Have you had to deal with a conflict at work?
However, not everyone is so lucky.
Most people who are in the workforce long enough will eventually have to deal with a conflict.
Sometimes conflict arises from the clash of great minds and ideas.
Other times it results from irritation, pressure, and a clash of personalities.
Believe it or not, asking about a conflict in the workplace is a common interview question.
Why do hiring managers and interviewers ask this question?
Just as importantly, how can you give a cool and confident answer without coming off badly?
To put it simply, in order to understand how to respond, you need to understand why you’re being asked this question in the first place.
Understanding the Question
It’s important to understand the question you are being asked.
Remember, the interviewer is not saying, “Tell me about a time you caused conflict at work.”
This isn’t about catching you in a place of wrong or blame in order to find your faults.
It’s about a time you dealt with a challenge at work.
This question doesn’t imply that you were the one to start or instigate the problem, just that you had to deal with it.
Some examples of conflict in the workplace include:
- Maybe you sat quietly at your desk while people bickered around you.
- Maybe you were the mediator that solved the problem and found a fair resolution.
- Or maybe you were the instigator who caused the conflict at work after all.
When someone asks you to describe a time you dealt with a conflict at work, the important part is the conclusion...how you dealt with the conflict.
The employer is trying to get an idea of your conflict resolution skills.
How you solve problems also says quite a bit about how you work with others.
This will tell them a lot about your personality.
- Are you the type of person who just likes to stay out of it?
- Are you the type of person who always has to be right or who always gives in?
- Are you the type of person who likes to involve yourself and try to mediate?
- Or are you the type of person who likes to instigate conflicts and hold a grudge?
If you want to be successful in the interview, you must focus on a conflict with a positive conclusion.
(Related interview question: Describe a Time You Disagreed With a Coworker)
The 40/60 Rule
When you begin to explain the situation, spend only about 40% of your time on the actual problem and events that led up to the problem.
The remaining 60% should focus on the actions that you took to deal with the conflict.
Here is an example answer for dealing with conflict at work:
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. I had never met this individual since our departments were in separate buildings, so I asked to get together with him for lunch.
I kindly asked him to walk me through his expectations for my role in this project. After he laid out his expectations, 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 do-able timeframe that would help us both meet our goals and the conflict was resolved before it could escalate.
The idea of an interview is to leave the interviewer or hiring manager with positive thoughts once you part ways.
Spending too much time on a problem as opposed to the resolution can do just the opposite.
Sometimes it’s easy to give in to whining, ranting, and complaining when remembering a problem at work.
Just another reason it is a good idea to prepare beforehand.
Carefully choose the conflict you relate.
This is your chance to show the employer how you deal with pressure and conflict.
This is an opportunity!
What’s Your Story?
Everybody is going to have a unique story to tell.
The worst thing you could do is not answer the question and say you have never dealt with a conflict.
The employer would have no idea how you are going to react when a sticky situation occurs, or if you can even handle it.
For all they know, you could:
- Make the situation worse when trying to make it better
- Worse yet, not making any attempt to improve the situation at all from a place of apathy
Remember, conflict is inevitable.
The longer you are working, the more conflict you will see.
It’s how you deal with it that will show your true character.
Overall, interviewers want to hear you will handle any conflict in a calm and tactful manner.
This goes for any conflict.
- Maybe an angry or stubborn customer walks in.
- Maybe the conflict with your coworker is social rather than professional.
- Maybe you butt heads with a previous boss.
If you can approach a difficult situation with an open mind and aim to be understanding, then just about any work conflict will be a piece of cake.
If we got angry at every situation or person who caused us a little bit of irritation, nothing would get done.
Hiring managers and interviewers know this.
They want someone who sees a roadblock and finds an effective way around it.
Even if you caused a conflict, realized this, and resolved it, this speaks volumes!
It tells the hiring manager you can recognize your own mistakes and go the extra mile to transform it into something positive.
You can really make this question work for you in an interview, but only if you prepare your answer ahead of time!
Need More Help?
Preparing for an interview can be hard work, nerve-wracking, and tiresome.
Check out more interview questions and answers in our blog.
If you need some one-on-one tips on interviews, check out our interview coaching services.
Our goal is to help you land your dream job with less drama!