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One of my colleagues is quite a volatile person. While they never usually mean harm, it can quickly end up in a heated argument with others over something very minor as a result. Typically such instances are rare. However I can usually notice these coming as their key "starting point" is when someone disagrees with him over something, when he believes he is right. It's also worth noting that as a team we argue extremely rarely. We all get along well. Hence I am fond of most of the people I work with.

If an argument with him does occur, it typically becomes very abusive. He often swears excessively, or is overly harsh on the other person. He also appears to exert the aura that he is right, and there is no discussion to be had.

Typically, being the shy person I am, I just try to ignore it and get on with work. However, I am fond of the people I work with, and I don't want anyone to be hurt or offended in the argument. I also do not want either of them to get punished by our superiors for arguing in the workplace.

The workplace environment is such that interaction between colleagues (and myself) are easy and common (and happen many times a day). Due to the nature of the place, if I tried hard enough, I could probably keep my head down and avoid the argument until it has all blown over.

My question is would there be any way to interject an argument about to happen (to prevent it happening or being so heated), without causing offence to either of the people involved, or getting involved in the argument myself?

Please note that while an idea to take the argument outside the workplace would also be possible, I would rather something that would avoid it completely to prevent one of the people involved getting hurt of offended.

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Would there be any way to interject an argument about to happen (to prevent it happening, or preventing it being so heated), without causing offence to either of the people involved, or getting involved in the argument myself?

There's not much you can do to avoid fierce arguments without stepping in yourself. This doesn't mean you have to get involved in the argument itself, but you'll have to step in when it's about to happen. This does mean that as a unwanted consequence, you might remain involved if you're unable to de-escalate the situation.

You could try some de-escalation techniques. Although they often are used after the argument already happened, I noticed they work preventing them with a colleague of mine that can sometimes have serious outbursts.

As a first step, before you try to help, make sure you yourself are calm.1 If you add your own frustration about the situation to an already tense environment, you're not going to be able to help anyone, only make it worse.

Next, try to look as non-threatening as possible.2 Your body language, in this case, will communicate much more than what you say.3 Since you're trying to avoid an argument though, make sure the language you use also can't be seen as offensive. Try to aim for using I-statements instead of You-statements for example.4. Keep your tone quiet, but your voice firm, and listen to your coworker's concerns. 5, 6.

If an argument with him does occur, it typically becomes very abusive, often swearing excessively, or being overly harsh on the other person. He also appears to exert the aura that he is right, and there is no discussion to be had.

This sounds very, very familiar. Sometimes, it might be best to drop the topic in the heat of the moment, and come back to it later. Bring it up on your own terms, instead of when your co-worker is already very angry. If the above failed to de-escalate things before they happened, shift the conversation to the future. Make sure to use words like 'what' and 'we' to help your co-worker feel included in those plans.7

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There's not a good way to resolve this, but there are some good conflict avoidance strategies. The question here is: what is your end goal? Do you merely want to avoid conflict? Do you hope to have these arguments stop happening? Also, when people get overly emotional, offending is hard to avoid.

First of all, when someone gets abusive, the key point is to stay on topic. Abusive people will try to shift discussion from the idea to the person. "You want to install Flummbuster? That's idiotic! Anyone with half a brain knows that Flummbuster isn't right for the task! You just must be in their pocket!" See how that puts you in the position defending how you have half a brain and aren't in their pocket? It doesn't discuss the merits for Flummbuster at all. Stay on topic and don't let the bully derail the discussion into a field of their choice.

There are certain personality types that believe they are always right, no matter what. Challenging them on that core belief can lead to all kinds of unpleasant consequences, and isn't really your job. Again, stay calm and stick to the topic at hand. "Whether you think the idea is idiotic or not, the issue is that it solves this problem. What other option to you have that will do it in a more efficient fashion with less effort on our part? I want to discuss ideas, not people."

In the end, you have a workplace bully on your hands. Bullies thrive on intimidation and getting their way, so it's up to you to not give them the validation that they need. Bullies like confrontation that can resolve in the way that they like, so it's up to you do not escalate the situation into yelling or swearing. I'd suggest engaging with your peers and gaining their agreement. The next time that this person starts yelling, swearing, or otherwise engaging in unacceptable behavior, all of you should maintain a united front.

"I'm sorry, Terry, our team doesn't speak to each other that way. I'd love to discuss this with you when things are calmer." and leave it at that and end the discussion. Then re-convene in half an hour or an hour when tempers are cooler. Stay on topic and don't give ground but set the expectation that you'll keep meeting later on when heads are cooler. Eventually he'll get worn down with the constant re-convening meetings when he's the source of stopping. But you have to come back to it, otherwise he succeeds in shutting down discussion.

I'll include one non-IPS skill as well: talk to your manager. This is a hostile workplace environment. He's getting his way by intimidating others, and that is not acceptable in the US corporate culture.

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My go to technique to calm angry co-workers down whilst in the middle of an argument is to step in and suggest a short (coffee) break.

The idea is to signal that they should calm down and that they are bothering you in your work. If they start turning their anger at you, you can simply walk away saying you will be more productive once they have calmed down.

That also should push them to discuss this more reasonably and without swearing once they took their minds of the matter at hand.

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