How to Answer Interview Questions About Conflict

Three Parts:Choosing ExamplesOutlining the ResolutionDiscussing Conflict Generally

Interview questions about conflict are designed to determine an applicant's ability to get along with others. Conflicts in the workplace may involve personality clashes, disagreements with management about policies, miscommunication between coworkers, or a number of other issues that may disrupt the harmony of a workplace environment. Skillfulness in addressing and resolving conflict is a highly desired quality in an employee.

Part 1
Choosing Examples

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    List examples where you've dealt with conflict. For the most part, when interviewers ask about conflict they're looking for an example. An interviewer might ask a broad question like, "Can you tell me about a time you've dealt with conflict at the office?" As you're preparing for your job hunt, keep a running list of conflicts you've dealt with professionally over the years.
    • Workplace conflicts can range from small misunderstandings to large blowouts. You should pick something that is fairly easy to explain in a few sentences and stick to examples that highlight professional conflicts. Talking about how you and a co-worker had creative differences while working on a presentation is a better example than two employees dating and then breaking up.[1]
    • Pick only conflicts that were fixed. Interviewers respond best to narrative examples, with a clear beginning, middle, and end. You don't want to choose a conflict that was left unresolved as an open-ended closing is unsatisfactory to a potential employer.[2]
    • Your examples should highlight your own actions. Select a conflict that you took action to resolve rather than choosing a disagreement that was fixed by an outside party. Also, select a conflict that was somewhat substantial. While the conflict does not need to be cataclysmic, it should be an issue that lasted more than a day or two.[3]
    • One example of a good workplace conflict would be something like, "I was working on a brochure for an upcoming charity auction our company was hosting. I was working with Ramona, a designer for the company, and she missed a few important deadlines. As a result, I was concerned we would not finish the brochure in time to do adequate advertising for the auction." This is a conflict where there is something at stake, a brochure, and the resolution is not necessarily black and white.[4]
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    Think about the approach you took dealing with these conflicts. Your interviewer will want to know how you dealt with this conflict. Consider this carefully. It can be helpful to jot down a few short paragraphs explaining how you dealt with a handful of work conflicts.
    • Focus on how you resolved the disagreement in a way that was both professional and productive. Emphasize overcoming any feelings of frustration to work on a solution that was beneficial to your workplace.[5]
    • Do not just talk about your actions. Also, talk about your mentality while coping with the conflict. What were you thinking, and why?[6]
    • Take the above example. A good follow up might be, "When I tried to discuss my worries with Ramona, she blew up at me and I was taken aback. I tried to remain calm and consider her feelings. She explained she had a very specific plan for the brochure and did not feel the company gave her enough time to complete to project. I asked if there was any way I could help, and she told me if I would allow her to train me to do a few simple design tasks it would take a lot off her plate. I agreed and we managed to work together and complete the brochure in time." This shows that you took action in the face of conflict and highlights your capacity to empathize with a co-worker's situation.
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    Find a way to articulate this succinctly. You should make sure you can explain the situation briefly. A potential employer will be conducting many interviews throughout the course of the day and might not remember details if you include too much.
    • Try to write down the basics of the situation in bullet points and then practice telling the story a few times before your interview.[7]

Part 2
Outlining the Resolution

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    Consider how these conflicts were resolved long term. A good narrative needs a satisfying ending. In addition to how you handled the situation, place focus on the long term. How did your actions affect future interactions with your co-workers? What did you learn from the situation?
    • Focus on the positive outcomes. First, talk about the outcomes specific to the situation. In our example, you could try saying something like, "The brochure was received well by the community and the auction ended up having a very high turnout.":[8]
    • Say a few words about what you learned. Interviewers want to make sure you are proactive about trying situations and take them as an opportunity for growth. In regards to our example, you could say something like, "My experience taught me differences can be resolved through patience and understanding and it's very important to see situations through another person's eyes."[9]
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    Communicate what employers want to hear. You need to understand the intention of conflict questions to best answer them. Interviewers are using these questions go gauge your competence as a potential employee.
    • You should convey that you're aware of other people's sensitivities. Empathy and understanding are important to any work place, so always highlight what you imagined the other party was feeling in any conflict questions.[10]
    • Your interviewer also wants to make sure you follow rules set out by a company. Make sure you emphasis that you acted appropriately within the context of your company and followed procedure properly.[11]
    • Your interviewer wants to know how you avoided escalation. No potential employer wants to hire someone who's going to cause drama at work. Focus on situations where you remained calm and tackled a problem head-on in a way that addressed the needs of all parties involved.[12]
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    Practice telling your conflict/resolution story. Before you go into an interview, you should practice telling your conflict story. Make sure you remember all the important details and can tell the story in a quick, concise fashion.
    • You should write your story down in bullet points and practice telling it a few times, talking out loud. You could even have a friend or family member listen to you tell the story and give you pointers. Ask them to be honest about whether or not they understood the details of your story.[13]
    • Conflicts can sometimes be sensitive subjects, even when resolved. It may be somewhat uncomfortable to talk about a workplace conflict, which is why practice is so important to get the story across in a way that's fair.[14]

Part 3
Discussing Conflict Generally

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    Be specific. An interviewer might not always ask for a specific example. He might say something like, "Tell me about how you handle conflict in the workplace?" Do not take this as an invitation to be inexact. Always use specifics when discussing conflict.
    • Talk about what strategies you use and why they work. You should use concrete examples, even if you don't launch into an entire narrative. Try something like, "I try to see things from other people's perspective. For example, if I'm working with someone from a more creative background I try to make sure they have the time and resources they need to complete a project."[15]
    • Talk about what tactics you use in communication to resolve conflict. Do you listen actively? Do you express yourself in a transparent way? If so, how? Go into further detail. Your interviewer is going to be seeing a lot of candidates and you want to make sure you stay memorable.[16]
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    Avoid using negative language when speaking about a company or co-worker. Even if you were frustrated by a situation, it's considered bad form to speak negatively of a co-worker or employer. Always try to present the conflict in a fair manner, even if you still think you were right, and do not use disparaging language. Employers value loyalty and if an interviewer sees you're quick to bad talk your former place of business he will not want to hire you.[17]
    • Let's go back to our example. You may be tempted to say something like, "Ramona made it difficult because she was lazy about deadlines." Try to phrase that in a more positive light. For example, "Ramona's creativity was her priority, which was helpful for our design department but as a result she occasionally forgot deadlines."
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    Have several examples ready. An employer may ask a variety of questions about conflict, so you should not just have one example of resolving a conflict on hand. Before you go into an interview, think of a variety of times you handled conflict at work. As always, stick to win-win situations where the conflict was resolved and you learned something in the process.[18]

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Categories: Interview Skills