In a professional workplace, it would be ideal if everyone got along all day, every day. Unfortunately, as pressure heats up, tempers can heat up as well, especially if people are passionate about their work. But being involved in an office altercation can be devastating to your career, no matter how many years you've toiled away in order to get where you are.
When tensions mount, there are a few things you can do to defuse the situation. Here are four tips that will help you expertly navigate an instance where a co-worker is hostile.
Take Deep Breaths
The first thing to remember when you find yourself in this situation is that if you make a scene, those around you won't see it as you dealing with a problem co-worker. They'll see it as two people having an altercation. When the other person's voice begins to escalate, instead of escalating yours, remain silent for a period of time. Take slow, deep breaths to slow your own heart rate and calm your mind. Then, when you're ready, respond in a calm, even tone.
Occasionally this approach will prompt the other person to lower his voice, as well. While it may not always work, at the very least you'll look to your co-workers as though you're speaking calmly and the other person is being irrational.
Go to a Private Area
Once you see that the situation is beginning to escalate, you should suggest moving to a private area for a meeting. This could be a conference room or an office with a door. In today's offices with their open floor plans, this may not be possible sometimes. Also, keep in mind that just because you have walls and a door, that doesn't mean everyone in the surrounding area won't overhear the altercation.
It might also help in this situation to suggest discussing this in front of a third co-worker or a supervisor. The third party can act as a mediator of sorts, as well as serving as a witness. This will be especially effective if the third party was involved in the project being discussed.
Find a Solution
There's an old saying, “I'd rather be happy than right.” For the sake of professionalism, sometimes it's important to simply listen to what the other person has to say even when this means swallowing your pride. Even if the belligerent employee is 100 percent wrong, there is likely a valid reason for his anger, especially in his own mind. If you can get to the underlying reason, you may be able to calm him down enough to come to a solution.
Once you've allowed the other person to run through the tantrum, let them know you hear their concerns and suggest a solution. Even if the person is wrong, there likely is a solution that can help. Remember, your main role at work is to do the best job you can and remain employed. As good as it might feel to tell the other person they are being a complete jerk, it will likely leave you feeling far worse after the fact.
Speak to a Supervisor
In some instances, speaking to a supervisor may be the only course of action. This is especially true if you feel bullied or the conversation was overheard by a large number of people. You could be blamed for the altercation even if you maintained your professionalism throughout the entire thing. If the employee has a pattern of this behavior, it needs to be addressed by management before it impacts office morale or happens in front of a client.
If you hope to become a manager someday, or sometimes supervise some of the other employees, you're in an even more sensitive situation. It's important to listen to what coworkers have to say and address their concerns. But it's also important to make it clear that these tantrums will not be tolerated. Let coworkers know that you are more than happy to hear any concerns but they must be communicated in a respectful, professional tone.