How do you answer this interview question: “If a manager asks you to do something that you disagree with, what would you do?”

First of all, have you ever been in an awkward situation where a manager asks you to do something, but you know it’s not right?

Maybe you have, but let’s assume everyone tries to avoid such situations.

Even if this has happened to you, it doesn’t make it the easiest situation to talk about during an interview, right?

And if you have never faced this, it’s not a simple thing to hypothesize about. 

Reasons Behind The Question

First of all, you should understand the reasoning behind this type of question.

Why does the hiring manager want to know how you would respond if a manager asks you to do something that you disagree with?

Here are some things the hiring manager can learn by asking you this question:

  1. Discover how you deal with conflict and disagreements
  2. Learn to what extent you would go to get your point of view across
  3. Find out how much you understand about the fine art of negotiation
  4. See where your standards lie as far as issues of right and wrong

How Not To Answer

Before we discuss some techniques on answering this tricky question, let’s cover directions you don’t want to go. 

Avoid fixed language

A response that signifies a lack of flexibility can come across as unreasonable.

Avoid phrases such as, “I would never …” or “There is no way I would …”

Don’t respond by giving an ultimatum

Negotiation is often a wise direction, even if this is just an interview question.

This is not where you would want to say, “I’d probably quit.”

Don’t feel you have to “end” the story 

This is a hypothetical situation, not a narrative.

The process you go through is more important than the end result

Never add assumptions 

The question is, “If a manager asks you to do something that you disagree with, what would you do?” 

Don’t jump to conclusions by assuming that the manager is wrong.

The interviewer might simply want to discover if you are ready to give the benefit of the doubt. 

Avoid answering as if you have the answer “in the bag”

This interview question isn’t about one-upping your manager or supervisor.

It’s about whether you can wisely work through a disagreement and find a solution that is beneficial to all involved. 

How To Answer

There are certain strategies you can follow as you compose an effective and satisfactory response to this interview question.

Highlight your attempts at resolution

When you outline the steps you would try to take in this situation, demonstrate the ways in which you would try to work through potential misunderstandings.

Show that you have the motivation to troubleshoot conflicts and disputes.

Use impartial language

Again, your focus should be on understanding the request and resolving any disagreement in the matter.

Blame and bias should not enter the equation.

Focus on positive communication

The details of the disagreement are not the most important piece of this puzzle.

Keep your focus on the productive way you would approach the matter.

Show the interviewer that you would attempt to iron out the conflict.

Demonstrate your flexibility 

If you can, indicate your understanding that resolving the situation might take an unexpected direction.

Clarify that you would be open to changing your position if applicable.

Maintain your integrity

With the focus on resolution and flexibility, don’t take this too far.

The hiring manager is not looking for a wishy-washy employee who will go along with every disagreement simply to avoid conflict.

Make sure that you also mention there are boundaries you would not be willing to cross in the realm of ethical operations or project management. 

Sample Answer 

Okay, you might feel overwhelmed about everything you need to keep in mind.

But step back and take a deep breath.

Answering this interview question really shouldn’t be that difficult.

Above all, you want to show the hiring manager that you would approach potential disagreements with wisdom:

  • You believe it is important to trust your manager and listen to what they say.
  • At the same time, this doesn’t mean you will follow them blindly.

When answering this interview question, highlight that you would hope to express your concerns in a non-threatening way while trying to find a solution that would make both parties happy.

Here’s an example of a judicious approach to answering this interview question:

Recruiter: If a manager asks you to do something that you disagree with, what would you do?

Applicant: It would depend entirely on what they were asking me to do. If a supervisor told me to do something that contradicts my moral beliefs, I would try my best to explain my feelings and then find a solution we both agreed with.

If it was an issue where I disagreed with the approach my manager took to doing something, I might politely recommend an alternative way and explain its advantages.

Regardless of the situation, I would take a closer look at what is being asked to ensure that I understand the details of the matter.

If needed, I would speak with my manager to find a solution that would achieve the same results without contradicting any opposing values.

Don’t be afraid of saying that you would speak up.

In fact, a good manager will thrive on the support that the team offers when constructively challenging their decisions.

After all, this interview question is not designed to see whether you would do immoral or illegal activities for your manager.

The hiring manager’s intention is to judge your reactions to a conflicting situation.

Following is another good example of a positive response:

Recruiter: If a manager asks you to do something that you disagree with, what would you do?

Applicant: I would first clarify to ensure I understood what was being asked of me. Then, if I felt that there was a better solution, I would propose that.

If I laid out what I felt was a better solution and my manager still asked me to do things a certain way, I would trust my superior and follow his or her instructions.

However, if I were being asked to do something immoral or illegal, or something I strongly felt would negatively impact others, I would express my concerns. If my manager was not willing to listen,  I would likely take my concerns to a neutral individual to get another opinion.

Closing Thoughts

Notice that, in the above examples, the applicant never responded that they would simply tell their manager, “No way, no how.” 

By taking a similar approach, you will convey that you understand there is a much better way to go about disagreements than by defying your boss.

We understand that interviewing can be the biggest challenge of the hiring process.

There is nothing worse than spending hours to find and apply for jobs online, receive a call for an interview, and then completely tank it.

What a waste of time!

At Find My Profession we offer expert career coaching services to assist you in every stage of the hiring process.

(For everything you could ever need to know about interviewing, check out the 50 Top Job Interview Questions And Answers.)