How to have your coworker’s back without getting on your boss’s bad side

How to have your coworker’s back without getting on your boss’s bad side

The big project your department is working on ends in disaster. The boss is out for blood, and your coworker friend is the unfortunate scapegoat. Even if they made a mistake, you still don’t think they deserve the amount of blame the boss is putting on them. You want to defend your coworker, but are afraid it might land you in the doghouse too.

Often times, trying to defend a coworker can only make your own situation worse, but other times, it can showcase your ability to work through issues and solve problems.

If done correctly, defending a coworker can highlight you as the dedicated, team-first leader that your boss needs. But before you run into your boss’s office, make sure you keep these simple, easy-to-remember points in mind.

  1. When defending your coworker be prepared

    This is vital when approaching your boss about anything, so it’s especially important if your boss is angry with a coworker. First and foremost, make sure that there’s ample evidence that supports your coworker. If they truly deserve to be in the cross-hairs, maybe that’s where they should stay. If they don’t, explain to your boss the reasons why.

    Write down step-by-step where the project went wrong, and why your coworker erred. Providing your boss with the full picture of what happened can lead to a better understanding of the issue, and help prevent it from happening again.

  2. Be respectful of your boss and coworker

    Good bosses won’t get angry if you disagree with them, but make sure it’s done in a respectful manner. It’s usually best to speak with your boss in private, so they don’t feel ambushed in front of the whole company. Remember the importance of staying calm. You may be angry with your boss on behalf of your coworker, but don’t let that show. Keep your emotions in check, and attempt to have a reasonable discussion about the issue, your coworker, and why they should be given a second chance.

    It’s also important to keep in mind what your own relationship is with your boss. Do they trust you? Are you comfortable approaching them in a situation like this?

    Also, make sure that your coworker is in the loop with what you’re going to do and say. Respect works both ways, and sometimes a coworker would prefer not to have someone speak on their behalf – even if you have the best intentions.

  3. Understand both your boss’s and coworker’s points of view

    Every story has two sides, and while you may think you know exactly what happened, the full picture never comes into view until after everyone has their say.

    First, get your coworker’s point of view. Let them communicate to you in their own words what went wrong, and why it happened. Ask them what they’re willing to do to atone for the mistake. The better you understand what you coworker is thinking, the better you can articulate that to the boss.

    Next, actively listen to what your boss has to say. There’s a chance that they have a very good reason to be angry. This coworker may have a history of screw-ups that you don’t know about. It’s also possible that your coworker may not be telling you the entire truth about what happened. Keep in mind that while you may be friends, your goal isn’t to absolve them of blame, but to find a solution that works for everyone.

  4. Allow your boss to express their dissatisfaction

    When office issues arise, people often just need an outlet to vent. Stay open-minded enough to be that outlet for your boss. Let them air out their grievances and get whatever is bothering them about your coworker off their chest. Being that outlet for your boss can actually help calm them down, and subside some of their anger. It’s better that they say what they need to say to you, rather than insulting your coworker directly. Sometimes that’s all your boss needs before they’re able to think rationally and move on from the issue.

  5. Have your own back first before defending your coworker

    No matter what, do not dig yourself into a hole. While your intention is to help out your friend and coworker, never incriminate yourself, or put the blame elsewhere. Throwing yourself, or another colleague under the bus is never a good idea, and will only come back to hurt you in the long run.

    It’s important to understand your boss’s temperament, and make sure you don’t cross any lines with them. Usually, having a strong relationship with the boss will go a long way when you advocate on another employee’s behalf, but if there’s any concern that standing up for a coworker could hurt your career – do not do it. Be smart when you choose to defend your coworker, and make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.

Being the person to stand up for your coworker is honorable, and if done right, can score you points with your colleagues and your boss as well. Having a strong working relationship requires effective communication, and usually a lack of communication is what dooms most projects. While you can’t fix your coworker’s errors, you can do your part to keep everyone on the same page.

Great employees can screw up, and great bosses can get angry. This is a fact for any working environment, and the best way to resolve these issues requires a great mediator like yourself. Communicate with your boss and coworkers, be honest, and make sure you have the evidence to back up what you’re going to say.

If your boss is reasonable, they will at the very least seriously consider what you have to say – and with some luck, you can successfully get your coworker back on your boss’s good side.