How to Effectively Answer Job Interview Questions About Conflict
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.
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:
What is the worst type of conflict you have experienced in the workplace?
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.
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
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
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
Conflict with Customers
You can have a different type of conflict with customers. There are times you were right, but that wasn't good enough for the customer. There could be times you were rude and that caused a conflict as well. Here is how you can handle this situation in an interview:
- Don't point out that the customer was wrong. Even if they were wrong, don't place the blame on the customer. You can state what the situation was, why you couldn't do what the customer wanted, and what you did to rectify the situation.
- If you were rude, own up to it. Come clean and state you were rude, why it happened, and why you won't do it again. What matters is that you own up to it and you tried to make it up to the customer.
- Balance the rules with the customer's needs. Primarily, you need to focus on preventing conflict with a customer while also following the rules set forth by the organization. It's a balancing act, and you need to demonstrate you can balance the needs of the customer with the rules of the organization.
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?
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2012 David Livermore