How to Effectively Answer Job Interview Questions About Conflict

Updated on August 8, 2017
davidlivermore profile image

David has over 10 years supervisory experience and has extensive knowledge in how to handle personnel issues across many areas.

Conflict in the workplace is like a tug-of-war between two people.
Conflict in the workplace is like a tug-of-war between two people. | Source

Conflict in the Workplace

No matter what kind of job you work in, whether it be a fast food job, government work, or in a corporation, there is always conflict in the workplace. On most interviews you will be asked how you have resolved a situation where there has been conflict between you and another person. This question demonstrates a lot, as it will indicate how you reason, how you handle tense situations, and so on.

There are multiple types of conflict that can be used to answer this question, which depends on how the question is asked. This article will cover the multiple ways you can be asked this question and how you should answer.

Author's Experience

I have conducted many job interviews where I have asked questions about conflict in the workplace.

Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.

— Ronald Reagan

Types of Conflict

There are multiple types of conflict you can use to respond to this question. You can have conflict with:

  • Co-workers.
  • Supervisors.
  • Subordinates.
  • Customers.

What is the worst type of conflict you have experienced in the workplace?

See results

Experience in Conflict

There are multiple ways to effectively answer job interview questions about conflict you have experienced. Before getting to that, I will offer one piece of advice:

Do not say you have never experienced conflict.

So many times have I seen people answer this question saying, "I've never experienced any conflict in the workplace". That isn't true. No matter your profession, you would have experienced some sort of conflict in the workplace. Either with your co-workers, supervisors, subordinates, or customers. No one is that perfect in a job. This is a question that you must prepare for during an interview. If you answer it stating you have never experienced any conflict, it will seem like you are avoiding the question, and that will definitely stick out in the interviewer's mind.

You will have conflicts with your co-workers.  So don't say you haven't during a job interview.
You will have conflicts with your co-workers. So don't say you haven't during a job interview. | Source

Conflict with Your Co-Workers

Conflict with your co-workers will be the most common question asked during the interview process. You are with your co-workers more than your boss or any subordinates, so this should be the easiest question you could answer. The below tips should be used when answering this question:

  • Don't blame the co-worker you are speaking about. It doesn't matter if you are right or wrong, don't place the blame on your co-worker when explaining about the situation. Instead, explain how it was resolved to the satisfaction of all parties involved.
  • Don't leave out any information. If you are in the middle of explaining your story and it turns out that it made you look bad, finish telling the story. At the end you can explain what you learned when dealing with this situation with your co-worker. Showing that you learned something from a difficult situation can make you look good.
  • State your relationship with your co-worker after the conflict. If the conflict was resolved amicably, then state that you interacted with this co-worker positively after the situation was resolved. This will demonstrate that you don't hold grudges.
  • Include that you went to a supervisor to resolve the situation. This will demonstrate that you know when you need to go to your supervisor to resolve a dispute. Be very careful though. If it's a conflict that your interviewers think you should have handled yourself, then they may think you can't resolve minor problems on your own.

A Good Response to a Question About Conflict

Even if you know you had a bad supervisor, don't state that during an interview question about conflict.
Even if you know you had a bad supervisor, don't state that during an interview question about conflict. | Source

Conflict with Your Supervisors

Conflict with your supervisor will demonstrate how you handle tense situations with those above you and if you can follow orders when necessary. Stories like this can be few, but can give your interviewers key insight on how you work with supervisors. Answer this question with the following tips in mind:

  • Don't make any negative remarks about your supervisor. Even if you were the correct person in the conflict, don't state that you knew your supervisor was wrong. Instead, explain the situation and how it was resolved to the satisfaction of all of those involved.
  • Explain why you felt your supervisor was wrong in the conflict. This isn't the same as making negative remarks. Just don't simply state your supervisor wasn't following policy. Explain what you felt the ramifications were and why you felt the need to bring it up.
  • If your supervisor ordered you to do something, even if it was incorrect, explain the situation fully. This will demonstrate you will follow orders even if you knew your supervisor was incorrect. If you went to someone above your supervisor, explain that as well to show you took the necessary steps to ensure the task was done correctly.

