Caught in the Middle? What to do When Your Coworkers Hate Each Other
It would be great if every group of coworkers acted as a harmonious and unified whole. But sometimes, teams fall far short of that ideal. You may find yourself working with people who grudgingly tolerate each other or who can't stand each other at all. Working alongside people who hate each other can be uncomfortable and may make you feel like you're caught in the middle.
The most important thing to remember when your coworkers are fighting is not to take sides. Joining up with one side or the other would bring you into the conflict, and you might be disciplined, demoted, or even fired if your employer is displeased with conflict in your team. Even if things don't go that far, taking a side perpetuates the conflict and encourages coworkers to keep up their disagreements. Take a neutral stance so that you don't prolong the drama.
Staying neutral usually requires avoiding the topics that trigger arguments. For example, if your coworkers have strong opinions about an upcoming change in the parental leave policy, don't bring up the subject of benefits or time off. If talk about children is going to spark a new argument about parental leave, don't ask about their kids. Look for neutral conversation starters like sports, movies, or even the weather. It's better to chat about a relatively boring topic that's less contentious than to walk into a conversational minefield.
Being caught in the middle between coworkers can be lonely. It may help to become friends with any other coworkers who aren't fighting. If there's another person in your department who isn't participating in the drama, starting up a conversation with them can be a good way to bow out of discussions between the warring coworkers when things get heated. If all of the coworkers around you hate each other, reach out to people in other departments. Are you on break at the same time as people from the front desk or accounting? Introduce yourself to them. Branching out gives you some distance from the drama and is also a great networking habit.
Often when there's drama at work, the question of whether to tell a supervisor comes up. The answer depends on how bad the conflict is. If there's a personality clash but everyone is working through it and your job responsibilities are not affected, then there's probably no need to report anything. However, if the conflict is preventing you from doing your job or if customer service is suffering as a result, then you should absolutely tell your supervisor what's going on. You don't want your supervisor to think you were shirking your duties when in actuality a conflict was interfering with your work.
When you report drama between coworkers, the rule about not taking sides still applies. Don't try to make a case that one coworker is in the right, and don't point a finger at whichever person started the drama. Also, don't suggest that anyone should be disciplined or fired. Just tell your supervisor who is involved in the conflict and how it's affecting you or harming the guest experience. Let your supervisor make the determination about who, if anyone, is at fault.
Being caught in the middle between antagonistic coworkers in not an enviable position. Unfortunately, the choice to end the conflict is ultimately up to your coworkers. But by staying out of the conflict and reporting it if appropriate, you can at least avoid making things worse.