A job interview is a great opportunity for you and your potential employer to see how well you’d work together.
At some point in the interview process, you may be asked to describe a time you disagreed with a coworker.
Don’t be caught off guard by this interview question!
This is a great question to see how you approach challenges at work and how you deal with conflict.
So be sure you have a great answer ready to go.
Reasons Behind This Interview Question
The interviewer is not looking for an unrealistic answer.
The truth is that pretty much everyone has disagreed with a coworker at one time or another.
Anyone who's been around the block knows that a working relationship will involve conflict at some point.
The reason you might be asked this question is to determine whether you are a team player, flexible, and influential.
Most importantly, it helps the interviewer to determine how you handle conflict in the workplace.
How Not to Answer This Question
When someone asks you about a conflict you’ve faced at work, it isn’t a trick question.
As stated above, there is a strategic reason behind the question.
When crafting your response, you want to avoid the two extremes - avoiding conflict and loving it!
Extreme #1: You avoid conflict at all costs
Here are a few ways you do not want to respond:
I get along with everybody and have never disagreed with a coworker.
Conflict gives me anxiety, so I just avoid confrontation.
If something comes up that I can't get around, I'll take the matter to the manager so I don't have to get involved.
As mentioned earlier, conflicts will arise in working relationships. This is inevitable.
We can't avoid conflicts; therefore, it helps to take a proactive approach rather than try to escape out the back door.
Extreme #2: You take an overly aggressive stance
You also want to avoid these types of responses:
Nobody disagrees with me because I am always right!
The last time I had a conflict, I told my coworker we could take it outside and settle things. The issue didn't come up again.
I’m known as the conflict king/queen at work. It’s just my style.
Few things will look worse than coming across as though you intimidate others into agreeing with you at work.
How to Answer Conflict Interview Questions
There are a few traits you’ll want to demonstrate as you answer interview questions about dealing with conflict.
1. Demonstrate your leadership skills
A good leader is not someone who uses force to get what they want.
A good leader can influence others around them by being a team player, flexible, and influential.
Try to show specific ways you have demonstrated leadership abilities in the face of conflict.
By indicating that you take responsibility for the disagreement and take the first step to rectify the situation, you can convey that you have good leadership qualities.
2. Show yourself as a listener
To demonstrate your leadership qualities, it’s important to also show that you are a good listener.
One of the most basic, yet effective, conflict resolution techniques is to sit two people down and simply take turns sharing why they feel the way they do.
We are not saying that you and your coworker should see a therapist due to a conflict.
But when you are answering this question about conflict in an interview, it is important to show off your leadership and problem-solving skills.
Show that you took the initiative to talk with your coworker about the disagreement and that you listened to their response.
Demonstrate your awareness of the fact that once you understand what a coworker disagreed with you about, you worked to find a solution.
A Few More Tips to Answer This Question
Also, remember these important elements in conflict resolution.
Try to work them into your response, if applicable.
1. Show that you did not gossip
There are few things less professional than gossiping about a work disagreement.
You don't want to mention that the conflict became fodder for water-cooler conversations for the next week or so.
2. Show that you took initiative
It often takes time for a full-blown disagreement to arise.
If this was the case for you, mention that you took the initiative to resolve the conflict before it grew worse.
3. Show that you communicated directly
There are some conflict situations for which shooting off an email or texting back and forth just won't suffice.
State how you met with your coworker face to face to work out the disagreement.
4. Show that you sought a mutual understanding
This goes hand in hand with the vital element of listening.
Demonstrate how you found common ground with your coworker to reach a positive outcome together.
5. Show that you remained calm and collected
Conflict isn’t easy, and it is especially difficult to keep a lid on emotions such as anger or frustration.
But in working relationships, we must maintain professionalism and respect.
Hopefully, you never let your temper get the better of you and ended up having a full-on shouting argument.
Focus on the ways in which you sought and found a resolution together.
6. Show that you learned from the disagreement
In an interview, try to convey that you consider every situation you face to be a learning experience.
When talking about your disagreement during the interview, demonstrate how you turned it into a positive circumstance from which you learned something.
(Related interview question: Describe a Time You Dealt With a Conflict At Work)
Here's an example of how to answer this interview question about work conflict:
Hiring manager: Tell me about a time you disagreed with a coworker.
Applicant: 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 very close friends after working together so closely.
Here's the bottom line:
It's okay to disagree with a coworker. How you handled the disagreement is what matters.
The interviewer will be very impressed if you are able to show your interviewer that you:
- Communicate with respect
- Solve problems on your own
When an interviewer asks you about a time you disagreed with a coworker, they are trying to determine how you handle conflict at work.
Explain how you successfully resolved the situation using leadership and listening skills.
If you need more help with interview prep, we have you covered:
- Check out 50 Top Job Interview Questions and Answers for more interview questions to study.
- If you'd like to work with a career coach to fully prepare for your interview, we offer Interview Coaching services.
- Our Reverse Recruiters can also manage your job search for you with Career Finder. They'll find the interviews for you, and then get you ready for them as well.