Why would they ask “Can you tell me about a time you faced a difficult situation with a colleague?”
Obviously, the wording can vary, but the strategy behind the question is the same. Behavioral questions are asked to see how you would react to certain situations if you are hired. Just because the hiring manager is asking a negative question, does not mean you can’t give a positive answer! Basically, you need to express that you can settle conflicts in a professional manner.
This should not be difficult as it is always unacceptable to handle any altercation in any other way. Use the below guidelines to structure your answer and 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
Conflicts come about in the workplace quite frequently. If you have been able to avoid conflicts and have gotten along with all your co-workers, nice work! You then would be able to describe these scenarios and your answer would be positive. The only problem with this is the hiring manager may think you do whatever necessary to avoid conflict. Not a good trait if you work in a competitive industry.
If this sounds like you, we would advise you mentally put yourself in a difficult situation. This will give you the opportunity to create a conflict resolution scenario and provide the solution you think is best. If you are like most of us, we are sure that you have many conflicts you have experienced in the workplace. Just because "conflict" is a negative word, positive resolutions are often the result! Ideas are challenged constantly, and usually for the better. If you can use this mindset to answer your question, you should be able to spin this question.
Now, if a colleague is throwing a fit and yelling obscenities, this is a situation you want to avoid describing! You want to express your professionalism while showing you do not fear common workplace conflicts. Ideally, you have a story about you and a coworker disagreeing and then working together to find a solution.
If you can include the above, you should be able to form an adequate answer. There are some other factors that you can expand on to strengthen your response.
Try to show your ability in identifying possible conflicts. This will speak volumes to your awareness of factors that can lead to conflicts.
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. See our example answer below!
"At my previous employer, we would have weekly board meetings and tension would rise on occasion. So much so, that people would begin raising their voices and on some occasions, even crying. I was sure to check my emotions at the door. If voices were raised and it was my turn to talk, I made sure that I spoke 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 (if this applies), to calm the room if necessary. I believe this is one of my strongest traits!"