Few weeks ago several team members were "friendly" discussing a problem at work. They have been under lot of pressure lately due to a project running past its deadline in addition to pressure from the stakeholders.

What started out as a simple discussion evolved into a quarrel. All parties started taking criticism personally and their voices began to rise through the office.

Our manager was off that day, so I decided to intervene in a friendly manner and propose that they take a break and discuss things later to cool off.

I wasn't really sure what to say or act as I wasn't involved in the discussion nor do I have authority over them. Eventually one of them broke in tears and left the office.

What should I have done to prevent such escalation between team members?

  • Better is that their project manager/Team Leader take some helpful action for them and try to explain them to co-operate with each other in this critical time. As you are not authorized for those things , it might possible they misbehave with you and things could go worse. You can just inform to their manager. Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 5:14
  • @HelpingHands Well I was hoping to stop the matter from escalating at that moment as a team member since the manager was off. It was clear from their conversation that it would end badly and it did.
    – Long
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 6:46
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    Yes I understand that you was trying to settle everything smooth but many time it happens that thing could go worse when they argument like who you are to interfere in between. So I suggested that let their manager to come in between. :) Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 7:03
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    should have stayed out of it and watched the show, I've watched a few office fisticuffs in my time. Things tend to escalate pretty quickly here.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Dec 29, 2015 at 6:48
  • "Eventually one of them broke in tears and left the office" - WTF? why?
    – Kyle
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 19:51

4 Answers 4


Our manager was off that day, so I decided to interfere in a friendly manner and propose that they take a break and discuss things later to cool off.

I don’t think you did the wrong thing, but it’s never clear how to handle something like this since—with the boss away—anything could happen.

In my experience, when stuff like this happens when supervision is happening, some kind of small power-play or “testing” of co-workers happens.

Option 1: Walk away from the fracas and be vocal about you leaving.

I don’t know where you work or what your constraints are, but if I were in the middle of something like this I would basically stand up and say, “I can’t work like this…” and walk out of the office. Not for the rest of the ay or the full day, but just a short break. Like maybe a walk around the block or a bathroom break. Depending on how well you know your co-workers—and the history of this behavior goes—I might even say, “I can’t work like this. I need to grab some coffee (or food). Anyone want to come with me?”

The outcome of this is never clear, but the message needs to be clear: Your behavior is standing in the way of my ability to do work.

Option 2: Make note of the details to share with your boss when they come back to the office.

Also, when your boss comes back it might be worth it to tell them what happened. Again this is all based on internal politics and such, but you generally should not let something this disruptive go unnoticed.

Option 3: Ignore it but still make note of the incident for future conversations with your boss.

That said, at the end of the day you utterly want to put proverbial blinders (and maybe actual headphones) on and ignore it, that is an option to. But I would still make a note of the incident for future reference.

Like if you meet with your boss sometime in the future and they want you to work with one of the folks embroiled in this argument. You can say, “You know, I didn’t want to make a big deal about this when it happened. But the person you want me to work with really caused a scene a while back and I don’t feel comfortable working with them.”

Not Optional: Completely ignoring this ever happened.

At the end of the day, whatever you choose to do remember one thing: Forgetting something like this happened won’t help anyone out there. You ultimately work at a job and need to work in an environment you feel comfortable it. If you cannot work in such an environment, it affects your productivity and the productivity of others. Don’t ignore it.

  • I feel that this might be poor management if everyone on the team feel entitled to make decisions for whatever reason.
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 17:08

I think your responsibilities are: 1. Don't cause trouble. 2. If there's trouble, don't make it worse. Your bosses responsibility would be 2. If there's trouble, fix it.

From that point of view, Jake Gould's reply to say "“I can’t work like this. I need to grab some coffee (or food). Anyone want to come with me?”" is excellent. It keeps you out of trouble, you make nothing worse, you communicate that their loud argument is noticable and not appreciated (which has a very small chance of stopping them), and you give everyone an opportunity to remove themselves from the argument without losing face (which has a good chance of stopping them). And by the time you all return with your coffees, the argument might have dissolved into nothing.


The same as I always do in this kind of thing; walk into the middle and say, now lads, you are getting a bit loud.

They are not acting in their usual civilised way, they need a nudge back into the real world. If you let it escalate, it will only get worse.

I have done this all over the place, even in loud drunken gatherings. It has always worked. Maybe because I am rather small, female, older than they are... (and because I have the assurance only a black belt can give you).

Of course there are limits. I would probably leave warring biker gangs alone ;-) But you don't see many of them round here.


In my opinion, the fact that the boss was away should have no bearing on your response to this situation; managers and supervisors are not (should not need to be) babysitters. But often, they do have more experience with the art and science of conflict resolution, which can help defuse tension.

In similar situations, I've found it helpful to suggest that the discussion is reaching unprofessional territory (when it is) or point out that the discussion is disturbing others and to take the argument elsewhere. I've never seen this happen where a coworker left in tears, but I would at least address it afterwards with the non-crying person to determine what the argument was about, and to ask "was it worth taking to the point where the other person broke down in tears?" Beyond that, I would bring it up with their manager if the argument was handled unprofessionally, but have good notes of what you observed that you're calling unprofessional.

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