Resolving Conflicts in a Non-Work Setting

Ning Song

Senior Engineering Manager at Procore



It was late Friday afternoon and my team was celebrating some wins earlier in the week over some beers at happy hour. After most of them headed home, I noticed a couple of folks still lingering. One was a lead for one of my teams, in the middle of a transition to engineering manager, and the other was a junior IC. The conversation seemed fairly benign at first - discussing coding styles and architectures/design patterns, but then it started to devolve into which way and whose opinion was "right". It soon escalated into arguments about code sloppiness, who introduced more bugs, tardiness for stand-ups, lack of ownership and recognition, etc. At a couple of points, I tried to interject, but both were insistent they could resolve their differences on their own.

Actions taken

After my third attempt, it became obvious that resolving their conflict on their own was not going to happen. There were frustrations and concerns that needed to be addressed, but the situation was becoming too emotionally charged and issues were being blown out of proportion. I got in between and pulled the junior IC aside for a conversation. It went along the lines of:

"I hear your concerns, and I think a lot of them are valid. But emotions are running high right now, and that makes it very hard to come up with solutions. Let's all just take some time to cool off over the weekend, then circle back on Monday to come up with some concrete plans to address them."

I called my manager afterwards to explain what transpired and what our next steps were.

The team lead also needed some time to cooI off, so we decided to meet over the weekend to discuss the incident and what had to happen next. Fortunately, he understood what transpired was unprofessional and that as the team lead/manager, it was on him to make things right with the junior IC. We then outlined a plan:

  • He'll sit down with the junior IC and go over each of his concerns.
  • Make sure to create an action plan for each one (or have the action be to come up with the plan)
  • Follow up regularly during 1:1's to make sure progress was being made

Lastly, I called the junior IC over the weekend to make sure he was fine and that we were still planning to discuss all his concerns and do something about them.We were fortunate this incident didn't escalate any further, and HR didn't have to get involved. Both individuals resolved their differences and have built a better working relationship since.

Lessons learned

As managers, we need to be able to talk openly about individual concerns and frustrations during our 1:1's, and address them early so they don't become pent-up and build over time.

Even in social settings outside of normal work hours, we're still responsible for ensuring good relationships within the team and maintaining that healthy work environment. If you sense potential conflict brewing, (strongly) consider stepping in early. While it's tempting to allow individuals to work through problems and issues on their own, you don't want the situation to escalate to the point where relationships become broken beyond repair.

Last, but not least, always celebrate in moderation.

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Ning Song

Senior Engineering Manager at Procore

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