#215: So You Want to Fight!

Handling Arguments in the Workplace

A four-year old fighting with a sibling over the use of a particular toy is expected. When an argument breaks out in the office over the use of equipment, who gets which sales territories, what business strategies are right, or any of the many other things that occur every day in the workplace the enlightened leader needs to know how to handle conflict.


Sources of Organizational Conflict

When emotions take control over reason hostility increases and hostility is the breeding ground for arguments.

James writes, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that do battle within you? You want something but cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight” (James 4:12).

The word “desires” comes from the root word for hedonism; the idea that pleasure is the chief goal of life. Our natural inner desires are focused mostly on ourselves; my ideas, my feelings, etc. According to James this inward focus on pleasing ourselves is what causes fights and quarrels.

Conflict Resolution

Here are four Biblical principles for dealing with workplace arguments:

  • Diffuse the bomb. Proverbs 29:22 says, “An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.” You cannot begin to resolve an argument until tempers are cooled. To begin with, never tell an angry person not to be angry. Don’t lecture or talk down to the person. Ask questions, and listen. Empathize by repeating what has been said. Emotions run very high and are likely to rise at any point in the resolution process.
  • Get the facts. Don’t ever try to resolve an argument based on hearsay, opinion, or gossip. Deuteronomy reminds us, “One witness is not enough to convict a man accused of any crime or offense he may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses” (Deuteronomy 15:19). Take the time to gather the facts of the situation directly from the individuals involved before making any judgments in the matter.
  • Confront in private. Praise in public, criticize in private. Whenever you are attempting to resolve a conflict the matter should be dealt with in private. Never, ever begin what looks like an “interrogation” on the factory floor in front of other workers. “Discuss the matter with him privately. Don’t tell anyone else, lest he accuse you of slander” (Proverbs 25:9-10). Jesus also offered instruction in this matter, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over” (Matthew 18:15).
  • Negotiate a resolution. There will be times when someone is clearly right and another wrong. But more often there will be shades of gray where there is some “rightness” on both sides. When this is the case, it is important to come to a negotiated resolution. Both sides need to agree on the outcome. In cases where someone has been emotionally hurt there needs to be confession and for­giveness.

When Negotiations Fail

Despite your best efforts, there will be situations and people with whom no settlement agreement can be reached. The Bible gives us clear direction for dealing with these situations:

Jesus said, “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses’” (Matthew 18:­16). The use of neutral outside parties to deal with conflict resolution can be a very important part of your ability to reach resolution.

If the use of neutral parties fails to bring about a resolution to the conflict, then the relationship may need to be broken off. “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matthew 18:17).

In the workplace, this does not necessarily mean firing someone. It may mean that the person is taken off a work team, or receive some other sanction as is appropriate. While this may seem harsh, it can be the best thing for all concerned. If the individual finally recants, there may be an opportunity for true confession and forgiveness. This can lead to full restoration.

One Final thought

James continued his discussion on fights and quarrels saying, “You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive because you ask with the wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures” (James 4:2-3).

Consider James’ admonition the next time you feel your temperature rising. Ask yourself, “Where is my focus right now? Is it on God and what He wants for my life? Or is my focus on me and what I want?” If you don’t have what you want perhaps it is because your focus is not on God.

Conflict in organizations may be inevitable. But decide today that no conflict will begin with you because you pushed God out of your life so you could focus on your selfish desires.

Bonus Whitepaper

This week’s post is excerpted from a 6-page whitepaper entitled, So You Want to Fight–Handling Arguments in the Workplace.”

This whitepaper includes a broader discussion of how to deal with arguments in the workplace plus:

  • 14 common reasons constructive discussions turn into destructive arguments, and
  • An example of conflict resolution from the life of Paul.

You can download the whitepaper here: So You Want to Fight–Handling Arguments in the Workplace.”

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. Have you had to deal with arguments in your workplace? What did you find was the most effective way to deal with them and bring resolution to the situation?

I’d love your help. This blog is read primarily because people like you share it with friends. Would you share it by pressing one of the share buttons below?


Category: Skills | Management of Human Resources


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • John says:

    Excellent advice, Ron. In my career I noticed disputes often arose over someone perceiving something as not being “fair.” My goal was always to listen closely before acting. People feel valued when we listen, even if they’re wrong. Of course, there are some folks out there who seem to never be happy. Always blaming others for their own shortcomings. I tried my best to reach such employees, but some are lost deep in their egos and biases. In those cases I treated them fairly but always got witnesses to refute their skewed versions of events. Ah, management. Have to say, I’m happy to be retired now!

