One of the most uncomfortable situations at work is when two co-workers don't get along -- and you somehow get caught in the middle.
Perhaps each person comes to you at different times to try and get you on his or her side. Heather might say, "Can you believe what Brad said in the meeting? What did you think about that ridiculous idea he had about moving the project deadline?"
Then, when you manage to wiggle out of that situation, Brad sends you an e-mail: "Why was Heather having such a fit about moving the project deadline? Think it's because she never has her work done, no matter when it is?"
It's times like these that you may start looking around for a playground supervisor. After all, such antics resemble those taking place in schoolyards across the country, so why not get someone to pitch in and help the "children" at work?
Don't despair. There are some steps to take when you feel you're getting caught in the middle of a cubicle tiff and you want to handle it as professionally -- and maturely -- as possible. You can:
* Declare yourself Switzerland. Plant the Swiss flag on your desk, stick in earplugs and just smile and keep working when they try and engage you in their fight.
* Ask questions. Sometimes an aggrieved party simply wants to be heard. Ask simple, neutral questions about concerns, but steer the conversation away from gossip and just ask for facts. If the person tries to get you to agree with a certain point of view, say that you'll have to meditate on it. This makes you look like you're going to give it careful thought. If they bug you for an answer, just say you're still meditating. Plan on meditating for a long, long ....long time.
* Play Mrs. Cleaver. No matter how many times The Beaver and Wally got into a fight, Mrs. Cleaver always found a way to patch things up between them. Ever notice how many times she'd slip in something like, "Now, Wally, you know that Beaver looks up to you. He really admires how smart you are." Don't make up fake goodwill, but try to foster better vibes between the two spatting parties.
* State the obvious. "We have to work together. We have to behave like adults or we could get fired. " This is a message that may have to be repeated over and over. In this job market, no one can afford to be thought of as a pain in the ass, and that's exactly the tag that can be applied to feuding co-workers.
What other tips do you have if someone gets caught in the middle of a dispute at work?