of math and computer programming. In other words, his work is—you know—work. Brian says he’s even tried pulling his file cabinet’s drawer open as an ersatz privacy wall, which, unfortunately, his boss was quick to label as anti-social and a sign of not being a team player.

All in all, Brian asks how he can be more assertive, defend his space, and tell people he needs peace and quiet without letting resentment build or coming across as a jerk.

Therefore, this week, let’s dive into what to do when Donny from marketing stops by to show you his latest cat video.

One problem is the environment itself; here, science is on Brian’s side. In a study out of the University of Sydney, two architecture professors investigated the tradeoffs between open-plan versus traditional offices. The advantages of open-plan offices are, theoretically, better teamwork, creativity, and “ease of interaction.” But the study found that forced interaction did not offset the disadvantages of an open-plan office, which matched Brian’s experience exactly: noise and lack of privacy.

However, the real problem is that Brian is trapped by the Chatty Cathys and Garrulous Garys of the world. It’s a feeling familiar to many of us quiet types, and it’s not exclusive to the office—it can happen at parties, family get-togethers, or anywhere small talk leaves you scanning the horizon for an escape route. Ellen Degeneres likens the feeling to being on a highway with no exits when you have to pee. 

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