All of us has, or has had at one time in our lives, a situation between family members, coworkers or friends, where people within that group are fighting with each other and you’re in the middle. It can be a very uncomfortable position to be in. Each one wants you to take their side and makes you feel like an unloyal traitor if you want to stay neutral. It’s a lot like being between a rock and a hard place. As a Certified Empowerment Coach, I’d like to offer you some suggestions in which you can both find your own peace and maybe even help mend the rift between the warriors.
Find Peace While Stuck in the Middle of Fighting People
You know what it’s like – your brother or sister are currently not talking to your other brother or sister; or your two good friends are arguing and avoiding each other; or your co-workers are in fierce competition and in a constant campaign of one upsmanship. And you’re stuck in the middle trying to stay friendly with everyone, mind your business, and keep peace in your own life.
But, it’s way stressful and uncomfortable when these hot-headed individuals amp up the hostile energy and tension every time you’re in the same room with them. How do you keep their negative energy from jangling you and disrupting your life? Try these things:
1. Stay neutral. Even though it’s uncomfortable, it’s important not to take sides, even if you truly believe one of the involved people is more at fault than the other. Unless they ask you for your opinion about the cause of their fight, and are willing to listen objectively, interjecting your thoughts about who’s to blame can stir the pot even more and also draw you into the drama.
2. Be the Mediator. You can offer to intervene between these disagreeing people and objectively explain the other’s perception of the problem to each of them. Feuds, especially family ones, don’t develop out of nowhere. There’s always some incident, or bone of contention, that’s occurred to set one, or more, family members off. One sees it one way, the other sees it another way, and often both feel their view is right. Getting them to understand how the other person has perceived the other’s behavior may help them heal the rift.
3. Outside Help. In a work situation, if your coworkers are always out of joint with each other, it’s best for you not to intervene amongst a large group of people. You’ll be overwhelmed and they likely won’t hear a word you’re saying. Perhaps there is an Employee Assistance Counselor, or Human Resources Manager, available who can step in. Explain to her/him that the work environment is untenable for you in its current condition and the work environment not very productive.
If it’s a very small company, and only 2-3 people involved, you could try speaking to them yourself about how difficult their behavior is making the work environment. If you have no success here, you can bring your concerns to your immediate supervisor unless they’re also one of the involved coworkers. Keep in mind that your coworkers may also start to view you as a threat, in which case make an appointment with your boss. Ask to be transferred to a different department, if possible, or to be able to work away from them. If there’s no foreseeable hope for fixing the problem, it may be healthier for you to look for another job.
4. Innocent Bystanders. Family and friend feuds almost always involve innocent bystanders, namely kids and parents. If your brothers/sisters are fighting, their kids and their cousins may not see or speak to each other either, especially at holidays or birthdays, because of their parents’ behavior. It can also make elderly parents pretty unhappy too knowing that their adult kids are not speaking to each other and have to spend separate holidays or make appointments to visit mom or dad. It’s the same with friends. The kids of these friends may also be friends with each other and that friendship is cut off because of their mothers or fathers behavior. Try to get your brothers/sisters, friends, to understand that their “feud” is also hurting innocent bystanders and is not fair to make them suffer.
5. Teach by Example. Show your family members, friends, coworkers, that disagreements need not escalate into barring people from their life, or making life/work so dysfunctional and unbearable for everyone around them. Show them that the best way to straighten out a problem is honest “here’s how I feel about what happened” communication rather than attacking, accusing, “you did this or that” verbiage.
All relationships, whether they’re with friends, families, co-workers, etc, can be difficult at times. Trying to keep the peace between sparring individuals can result in a lot of stress, and unhappiness, for you. Keep the communication lines open and do what you can to help heal the situation – especially if it’s your family. Maintain your relationship with each person as you always have but also keep strict boundaries with them. Don’t allow either side to make you feel guilty about not taking their side.
To further the peacemaking process, while the “adults” are working on their feud, you might want to spend more time with your elderly parents and/or try to invite the kids/grandkids of each sibling, or friend, to get together with the rest of their family on neutral territory. Maybe when the others see everyone else having fun, they’ll want to take their gloves off and rejoin their family and friends.
Dale Brown, B.S., M.A., C.E.C.
Certified Empowerment Coach