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Here's my situation:

  1. I share an office with colleague A. We both report to the same manager M.
  2. Colleague B comes in our room and starts complaining about other persons (C,D...) in the team and about the general work culture at the office. He insults some of the other colleagues in the team.
  3. We listen to colleague B's tirade, say nothing. B leaves.
  4. Unbeknownst to me, colleague A goes to B's boss (E) and complains about B's behavior.
  5. E goes to B and demands an explanation (I do not know the details). At this point, B faces disciplinary consequences.
  6. B immediately goes to our manager M and tells him we (A and me) reported him unfairly to his boss and our (?) version of the events is wrong.
  7. I am drawn into this affair; M comes to my office and sits down with A and me to figure out what was said. A acknowledges he is the one that complained about B's behavior. Turns out that B has had such outbursts in the past (in the presence of A and of other colleagues).
  8. M says we (me and A) will likely have to sit down with B and his boss and talk things out (most likely a HR rep will be present).

What is the best way for me to deal with the situation?

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What is the best way for me to deal with the situation?

You answer the questions you're asked by HR in a truthful and polite manner. You do not go out of your way to accuse B, but you don't sugar coat his comments either.

You then let HR reach their conclusion and sort the situation out.

No matter the outcome, B will most likely hate you and A for the rest of his career there, and there's nothing you can do about that.

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    And in the future when someone starts complaining like this, stop him and say you are not interested in hearing it. Save yourself from future grief like this. – HLGEM Mar 29 '17 at 19:27
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If it reached M, then M will probably report back to whoever pulled him in (E or HR). That's how it worked when I've seen escalated disputes -- the complaint goes up one side of the manager chain and then comes down the other, and once HR is involved they stay involved. So you need to make sure that HR and the other manager are clear on your role in this -- you're a witness, not the reporter. It sounds like you've already clarified this with M, so you can ask M to make sure he's clarified it with the others involved. That could be a casual "hey M, I've been summoned to this meeting -- they do know that I'm just a witness, right?".

A and B are likely about to have an HR-mediated conversation. You are valuable to the proceedings because you were there (so you know what was said) but you didn't take action. Therefore, go in with the assumption that you're a witness, not either the "accused" or the "accuser", and answer their questions (as this answer says). If anybody says that you reported B, correct that in a non-confrontational tone. (e.g. "I witnessed the incident but I did not report it.")

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