First of all, you might wonder why they would ask, “Can you tell me about a time you faced a difficult situation with a colleague?” during an interview.
While the wording can vary, the strategy behind the question is the same.
This interview question can be classified as a "behavioral question."
Behavioral questions are asked to see how you would react to certain situations.
Just because the hiring manager is asking a negative question does not mean you can’t give a positive answer!
- You need to express that you can settle conflicts in a professional manner.
- It is unacceptable to handle an altercation in any other way.
- Therefore, it should not be difficult to construct a positive response.
Use the below guidelines to structure your answer.
With enough preparation, you will easily separate yourself from the other candidates.
(For a similar scenario, see our article Have You Ever Had Trouble Working With A Manager?)
You Have a Choice to Make
Let's face it, conflicts can arise quite frequently in any workplace.
However, everyone's personality is different.
Some types of people are less likely to find themselves in difficult situations with a coworker due to their demeanor and reactions.
You'll need to take one of two approaches in answering this interview question.
A) Choosing to focus on positive working relationships
Maybe you have been able to avoid conflicts and have gotten along with all your coworkers.
If so, nice work!
You could then choose to describe some of these scenarios and your answer would be of a positive nature.
The only problem with this kind of answer is that the hiring manager may think you do whatever is necessary to avoid conflict.
(Not a good trait if you work in a competitive industry.)
If this sounds like you, we would advise you to construct your answer by taking these steps:
- Mentally put yourself in a difficult situation.
- This will give you the opportunity to create a conflict-resolution scenario.
- Determine the solution you think is best and provide this in your answer.
B) Choosing to narrate a challenging work relationship
If you are like most of us, you have experienced many conflicts in the workplace.
Just because "conflict" is a negative word, positive resolutions can still often be the result, especially if you actively pursue this!
After all, when ideas are challenged by someone, it is usually for the better.
If you can use this mindset to answer your question, you should be able to spin this question in a positive light.
Answers to Avoid
1. Don't share extreme situations
Now there are some situations you want to avoid describing!
We all know there are people in the world who handle conflict very negatively.
(Hopefully, you're not one of those people.)
If it's a situation that involved a colleague throwing a fit or yelling obscenities, find another example to share.
2. Don't relate a story that ended poorly
Similarly, you don't want to talk about a difficult situation you face with a colleague that did not turn out well.
Don't use the example if someone ...
- Got fired due to the conflict
- Moved to another division
- Had to take time off work to cool down
How to Answer
1. Showcase relevant skills
Use every interview question, even the seemingly negative ones, to demonstrate relevant skills.
See this question as an opportunity to relate your strengths.
- You want to express your professionalism even in difficult situations.
- You also want to show that you do not fear common workplace conflicts.
At the same time, it isn't a brag fest, so don't go overboard on this one.
2. Provide a happy ending
Ideally, you have a story about yourself and a coworker disagreeing and then working together to find a solution.
As mentioned above, you should never share a situation that ended badly.
Your answer should usually be organized in this way:
- Outline the problem.
- Describe your response.
- Provide a positive outcome.
If you can do this while adding relevant details, you'll ace this question.
3. Demonstrate leadership abilities
There are some other factors that you can expand on to strengthen your response.
- Try to show your ability in identifying possible conflicts in advance.
- This will speak volumes to your awareness of factors that can lead to conflicts.
- It will also give a realistic example of your leadership capabilities.
Also, showing the maturity to know that you only have control of yourself will give that extra boost to your answer.
The hiring manager will believe that you will mind your business and act in a professional manner if hired.
If you can include the above factors, you should be able to form an adequate answer.
Consider this example answer below!
Hiring manager: “Can you tell me about a time you faced a difficult situation with a colleague?”
Applicant: "At my previous place of employment, we would have weekly board meetings. It probably goes without saying that tensions would sometimes rise due to different perspectives on matters.
Unfortunately, there were times when people would begin raising their voices and on some occasions, even crying.
I made it a point to check my emotions at the door before these meetings. If voices were raised and it was my turn to talk, I would be sure to speak in a professional manner and at a normal speaking volume.
This usually calmed the room and we were able to get back to a productive meeting atmosphere.
I take pride in my ability, even as a junior employee, to calm the room if necessary. I believe this is one of my strongest traits!"
To see all of our basic interview questions and answers, check out the 50 Top Job Interview Questions & Answers.
If you still need some extra help refining your pitch, feel free to reach out to us at Find My Profession.
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