Ask HR Series – Working with Argumentative Coworkers

Ask HR Series – Working with Argumentative Coworkers

Xenium’s Senior HR Business Partners know a lot about human resources, and we want to share their knowledge and insight with you! Each week, we publish a question from you, our readers, and our experienced HR leaders provide thoughtful, helpful advice addressing your HR dilemmas. Submit questions by emailing them to julie.matthiessen@xeniumhr.com or by clicking on the chat icon at the bottom of this page. We are excited to partner with you…one HR question at a time!


This week’s featured HR expert is Lacey Partipilo.


I have a new coworker who seemed great at first, but she has recently become combative and argumentative toward me. I’ve tried to talk to her and work things out between us, but this has not helped. When is it time to get someone else involved? What steps can I take to remedy this situation?

This is tough! First, it’s helpful to take a look back at the conversations and interactions you’ve had with her. Whenever you’ve had a conversation with someone who is defensive or argumentative, I believe there is an opportunity to look at how the conversation was framed. You can’t always control how people react, but you can help guide a conversation toward positivity.

My guess is that this employee generally reacts this way when she’s receiving feedback. So it’s important to set up a conversation that tells her your intentions: for example, you want to have a positive working relationship with her, and it seems like that hasn’t gone well so far. Also, reflecting upon your own behaviors and taking accountability for how you’ve possibly contributed to the situation is important. Owning up to that with her can also help the feedback land well in that conversation.

If you feel like you’ve really done everything you can, and you’ve started your conversations with good intentions, you should utilize your organization’s values and communication expectations to tee up how you would like to be communicated with. It also might be helpful to brainstorm with your manager or roleplay with someone on your HR team.

Having another person sit in on the conversation can help too! It’s best when that person is a neutral third party. Definitely not a peer, but perhaps a member of the leadership team that you work with, or even your direct supervisor. Sometimes having HR sit in as that neutral third party, to help mediate the conversation and help both parties see where the other person is coming from, can help.

In terms of timing, it’s important to deal with these things right away. So if you’ve had those direct conversations and they’re not working, if you’re waiting to see if things get better and they’re not—generally, once the situation gets to this level, it doesn’t resolve itself—it’s time to do something different. The sooner you can get a hold on this, the better, as the longer these things fester, the more uncomfortable you’ll both be. And eventually work quality and productivity suffers. So it’s important to deal with a situation like this right away.

Julie Matthiessen

As Sales & Marketing Coordinator, Julie supports and collaborates with the Marketing Director and VP of Sales & Marketing to develop content and execute marketing strategies, as well as provide customer service and support to potential clients. She also contributes internally at Xenium as a member of the innovative culture development group XCITE.