In job interviews, candidates are often asked to describe a time they had a conflict in the workplace.
This is a great question to see how you approach challenges at work and how you deal with conflict.
Below, we will answer these 7 most common conflict interview questions with detailed examples:
- How do you handle conflict?
- How have you handled conflict with a coworker?
- Have you ever disagreed with your manager?
- Can you describe a time you faced a conflict on a team?
- How did you resolve a conflict with a customer?
- How have you dealt with conflict with a vendor?
- Have you ever disagreed with a work policy?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed, simply remember the STACK method for answering conflict resolution interview questions:
S – Situation: Briefly describe the situation and context of the conflict.
T – Task: Point out the tasks you identified to solve the conflict.
A – Action: Mention the actions you took to accomplish the tasks.
C – Conclusion: State how the actions resulted in a resolution of the conflict.
K – Keep It Positive: Always use an example with positive outcomes.
Answering in this format will show a high level of maturity, emotional intelligence, and team comradery.
It will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism and ace that interview!
1. How Do You Handle Conflict?
This is among the most common conflict interview questions.
The question is not asking about any specific type of conflict; rather, it’s inquiring about your general conflict management style.
Example for a leadership role
How do you handle conflict?
I see every conflict or crisis as a learning opportunity. A conflict is a problem, and every problem has its inherent solutions. Finding those solutions is a challenge that can result in knowledge, experience, and wisdom.
So, whenever I am faced with a conflict in the workplace, I put on my “challenge-accepted” hat, and start brainstorming for possible solutions.
I deeply analyze the situation, consult with responsible parties if needed, and then start to implement the solutions one by one.
Example for any job
Tell me how you resolve conflict at work.
I’ve learned that disagreements and conflicts are part of work whether I like it or not. I’ve also learned that, without conflict, there’s no progress. So, if a conflict arises, that means there’s room for progress and scope for improvement in that space.
However, the conflict also means that delicate things are at stake, such as human relationships. I realize that I must tread carefully and take it slowly so as not to offend others or complicate circumstances.
If the situation is not an emergency, I take enough time to assess the situation. Once I gain a clear understanding of the situation, the tasks at hand become apparent and then it’s just a matter of taking care of them to resolve the conflict.
Example for a nurse
What do you do if you find yourself in a conflict?
Working in hospitals and directly providing patient care can mean high-intensity, emotion-packed situations on a regular basis. Naturally, conflicts arise in such conditions. I have seen that as long as I remain calm and objective, a resolution to the conflict usually shows up.
As a nurse, I always strive to keep the well-being of the patient at the front and center of every potential conflict. I am extra cautious not to let any biases interfere as I look objectively at the facts in front of me and do whatever needs to be done to resolve the conflict.
Whether or not the interviewer asks about conflict at work specifically, be sure your answer is work-related.
2. How Have You Handled Conflict With a Coworker?
This question attempts to find out how flexible you are in collaboration with your coworkers and how you respond to tense situations involving another colleague.
Here are the sample answers to this interview question based on the STACK formula.
Example for a web designer
Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a coworker and how you resolved it.
At ABC Company, I was assigned a task by a member of the engineering department. He needed help from me and one other member of the marketing team to finish a web page design. Unfortunately, his deadline expectations were unrealistic for us.
So, I asked to get together with him for lunch. I walked him through the steps that we were taking to ensure the project was done accurately.
Once we had the chance to learn about each other’s processes, we had a much better understanding of the timeframes that were realistic. We agreed on a doable timeframe that would help us both meet our goals.
Example for an account manager
How would you handle a conflict with a coworker?
About a year ago, a coworker and I had a disagreement about whom a specific account belonged to.
I requested to meet with my coworker one on one to discuss the situation. First, I asked her to explain to me why she thought the account belonged to her.
After listening and understanding her side, we both agreed that the best way to resolve the issue would be to work the account together. Both of us were happy to work on the account and we actually became close friends as a result of working together.
Example for a nurse
Describe a time you had a conflict with a coworker.
A few months ago I was caring for a patient with acute abdominal pain. She was on pain medication but was requesting more. The doctor refused while I insisted on a higher dosage.
The doctor kept refusing my requests and told me that I was pushing the issue too much. I calmed down and politely requested the doctor to bring a pain management specialist for a fresh opinion.
He agreed and we brought in the specialist, who ultimately decided to increase the dosage for my patient.
One-on-one conflicts with coworkers have a tendency to involve personal aspects, such as details of others and your negative thoughts. Try to avoid details that might be overly personal; instead, showcase objectivity.
3. Have You Ever Disagreed With Your Manager?
Now, this one is among the trickiest conflict resolution interview questions as it deals directly with conflicts with your superiors.
Naturally, you would want to answer it very carefully as the question deals with power dynamics in the workplace.
Here are a few examples that you can use as inspiration.
Example for any job
Have you ever disagreed with your manager and why?
At my last job, a supervisor asked me to do something that contradicts my moral beliefs. I understand that morality is something deeply personal and subjective.
