How to Handle Employees Who Argue

BY Kathy Crosett
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Being a good manager is a lot like being a super parent. It’s a manager’s job to nurture team members, help them develop their skills and encourage them to succeed in their careers. Good parents also play this role. 

One aspect of parenting doesn’t translate well to management. When siblings argue and fight, parents often let them work out the squabble on their own. In the corporate environment, when team members argue, managers should not ignore the situation indefinitely.

Gather Information About The Dispute

If a team member comes to you with a complaint about a co-​worker, they might ask you to keep the information confidential. You can’t make those kinds of promises, Amanda Novakovic points out in her Insperity column. What if another employee has been making physical threats? You have a responsibility and a duty to notify your HR people in these cases. You may also need to contact law enforcement authorities.

The more typical employee arguments aren’t so dramatic. But they can be emotional. If a team member becomes so emotional that they physically shove or push another employee, allow them to cool off before you address the situation.

As you contemplate how you’ll handle the feuding employees, keep Novakovic’s advice in mind. “There are always three sides to these situations: the employee who complained, the employee who was complained about and the truth.” Then start gathering information.

Meeting Setting Should Match Severity of Situation

You can address the situation by speaking with the involved employees separately. If anyone else has witnessed a confrontation or argument, take their statements. Plan to have a member of the HR department or a neutral third party sit in on these meetings. 

When you speak with the employee who is being accused, select an appropriate meeting place. If the employee has been playing music too loudly in their cubicle, an off-​site meeting at the local coffee shop may be the way to go. Meet with an employee who’s been threatening others in a more formal environment. Book the conference room and draw the blinds to minimize unwanted attention from team members who aren’t involved.

Maintain a Steady Emotional State

After you speak with everyone involved, you may want to call them together for a joint meeting. It can be challenging to stay cool when employees are shouting or crying in front of you. Remember that your role is to help team members come to an agreement or understanding about their workplace behavior. Don’t take sides and don’t raise your voice. Keep the conversation focused on solving the problem instead of letting meeting participants trade insults. Encourage the disputing parties to apologize and commit to appropriate workplace behavior going forward. 

Once you achieve a commitment to harmony, don’t walk away assuming the situation is fixed. Monitor the interaction between these individuals on a regular basis. Your goal is to ensure that employees stay engaged and focused on their own, and the company’s, success.