Today a terrible argument occurred in the hallway outside my office. It began when one of my coworkers became irate at my boss for not notifying him promptly that a morning meeting had been canceled. It was a very painful thing to have overheard. He was yelling and swearing, and not even pausing to listen as she tried to explain her side of the story. It made me angry that he ambushed her in such a vicious way on something so seemingly trivial, and also angry that I had to listen to the whole thing. My boss’s secretary also got involved, telling this guy how rude and condescending he was, and that he owed her an apology. I sat at my desk for a while afterwards, contemplating the whole thing—the anger, the defensiveness, the unwillingness to listen, and how much pain the guy was causing my boss, everyone within earshot, and, in reality, himself as well.
I eventually decided that I wanted to go down the hall and talk to this guy about his outburst. It didn’t seem right to just let it pass without letting him know that what he did wasn’t okay. What I wanted to say was basically, “You should really go to an anger management class, and learn to behave yourself in a professional manner”, but I decided that would just probably just provoke an argument between him and me, and not do anything to prevent further incidents. I tried to consider his perspective. I have been angry many times and I know what that feels like. I would also guess that because he’s not the kind of person whose inclined to give other people the benefit of a doubt when things go wrong, he probably has a lot of insecurities.
Anyway, I did manage to speak with him about the matter, even though it made me nervous to do it. I tried to explain to him that there are ways for him to express his feelings that will create the opportunity for others to respond in a sympathetic and caring way. However, he had been expressing his feelings in a way that incited defensiveness and conflict, and I said I didn’t think that was getting him the kind of response he really wanted. I told him he needed to learn to handle his anger in a better way, so that he could bring a greater atmosphere of compassion and understanding into his relationships with others.He seemed to regard me somewhat suspiciously. He calmly told me a bit more of his back story, that is, the problems he had incurred as a result of not knowing about the meeting cancellation. I told him that because he was now expressing his complaint in a calm and rational manner, I could sympathize with his difficulties, and I thought my boss would have been sympathetic and apologetic too, if only he had related his story in that way, rather than by losing his temper. He clearly wanted and tried to divert the conversation into getting me to agree that he was in the right, and to concur that my boss should have handled the issue better. I said that I was not saying his complaint was not legitimate, but my point was just that he had the choice between expressing his feelings in a way that would probably get a compassionate response, or in a way that would probably result in defensiveness and conflict, and that choice was his to make. Then he thanked me and I left.
Have you ever intervened in someone else's conflict? Was your approach successful?