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When Should You Step in to Mediate a Conflict at Work?

No doubt, creative conflict in the workplace can be a good thing. Assumptions are challenged, new ideas brought to the table, and innovative solutions result. However, personal conflicts that arise at work can be a tremendous source of stress, particularly if you are in the role of passive observer or impartial third party. How do you know when is a good time to mediate a conflict between two people you know at work? Here are a few tips to help you out.


When to Mediate Conflict (Photo: iStockphoto)

They ask for your help
In my mind it is always better for you, as an observer to a conflict, to keep yourself out of any involvement in a dispute between colleagues. You do not want to risk your own reputation within the office by needlessly meddling with something that isn’t your business. However, if your advice is requested by the people involved in the conflict, you can defer responsibility and see if you can help diffuse a difficult situation.

The argument gets out of hand or personal
You start to see yelling and you see evidence of physicality brewing or things thrown. If an argument or conflict in the workplace starts to spiral out of control, it may be time to interject a sense of reason into the debate to allow cooler heads to prevail. If either assailant starts to get personal about an issue, remind her to keep it professional.

You see a solution that they don’t or refuse to acknowledge
In a conflict, individuals may simply refuse to accept reason coming from the other side. Maybe you do and can provide them with a civil way to end their argument with a fair and balanced solution. Provide your opinion only if scenarios one and two haven’t already happened.

One of the perpetrators is risking her career
This is basically scenario two going into overdrive. If one of your co-workers involved is behaving completely irrationally to the point of risking his career by escalating a conflict to the point of physicality, verbal abuse or embarrassment before the boss, it might be time to step in and serve as peacekeeper, or in this case—career-preserver. You would hope that if you were in a similar position of losing your head, a co-worker would be willing to step in to help you sort things out. Golden rule, as usual, always applies.

Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at

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