I didn’t want to offend him in any way while dealing with this conflict, and knew I needed to tread carefully. Instead of directly refusing to do the task, I politely explained my feelings and sought a solution that we both agreed with.
As a result, I was able to avoid doing the task without the issue growing into a larger source of repeated conflict.
Example for a software engineer
What would you do if you found yourself in a conflicting situation with your supervisor?
Last year, I faced an issue where I disagreed with the approach my manager took to the quality testing of software we were working on.
He wanted no external QA specialist for the project. But my thought was that having a fresh pair of eyes to look at it would be the best approach.
I politely recommended the alternative way and explained its advantages. I also mentioned the risks at play considering that the software would be used by the top executives.
After he realized that I really did take a closer look, he agreed to onboard an external quality assurance engineer to the team. The engineer actually suggested quite a few improvements to the UX flow.
Example for a finance professional
Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss.
While working on a financial audit for the company last year, my manager pointed out an anomaly in a report on marketing spend.
I was pretty sure that the anomaly couldn’t be there, but I knew that refuting his argument right then would have been rash. So, I asked him to give me some time to run the analytics again.
After I went through the data anew, I found out that there was no anomaly and my manager was probably just double checking my work. He was also impressed with the way I rechecked the report and made sure everything was accurate.
A lot of people have a negative experience with the personality traits of a manager or their management style. It would be best if you avoid personality differences and stick to the facts.
4. Can You Describe a Time You Faced a Conflict on a Team?
Knowing how to manage conflicts well indicates that you are a great team player.
This interview question tries to find out exactly that – how great a team player are you?
Take a look at a few sample answers to this conflict resolution interview question.
Example for a data engineer
Give me an example of a time you faced a conflict while working on a team. How did you handle it?
When I was the lead developer at ABC, a project manager for a client came up with change requests that should have been carried out in the beginning of the production cycle.
I told him that a lot of decisions had been made according to his preferences and direct supervision. But I noticed he was getting a bit anxious. He frankly told me that it was actually the client who requested those changes.
Considering the long-term relationship between our companies, I had a meeting with my team and briefed them about the whole situation and encouraged them to do that extra work for the benefit of everyone involved. As a result, we avoided a major conflict with the external project manager and maintained a positive relationship.
Example for a project manager
Tell me about a time you had to deal with a conflict on your team.
Last year, I was tasked with a new website development project for a product and was handed over to teams of developers and designers.
As the work progressed, I noticed that the speed was not enough to meet the project timeline. I started to discuss the issue with the team leads, but soon found out that each team was blaming the delays on the other.
The situation was getting out of hand, so I took the responsibility of auditing their working processes and tried to determine the bottlenecks. Then, I redesigned the workflow that would result in faster collaboration. As a result, the project was completed in time.
Example for academia
Describe a time you faced a conflict on a team. How did you resolve it?
We were redesigning the syllabus for a course on African-American Literature. The faculty was divided on including a certain text. Seeing the discussion grow heated, I ventured to resolve the conflict.
I proposed that we should do a fresh review of syllabi for other major universities for that particular course and see how others were handling the text.
After the review, we saw the majority of universities didn’t include the text, so we went with the decision of not including it in our syllabus. Although not everyone was happy, they understood and supported the decision.
While answering this question, it’s best to offer examples directly related to the kind of teamwork you will have at the job you are interviewing for.
5. How Did You Resolve a Conflict With a Customer?
To many professionals, “conflict” and “client” seem almost synonymous. If you are among them, you probably don’t have a lack of stories to share.
But not all those conflicts are the kind of thing you want to share in an interview, right?
So, here are a few toned-down examples for you to adapt to your situation!
Example for a sales professional
Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a customer.
During my last job as a Canon sales representative, I would regularly encounter unhappy customers. More often than not, it was a user error, but it was my responsibility to help customers that I had recently sold a printer to.
One day, a very angry customer came in telling me that their printer was not working, and they wanted a refund. I asked the customer to bring their printer inside the store so I could test it.
We quickly discovered that the customer was putting the photo paper in the printer upside down. This was an easy fix but it completely changed the customer’s tone. He left with his printer and I’m happy to say that I even sold him an extra package of ink on his way out.
Example for a writer/editor
Can you tell me how you handle conflicts with clients with an example?
While working at a content marketing agency, we worked with a client whose revision requests were strict and highly subjective. Carrying out his revisions would naturally push the content development cycle roughly a week for every article.
I went straight to the data to find out how much revenue we were getting from the client to determine whether they were really worth the extra time. Turns out they were among the highest-paying clients we had. That means the stakes were high.
I presented the findings to my writers and made them realize the importance of having those articles published. Realizing the service they were doing for the agency in working for this high-level client, they agreed to put in the extra work.
Example from a customer service manager
Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a customer.
As a customer service rep, conflict resolution is a day-to-day task.
Just the other day, I handled a furious customer whose order was getting delayed. It was intended to be a birthday gift for his daughter, which was the next day!
I tried my best to sincerely apologize for the delay. I also told him that I would check with the logistics to see where exactly the product was in the delivery chain.