A Bad Response to a Question About Conflict

Explain conflicts with subordinates so you don't make your former employee sound bad, as that is a reflection on you.
Explain conflicts with subordinates so you don't make your former employee sound bad, as that is a reflection on you. | Source

Conflict with Your Subordinates

As a supervisor you will always find yourself in conflict with your employees, it's a natural reaction. How you handle the situation will tell a lot about your supervisory skills to those who are interviewing you. Use the following tips when answering questions about conflicts with your subordinates:

  • If you over-ruled your employee, explain why. Don't just say you did it because you are the boss or because you didn't like the employee. State why you felt your decision was necessary, how you explained it to your staff member, if the employee accepted the response, etc.
  • Talk about the employee briefly. If this was a stellar employee bringing up a good point, state that. If this was one of your problem employees, state that as well. This will give the interviewer insight on how you deal with conflict based on the type of employee.
  • If your employee was right during the conflict, explain what happened as a result of that. For example, an employee approaches you to advise a policy is incorrect and needs to be fixed. You dismiss the employee and assure it is correct, but the employee insists it's wrong. You check and find that the policy is wrong. Reveal this information as it shows you are humble in admitting you are wrong when faced with conflict with a subordinate.

A Horrible Response to a Question About Conflict

Helpful tips on how to answer job interview questions about conflict.
Helpful tips on how to answer job interview questions about conflict. | Source

Other Tips

Here are some more things to consider when you are asked about conflict while being interviewed:

  • Always provide a real story. Never claim how you think you would handle conflict if it were to come up. Provide a real world story.
  • Watch your expressions. Don't sneer, gloat, or be sarcastic. Just stick to the facts and don't sink in too many emotions in your response.
  • Prepare for surprise questions. You may be asked about how you handle conflict with your family, friends, or the public. So have stories in mind for those situations as well.
  • Always make it sound like a learning experience. You interviewers will want to hear that you learned something from the conflict you experienced.
  • Offer multiple stories. Before you start in on the stories, preface by stating you have multiple situations to talk about. Don't do more than two or three though.
  • End your explanation with a positive note. The last thing you shouldn't say at the end of your story is something like, "And I received a write-up for how I handled the conflict." Instead, you should say, "I received a write-up for how I handled the conflicted, and learned how I should handle such situations in the future."

If you have any tips on how to answer this difficult interview question, please provide them in the comments below.

How do you Deal with Conflict?

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 David Livermore

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • profile image

        nelle 

        2 years ago

        Hmmm... 61 years old, and I've never experienced conflict at work. I've had someone in a different department (marketing) challenge an underwriting decision, but that was not conflict in the personality sense.

        The correct response is to be truthful, not embellish stories because someone out here cannot wrap their minds around people actually getting along at work.

      • Shivali Sharma profile image

        the vibe 

        4 years ago from Delhi, India

        One of the nicest titles. This is something that people aren't able to handle. Thanks for detailing this subject, it will surely help.

      • schur profile image

        Sarah 

        4 years ago

        "So many times have I seen people answer this question saying, 'I've never experienced any conflict in the workplace'."

        I've heard this during the interview process as well. Big no no! I'm glad this was your first point of advice. Another question that seems to get people is the dreaded weakness question. "My biggest weakness is that I too often take my work home with me" or "I don't really have a weakness in the workplace" is expected from the same candidate that told me that they've never experienced conflict in the workplace.

        I so appreciate an informative and helpful article such as this one and do hope that job-seekers stumble across it and pause for the read.

      • RicheLifeMedia profile image

        Riche 

        4 years ago

        I've certainly learned from this post. Thank you.

      • nurseleah profile image

        Leah Wells-Marshburn 

        5 years ago from West Virginia

        This is a very relevant hub. I have been asked about a conflict situation in nearly every job interview I've ever had. The first time I was asked the question, I really didn't understand what the interviewer was looking for (I was young and silly :) Now that I have been the interviewer multiple times, I have gained so much insight into what are bad answers. You are right--saying you've never experienced conflict in the workplace only works if you've never had a job before. Even in that scenario, a candidate could explain conflict with a teacher or a classmate and how that was handled. The candidate should always consider what does the interviewer want to know about me by asking this or any other question. What are they looking for? Putting a positive spin on a bad situation is a good way to handle most questions of this sort. If the scenario described comes out with a negative outcome or even a negative vibe, it leaves (obviously) a negative impression.

        I'm so glad you posted this. I think it has the potential to help many people with the interview process, which is terribly daunting in our current economy.

      • jimmyglaughlin profile image

        Jim Laughlin 

        5 years ago from Connecticut

        Great hub with good advice. We can all use it now and again.

      • davidlivermore profile imageAUTHOR

        David Livermore 

        5 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

        Hope it helps you in the future. Thanks for the comment!

      • iamvijay profile image

        vijaya kumar 

        5 years ago from Chennai, India

        I was totally driven towards your hub awesome article.Now i learnt some information regarding the Job Interview Questions About Conflict.

        Thank you,

        Have a great day a head.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, toughnickel.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://toughnickel.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)