We have talked about situations at work where a colleague or direct report got emotional. Today I want to talk about diffusing a work argument before things go too far.

You know, there are times when you are in a meeting, you are having a healthy debate, but then suddenly the situation turns and the tone, the words, and the temperature in the room changes. How do you handle that?  What if you are part of the discussion? What if you are simply watching? What if you are the leader in the room? What if you aren’t but your supervisor is there?  How do you handle all of those pieces of a situation?

The overarching point here is that we cannot allow healthy debates to escalate into a disrespectful argument. The workplace is definitely not the place to let that happen as it will damage trust and the ability for individuals to work together in the future if we aren’t careful.

If you are in the room and you are part of the discussion that starts to go sideways, you need to find a way to take back control and stop the argument.  Saying something like, “Hold on, I think we are going down the wrong path.  I want us to take a second to reset this discussion because I think we may be missing each others point and I know we both want the same things for the business.”  Anything to stop the discussion, tell the room why you are stopping it, your desire to hear the other person’s perspective, and that you know the intentions are good.

If you are observing the conversation, then you have two pathways to handle this, and it depends on if you are the supervisor in the room or if you are a peer.

If you are the supervisor and your team is starting to argue, stepping in, thanking the the team for caring so much about the issue at hand, letting them know that a break is needed, that you don’t want anyone to be misunderstood or feel as though someone isn’t respecting their perspective is all key here. Then announce how you will rotate through the room, allowing time for everyone to speak, and then open it up for comments.

If you are not the leader in the room, this is difficult because no doubt you are looking to your leader to step in.  If you wait too long, the opportunity to get things under control is lost and damage is already done.  If you see things escalating, stepping in, telling everyone we are all on the same side, to let’s just take a break for a second so we can all think through how we want to go down this path together, that we all want to support each other and support the right steps.  In other words, step in, talk to them like a peer and describe how you want to be on the same page with them.  Reiterate alignment.  Don’t take control or display authority, simply step in and remind them of the purpose of the discussion and the known intentions of the group.

Today I’m going to challenge you to decide how you will handle yourself when you are either directly involved in a potential argument at work or whether you are an observer.  Deciding this now, before you are in an emotional state or situation, will allow you to recognize the situation faster and do what you have already committed to doing in this moment, without the emotion.

Be Legendary!

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