coworker conflict

Have you ever felt stuck in the middle of workplace conflict?  I don’t mean the one stirring the pot – that’s a topic for another day.  I’m talking about being in a position where two people, in conflict, are “confiding” in you.  Giving you their side of the story and justifying their positions and behaviors, as each seeks confirmation they are “right”.

Today a friend asked for advice about successfully navigating a situation she is in. One of her peers is involved in (what sounds like) passive-aggressive workplace conflict with their boss. The peer is shirking duties back on her boss, and the boss is not at all happy about it.  Both are talking to my friend, and she’s growing more and more uncomfortable as she feels the pull of remaining loyal to her boss, and not upsetting the coworker.  Apparently, today got super awkward when the co-worker started whispering to my friend, asking what the boss’ problem was, within ear-shot of the boss!

Just a few minutes earlier the boss shared how angry she was with the co-worker. Just like that, my friend found herself in the position of “middle man” between workplace conflict.

Now, as a leadership development coach, there are a few directions I could take this discussion and, as a mediator, I have thoughts on how to handle it as well.  For now, I’m staying focused on my friend’s uncomfortable position of knowing how the boss feels, along with ideas she has for dealing with the co-worker; her co-worker’s position on why she is behaving the way she is and; her own desire to maintain good working relationships with both.

If you were caught in the middle of workplace conflict, what would you do?

  1. Listen, but do nothing? It’s not your problem, and there’s no reason for you to get involved.
  2. Demonstrate your loyalty you your boss? Tell her what the co-worker is saying to you.
  3. Ask them to stop? Share how uncomfortable you feel, and suggest they talk directly with each other.
  4. Channel your inner facilitator? With their permission, objectively share perspectives and interests, and help each communicate their needs and suggestions for resolution.

And the best answer is… Actually any of the above could be appropriate, depending on the nature and potential seriousness of the workplace conflict, as well as any impact it is, or could have, on you or others in your workgroup.

Remember, today I’m focused on my friend and what is best for her in this situation.  Sometimes if you aren’t sure what to do, it is good to know what not to do. In order for her to maintain her own credibility and character, there are a few things she needs to avoid doing at all costs

Whatever you choose to do, DO NOT:

  1. Play both sides. Don’t tell each what the other is saying, while pretending to be loyal to both.
  2. Turn the issue into gossip. If the involved individuals want to tell other people, that’s their business. Make it your business to keep what you’ve heard to yourself.
  3. Ignore information that is potentially unethical, illegal, or damaging to the organization. By all means, if you have reason to believe something unethical, illegal , or damaging to the organization is occurring, talk with the appropriate level and positioned individual. Then, adhere to #1 and #2.

We all need to blow off a little steam or vent to someone we trust now-and-then. That’s fine! However, being caught in the middle of lingering workplace conflict can quickly become distracting and add significant stress to your day.  Remember these tips, and choose your actions wisely, if you find yourself in the middle of a co-worker conflict.

Contact us today for more information on successfully dealing with workplace conflict.

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