    • Ron says:

      Ahh, egos and biases how much simpler life would be without those two snakes raising their ugly heads! And the issue of “fair” drives me nuts. What is fair to one person is patently unfair to someone else. I found trying to be “fair” was often like walking a tightrope without a net! I can understand why you don’t miss it a bit!

  • Kaki Hall says:

    Conflict is always hard. I appreciated the point on confronting in private. I have experienced drama with my roommates because people will go around the problem telling different people different things and spreading lies. This is when the truth gets stretched and the facts gets rearranged. Proverbs 25: 9-10 sums it up perfectly. God wants us to resolve situations in the most peaceful way possible. My house/roommates need to learn this lesson. Thanks for the post!

    • Ron says:

      Yes, confronting issues in private is important not only to advance understanding but it is a great help to morale. That said, sometimes it is tough to do when emotions run high. The wise leader knows to take a breath and step back until cooler heads prevail.

  • Allison Pepper says:

    Conflict is inevitable and not an easy thing to deal with. I think it is super important to always try and see conflicts from the opposite side of view cause there are truths and wrongs on both sides in almost every argument. I also think it is important to keep disagreements private and not involve people that do not need to be involved. When dealing with disagreements, I try my best to do the above two things. I appreciated the Bible versus included this week that also backed my own views of how to handle an argument.

    • Ron says:

      Yes, it is so important to keep disagreements private and just as important (perhaps even more so) to keep those who don’t need to be involved out of it. I learned that lesson the hard way when I allowed another manager to get into the middle of a dispute he had no business being involved with.

  • Ashley Osborne says:

    This was a good reminder to remember to take a step back from situations that get heated and ask myself if I am acting on my behalf or God’s behalf. When emotions are high it’s easy to act quick upon how you feel, especially if you feel that you are right. I love the 4 principles that outline how we should respond to conflict in order to come to a resolution. I especially liked the “diffuse the bomb” tip. I think that not acting immediately and waiting for yourself to calm down is so important for resolving an issue or argument. I will take these guidelines with me the next time I get into an argument.

    • Ron says:

      It’s always a good question to ask oneself – Am I acting in my will or God’s will? As a leader, learning to diffuse the bomb is a skill that will be helpful throughout your career.

  • Kelsey Hager says:

    One take away that I enjoyed thinking about from this post is that there are two sides to an arguement and that different experiences and opinions can feel very different to different individuals. This makes me think about the importance of putting yourself in others’ shoes while trying to understand their story before passing judgment. I beleive that once you do this you can much more accurately come up with solutions to a problem because not everything is in black or white.

    • Ron says:

      I agree – it is critical that we seek first to understand and then to be understood! A former boss of mine liked to say there are three sides to every story; yours, theirs, and the truth that lies somewhere in-between. More often than not, she was right!

  • Elisa Gomez says:

    I like how honest this post was in recognizing how sometimes people can be so focused on their inner desires and how this inward focus on pleasing ourselves is what causes fights and quarrels. Instead people need to focus their attention on God and what he wants for their lives. I also agree with the different steps people should take in handling difficult situations or disagreements in the workplace which include: Diffusing the bomb, getting the facts, confronting in private and negotiating a resolution. If none of these work than getting a neutral party or breaking off the relationship may be necessary. I have handled certain situations in these manners and they proved effective! I think if everyone focused on what God wanted for the company or the individual, places would be able to work more cohesively!

  • Megan Clements says:

    This topic is an important one to remember. Humans are selfish beings, and now when I think about times that I get angry it is because I did not get something that I wanted. That is being selfish, and I need to start thinking about why I am mad when I get mad and think about where my focus is. It should not be on myself but rather on God.

    • Megan,
      So true, our selfish desires are often the root cause of conflict in our lives. James said it well, “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” (James 4:1).

  • Melissa Buchholz says:

    I enjoyed reading the 4 principle that are outlined in the post and the two sides to an argument that humans experience. When in the midst of a debacle or issue, we often forget to think about the situation the other person is in, before blowing the entire argument out of proportion. I think that it is critical to evaluate this first. When facing conflict We should remember how God wants us to peacefully face those moments of conflict, like Proverbs 25:9-10. Conflict is inevitable and we must face it peacefully and patiently.

  • Tasha DeWitt says:

    This is a great post because it explains how to tackle real-life problems while backing up the solutions with scripture. I love how everyday problems can be solved just by reading the Bible and understanding it! I never would have thought of relating organizational conflict to Deuteronomy and Proverbs but I see now how they can apply. This is great advice for dealing with conflicts in general- getting the facts and confronting in private are very important. Sometimes we just like to assume what the other person’s intentions are and it can lead to bigger issues. We should also care for others’ feelings and not embarrass them in front of everyone concerning conflicts either!