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Submitted by Javier on


Hi there,

I know that Mike and Mark did a podcast on how to handle conflict, but if I remember correctly, that podcast dealt with situations where there was tension or animosity and you tried to "sand" those pointy angles. But what if a strong argument, an "on your face" (yelling,etc.) situation erupts in the workplace? No physical contact though.

My question comes from incidents I have witnessed from time to time in my business, which is stock market trading; raw nerves, competition among salespeople, maximum pressure in real-time, etc. The other day a strong argument erupted between two co-workers. The manager came and tried (more or less) to defuse the situation with some funny comments. It worked, somewhat... But I believe he should, after that, talked separately with each person and wag his finger and say "keep your head cool". (He didn't)

What's your take?

Thanks in advance for your input

Kind regards


Davis Staedtler's picture


That was a big miss on the manager's part to not circle-back with the offenders and talk about what is expected out of their behavior in the future. Separate documentation of the incident (not in the presence of the employees) should go hand in hand with that conversation as well.

A good firm, loud, "Stop!" will make your presence known. Then, "Step away from each other!" Take one of the offenders and begin to get information about the situation. Request assistance of another manager or lead to address the emotion of the second offender until you are able to get their side of the story as well. Follow up with conversations, documentation and accountability measures if needed. Communicate up the line what happened.

Threats will not work, nor will getting into a yelling match. Hope that helps :)


jhack's picture

I recommend listening to the podcast again. It did cover this kind of situation.


TheBuzz's picture

Separate documentation of the incident (not in the presence of the employees) should go hand in hand with that conversation as well.

I'd like to echo this comment that the manager absolutely must document this incident.

A few years ago, I had a situation where one of my employees (who I had hired into the company) threatened an employee from another department during a heated argument. In gentle terms, this employee invited the other to take their conflict outside. This happened right in my own office. To make matters worse, I knew that my employee was an amateur boxer so he certainly had the means to make good on the threat.

I stepped in, stopped this discussion, and sent both employees back to their offices to cool off. In a few minutes, I had a firm discussion with my employee and made it very clear that this behavior was unacceptable in the workplace for any reason.

I later fired my employee for poor performance. Documentation of this and other events was a big asset in the dismissal process.

TSchow's picture
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 I have been doing some thinking about this, as I have seen it too.  With my case the person was promoted for his bulling behavior.

Tactically in my opinion, you did the best thing by separating them. It's almost impossible to reason with a person who is raging. Once the group is broken up set up a training plan with the offenders (which is part of your documentation). Part of the training plan should be emotional training for example a Dale Carnegie course. During a discussion if people start to argue, argue a common area with the greater good whatever it is.

Operationally Dale Carnegie has many ideas on relationships the first I would implement is give the offenders a reputation to live up to. Follow up on the emotional intelligence, and see if the people are following the principles.

Strategically at my old place of work management implemented Dale Carnegie training classes, which improved the quality of relationships.

Added 3/23/2012

I found this link is provided below. From someone who offers training courses on the subject.

uninet22's picture

Whether the manager handles the conflict well in the moment or not, either way, make SURE to document the incident(s) in writing.  Have the employees and manager all sign it.  My opinion is that any 2-3 instances of this behavior is grounds for termination, but even if you're organization is a little more lenient, the documentation is key.  In these situations, especially the first one to occur, it's easy to think that the behavior won't last and that documenting it is unimportant compared to how the manager handles it in the moment.  It's only after they exhibit a habit of conflict and confrontation, regardless of the manager's reactions, that we realize how important the documentation is to justify whatever actions we deem necessary.  Without it, you're stuck. 

MillenialManager's picture

I had this exact situation happen last week.  Don't think I handeled it perfectly but thanks to everyone's comments above I will do better next time.

I pulled the two teammates into an conference room and tried to re-establish focus on their goal (delivering a set of engineering drawings).  We established a timeline to finish, and added staff to the project to allieviate their individual task lists.

Unfortunately, the next day (the day of the deadline), person A called in.  The next day this person A was out on a pre-approved vacation.

When Person A comes back, I will have two conversations: one with person A(WOL) to address that behavior, and another with the both of them together for them to set up rules of engagements and agree on the deliverable and role expectations for their next deliverable.  Prior to Person A's return, I will get with Person B to get her in the minset to work together.

Contact sport, indeed!  Thanks all!

Great Manager Institute's picture

Well said!

Even we suggest you follow the medical way - diagnose first and then prescribe. Get to the root of the problem & arrange a meeting where the colleagues can thrash it out amongst themselves face to face.

That's what differentiates bosses from Great People Managers!