Conquer Conflict At Work/From Bystander of Workplace Conflict to Culture Champion

Friday, May 19, 2023

From Bystander of Workplace Conflict to Culture Champion

Most of us have experienced it. Observing someone in the workplace taking up their issues with another colleague in a public setting in rude and discourteous ways, and no one intervenes. It happens everywhere. Staff meetings, team building events, and on our most sacred of places - our coffee breaks.

Coworker conflict.

For some leaders, it might feel more natural to step into these moments and resolve issues while guiding, coaching, and mentoring your employees towards a healthier and more respectful conversation aimed at finding a solution. When it does not feel natural, leaders often lean on their role, title, and position to inform their actions.

But when you witness two or more of your peers or colleagues using inappropriate tone with each other, it can be uncomfortable to observe and difficult to know what to do as a bystander. Especially if you work directly with them.


When it comes to workplace conflict and bullying, a bystander can be defined as an employee who witnesses disrespectful, rude and bullying behaviors directed at another person (the bystander is not the direct target of the offensive behaviors).

Bystanders do not go away from these moments unscathed. Research demonstrates bystanders experience stress and anxiety related to their observation of rude behaviors and they report decreasing satisfaction in the job they do and the place they work.

Research also shows us that bystanders are at risk of adopting the offensive behaviors they observe as a means of surviving the workplace and "fitting in". They become desensitized to the negative impact and no longer see the behaviors as inappropriate. This creates a worsening workplace culture.

Anyone can be a bystander, including leaders, so it is vital you know how to intervene

Consider how you might feel and react as you are sitting in a break room with Tim, when another coworkers comes to the door and the following conversations unfolds:

Nurse A: Hey, Tim, are you coming back soon? I know you left for your break half an hour ago and I need your help out there.

Nurse Tim: What do you mean break? I've been doing patient charting this whole time, I haven't even had my break yet.

Nurse A: Listen, when you left like a half an hour ago, you told me you're taking your break. You've been in your charting this whole time I've been out there managing the floor. This is not okay!

Nurse Tim: What? So now it's not okay to get a break. Like what are you saying? Want me to do all of this and your work to now

Talk about an uncomfortable situation!

This can be one of those moments where we just want to tuck our head in the sand, pretend we're not hearing anything and focus on our own stuff.

As a bystander, what do you do? Do you join in, make jokes about it, or do you point out the offending behavior?

There is no doubt about it, being a third party to someone else's disagreement is a challenging place to be.

From Bystander to Culture Champion

Becoming a culture champion requires that bystanders recognize their reactions and actions are helping define the culture of the workplace.

Here are three questions you can ask yourself as a bystander:

* What kind of workplace do I want to work in?
* What am I willing to do to create a place that I love working in?
* What resources do I need to be a culture champion?

It is likely easy to recognize the type of workplace you want, and you may have an idea of what you are willing to do - and then when the time comes, we become unsure of ourselves and perhaps do not take the opportunity. Remember your silence is contributing to a conflict and bully culture.

So if you want something different, you need to be prepared to part of the solution. Even in a workplace where the leadership team seems to be disinterested in resolving issues, you can be a culture champion of your own workspace.

Perhaps you recognize you need to build your confidence, skill set, and knowledge around conflict. Great! That is how you move from bystander to culture champion. Start with finding a coach, a course, or a mentor.


Today, let me add to your skill set with a script you can use in these situations so you don't have to sit there feeling uncomfortable or unsure of what you can do to help facilitate a healthier conversation.

Add this to your toolbox of scripts:

I am concerned about ___(negative outcome), is there a way ___ (insert desired outcome)

Here is an example for the above situation

I am concerned about the way this conversation is going. Is there a way the two of you can have a private conversation that reflects your concerns while maintaining professionalism?

Watch how I use it in the video below to hear how it sounds.

Whether you agree or disagree with the current debate between peers, you have an important role in creating a healthy workplace culture for everyone as the bystander.

Why does this script work?

1. It communicates that you are a bystander and that this disagreement is impacting you. It communicates the ripple effect of their communication with each other.

2. It shares an impact and a desired behavior without having to refer to the workplace policies or job descriptions.

3. It is clear and does not speak to personal characteristics, but to the behavior you are observing.

Let's end incivility and bullying in nursing together.


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