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How to Handle a Bad Co-Worker

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Dealing with arguments with co-workers


Arguments occur at work frequently, usually, it is due to communication problems or personality conflicts, and sometimes there are deeper issues.  Most of the time arguments can be resolved, but if they are occurring frequently they can contribute to an unfavorable work environment.  If you are in such a situation where you feel a pattern is developing with a particular co-worker or other employee, it may be time to assess the situation.  Whether the problem is your co-worker’s personality doesn’t mesh with yours, or that you just can’t seem to communicate on the same wavelength, it is important to address the issue before it does permanent damage.


Below are some tips to help you in learning to deal with argumentative co-workers.  This advice is not meant for dealing with those who are bullies or mentally unstable – if you find yourself in this situation get a decision-maker you trust involved immediately.


  1. Accept responsibility:  Understand that it takes two to tango.  If there is someone you’re having a problem with, first you have to accept you are part of that problem.  Even if you don’t feel you are the one that is triggering the situation, there is something in either you or your response that allows the conflict to continue.  If you accept responsibility for your part, you can take the next step.  This obviously doesn’t apply, if you are in a situation that feels dangerous or where you feel the person may have some mental issues, so again, if that is the case, reach out to HR or a trusted leader to help with the situation.
  2. Assess the situation: When arguments flare, the initial reaction is to fight back with hurtful words.  Calm yourself and take a deep breath.  Be the bigger person who listens to the other person actively and respectfully. Only respond once you have understood that person’s side and keep close control of the tone of voice and words you use.  Remember, both of you are just humans and though there are people who enjoy causing trouble, most people prefer a work environment where people get along. There is nothing wrong with walking away and addressing the issue after you’ve had time to think about what they’ve said.
  3. Take concrete steps: Once you have identified the root cause of the argument, take the time to come up with a plan to resolve the issue.  Do not let the argument escalate and affect your day-to-day tasks.  If you can’t solve the conflict with the person directly, you need a plan of who else should be involved.  Be discreet and don’t try to damage the other person’s career by making a bigger deal of the situation than it has to be.  If someone else needs to get involved, try to be fair and rational and ask them to be discrete.
  4. Know when to walk away: There are arguments that can ensue and logical reasoning seems out of reach.  Remember sometimes it is easiest to agree to disagree.  Try to avoid direct contact as much as possible with the other person.  Figure out how to communicate with them in a different way or through a different medium.  Set your boundaries, and if possible, request that future communication happen in a specific way or through someone that can be a mediator.
  5. Most conflicts work themselves out:  Stay positive and remember that most problems will resolve themselves with time.  Be willing to be flexible and let the other party know that you want to make things better.  Treat them with dignity and hopefully with time, they will come to do the same.  At the same time, stand firm and let them know you won’t tolerate ongoing disrespect. The important thing is to stay respectful and maintain your cool during situations, this will ensure others can defend you as a mature party in the situation if they are asked.

The above ways are just a few recommended steps to better communication with argumentative people, but it is not conclusive.  There are lots of good books that help you examine this issue in more detail.  Taking immediate action when arguments break out is important, otherwise, stress and poor performance can easily creep in.  Get help if you are dealing with a personality that is non-responsive to attempts to better the situation.  Bullies or mentally unstable co-workers will need a much different approach, so be sure to enable help if needed.


What has been your experience with a combative or argumentative co-worker? Have you resolved the situation?