Seeing my earnestness, the customer finally calmed down. I learned that the product was well in line to get delivered the next morning.
Once I informed the customer about the timeline, he was reassured and happy.
Retelling a story of conflict with a client can be emotional. So, be mindful not to let your emotions get the better of you.
6. How Have You Dealt With a Conflict with a Vendor?
This can be a common conflict resolution interview question for a role related to supply chain management.
As with any other such question regarding conflict at work, sticking to the STACK acronym should suffice.
Here are a few examples of how to answer interview questions about conflict with a vendor.
Example for supply chain roles
Give me an example of a conflict you had with a supplier and how did you resolve it?
Once I got a shipment from a vendor containing some electronics with the wrong specifications.
When I reached out to the vendor, he got a bit angry and told me that the mistake was on our end. I was sure that the order requests were correct, but did not continue the argument. I told him that I would check and report back to him.
The next day, when I showed him the order specifications, which were accurate, he agreed to trace back the issue with their supply chain. When they found out that it was a wrong shipment, they happily agreed to exchange it. They also offered to bear the shipping costs on both sides.
Example for a vendor manager
Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a third-party vendor.
When I was working as a vendor manager for an e-commerce website, they had suppliers from all over the world. Tracking deliveries and facilitating payments was a huge task and sometimes payments got delayed.
Suppliers often complained about the delayed payments to me, so I talked with my supervisors and the account managers responsible for payment processing. We had meetings with all the affected departments, and everyone realized that payments needed to be completed faster to maintain good supplier relations.
Later, because of our initial meeting, a team was formed to audit the payment process and we found ways to make payments faster.
Example for an account manager
Have you ever experienced a conflict with a supplier and how did you resolve it?
A vendor was having some miscalculations on their end. They assumed that we had not been making full payments for their supplies for a couple of months.
The data on our end was showing no lapse and full payments, so I asked the vendor if we could meet to match each other’s data and find any discrepancies.
He agreed. After matching the reports, we found the problem with the missing data inputs on their end. The vendor apologized for the misunderstanding and business went on smoothly again.
While answering interview questions about conflict, remember that it’s not about winning. It’s about you taking the right actions to solve a problem.
7. Have You Ever Disagreed With a Work Policy?
Having conflicts related to work policies are not easy to resolve. Policies usually involve the whole organization, and opposing a conflict can mean getting into conflict with the company itself.
You have to be very careful while answering this question and choose an example that’s not too complicated.
Here are a few sample answers regarding conflict with a work policy.
Example for a manager
What would you do if you did not like a new work policy?
People got really angry when the paid-time-off policy was changed where I used to work. The organization announced that the paid time off would be decreased to only 10 days instead of 15 per year.
Seeing the overall discontentment among the employees, I decided to take the matter up with our CEO. I wanted to show him how demoralizing the situation was for the staff.
I also created a report showing that most of the employees did not even utilize all 15 days of PTO, but it was clear that having those days gave them psychological assurance.
Realizing the importance of the issue, the CEO agreed to keep the policy unchanged for now and the employees were very happy about it.
Example for any leadership role
Have you ever had a conflict regarding a workplace policy?
At my last job, the company wanted to switch back to working in the office even though the work and productivity were increasing while we were working from home.
I consulted with a few colleagues and found out that a majority of them and their team members wanted to continue working from home.
So, I talked to our director and arranged a meeting with the whole team. Seeing our enthusiasm for the matter, he assured us that he would talk to the COO about the issue.
Finally, the COO decided that our team could work from home with occasional in-person office visits as required. The team was satisfied with the decision and productivity continued to increase.
Example for sales professionals
The company you work for has just created a new policy that you disagree with. How would you handle that?
When I was a sales manager at XYZ, the corporate office sent a notice setting a maximum limit on sales commissions. The new limit was too low and it was very demoralizing for the sales team at the office.
So, I got the sales team on board and decided to have a formal meeting with the VP. We explained to him how much we would be losing each month and how it would have a huge impact on morale, turnover, and subsequently, sales.
She told us that she would try to increase the limit to minimize the impact on the sales team.
Because of our meeting, the company decided to increase the commission limit. Even though we had a new cap on our commission, that amount was one that we were satisfied with.
It would be best if you are aware of the work policies of the organization you are interviewing for so that you don’t inadvertently voice your opposition to one of their existing policies.
Facing conflict resolution interview questions in an interview can be tough, especially if you are unprepared.
Here are the main steps to make sure you are well prepared for conflict interview questions when they come.
- Brainstorm and come up with a suitable example of a conflict. Then prepare a narrative based on the STACK framework.
- Practice your story so that you can confidently narrate it during the interview.
- Keep the story strictly related to work; avoid any personal or emotional details.
- Remember that resolving conflicts in the workplace is not about winning; it’s about performing the right actions to solve a problem.
- Try to offer a story or example of a conflict that’s related to the kind of work you will be doing at the job you are interviewing for.
With such a bulletproof strategy and a suitable story at hand, you are well on your way to acing those interview questions about conflict!