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When Arguing Co-workers Ask You To Take Sides

Two co-workers are engaged in a heated debate both have a vested interest in winning, and they're waiting for you to decide which side you're on. Ugh. Let's meet halfway to discuss how to handle this sticky situation!

We've all been there. Why are two of your work peers trying to draw you into choosing sides, anyway?

Well, your co-workers want your endorsement, of course! Your support will add strength to their case. Talk about a delicate balance as you walk the workplace tightrope between one colleague's eventual endorsement and the other work colleague's impending disappointment.

If only we could ask U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren for her advice on being stuck in the middle, right?


So what should we do when one co-worker tries to drag us into his or her battle with another co-worker? Here are five tips for dealing with colleagues who are waiting for you to take their side:

1. Separate the personal from the professional. Is the argument work-related, or personal in nature? If two work peers are arguing over a TV show, that's one thing. If they're arguing over which one messed up on a $2 million project, that's quite another story. If it's work related, then keep in mind that it's ultimately not your job to assign blame. That's management's job.

2. Allow your co-workers to vent. Sometimes, our work peers just need to get it all out and you're...there. In the process of venting, they may ask, "What do you think?" without thinking. They may not even realize they've lobbed the argument into your lap to decide who is right; they're just thinking out loud because they're upset. You can lob it back by asking, "Well, what do you think? How can it be fixed?" This forces your work peer to start focusing on solutions instead of assigning blame. Good job, part-time workplace mediator!

3. Don't feel like you have to take sides. Ah, now we get down to it. You don't have to pick a side! If pushed to take a side, you can tell both of them that you have to be able to work well with BOTH OF THEM for the work to get done. You might say, "If I pick a side, it could hurt our working relationship. I don't want that to happen, because we all need to get along."

4. But if you must take sides... There will be times when you must take sides, if only because it's the right thing to do. In this case, explain your opinion as thoughtfully, and as clearly, as possible. Keep your words professional, and focused on solving the problems at hand in the best way possible.

5. Seek out someone who excels in diplomacy. We all know someone who seems to rise above the fray. These colleagues, neighbors, friends and/or family members float through life with the grace of a proud, eloquent swan. They don't take the bait, they're diplomatic, smart and big picture-focused in their responses. How do they manage to walk this fine line and emerge unscathed? What is the key to staying on everyone's good side without looking somehow disingenuous? Learn from them.

I'm sure there are many other tips for navigating a spat between two co-workers. Please feel free to share what works for you. I, for one, promise to be diplomatic in my response.

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