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Behavioral Interview Questions About Conflict Resolution

January 28 • 7 Minute Read
Woman who is frustrated at work

Introduction

Everyone experiences some conflict in their job. This can take the form of disagreeing with a co-worker or your manager, having to work with people with whom you don’t see eye to eye with, or handling a customer who is dissatisfied with a product or service you offer. Questions about conflict are some of the most common ones you will encounter during an interview because managers are interested in hiring team players who will get along with their co-workers, supervisors, and customers. They seek to minimize conflict in the workplace because it is disruptive and often costly. Questions about conflict are usually in the form of a behavioral question. 

This article will help you get ready for behavioral questions that address your ability to handle conflict. Knowing how to correctly respond to this type of question will help you demonstrate your ability to manage workplace relationships effectively and convince the interviewer you are the right candidate for the job.

Behavioral Questions

Questions about your ability to deal with and resolve conflicts are a specific type of behavioral question. Behavioral questions explore how you reacted to situations in your past positions and indicate what you will do when faced with similar challenges in the future. You can identify behavioral questions when the interviewer starts the question with something like, “Tell me about a time …” or ”What steps did you take …”

Questions About Your Ability to Manage Conflict Effectively

The best way hiring managers can learn about your ability to manage conflict in the workplace is to ask you questions about your previous experiences. These questions require you to create a story and relate it in an organized and clear fashion. Interviewers will note the methods you use to handle conflicts, how effective they were, and what results you achieved. They hope to learn that you are a team player who can either avoid conflicts or resolve them quickly.

How to Answer Conflict-Related Behavioral Questions

Most people are uncomfortable discussing times they didn’t get along with other people at work. It is easier to discuss your background and the key points described in your resume. However, if you anticipate behavioral questions about conflict and are prepared to answer them, you will find it easy to respond to these questions during an interview.

Conflict-related behavioral questions can be responded to using the STAR format. This helps you organize your response by creating a story related to the question.

  • The STAR Format uses the following framework:
  • Situation – Briefly describe a situation related to the question. Make sure the situation you use is connected to the type of conflict the interviewer asked you about.
  • Task – Summarize the task or goal you needed to achieve. Describe how managing the conflict would help resolve an issue or accomplish an objective.
  • Action – Talk about the actions you took to accomplish the task or goal. They should focus on the steps you took to resolve the conflict and move on to addressing the issue at hand or the work that needed to be completed.
  • Results – Discuss the results you achieved and the impact they had on the organization. Illustrate how your ability to handle conflicts contributed to creating a team environment in which everyone worked toward the same objective.

When preparing for an interview, you should anticipate this type of question and have your STAR stories ready. The stories you relate should be relevant to the position for which you are interviewing so they resonate with the hiring manager. Preparing your stories in advance and rehearsing them before the interview will give you confidence. It will also enable you to respond to the interviewer’s questions by providing compelling stories and communicating them clearly and expertly.

Conflict-Based Behavioral Questions 

Here are some examples of conflict-based behavioral questions you can anticipate during an interview, the rationale behind them, and an example of how you can respond to them.

Question: Tell me about a time you had a conflict with someone at work.

Explanation: Conflict in the workplace is a given. Managing conflicts and your ability to move past them by creating a consensus and building a team environment is a critical qualification when you are interviewing for a job. When responding to this question, you should acknowledge that conflicts occur and then state that you have a portfolio of methodologies to resolve them and your focus is on the mission. Then provide a concrete example of how you have done this.

Example: “Unfortunately, workplace conflicts sometimes occur due to people having different backgrounds, experiences, and opinions. While I try to avoid conflicts, when they occur, I can deal with them quickly and effectively. (Situation) An example of this was when a co-worker and I were assigned to create a new process for managing documents. (Task) We had to do this quickly and incorporate the organization’s existing process while making it more efficient. (Action) Since I had experience with this, I made some initial suggestions which my co-worker disagreed with. Rather than get into an argument, I asked them some questions to better understand why they disagreed and their alternative recommendations. This created a dialog in which we could reach a consensus as to what the new process would look like. (Results) Because we had moved past our disagreement, the project was completed on time, and management liked our recommendations. Within six months of implementing the new process, the organization reduced its document management-related costs by 25%.  Additionally, the employees could access documents faster which contributed to increases in their productivity.

Question: Can you describe how you managed a situation when you disagreed with your manager? 

Explanation: Employers seek to hire individuals who can contribute new ideas and innovative thinking to the organization. However, the ability to do this often conflicts with an employee’s willingness to follow their supervisor’s directions without question. This sometimes results in conflict between the employee and their manager. Resolving these conflicts quickly and without ongoing animosity is a key trait hiring managers look for in the candidates they interview.

Example: “It is rare, but sometimes I do disagree with my manager. This usually occurs when they question a recommendation I made or a decision I reached based on my experience, knowledge, and skills related to the job. If a disagreement does occur, I immediately ask to meet with my manager to discuss the situation. I make a sincere effort to understand why they questioned my actions and what alternatives they recommend. I then provide the rationale behind my position, and we work together to seek a consensus that addresses the issue and satisfies both of us. This becomes easier each time we do it and results in fewer disagreements because our understanding of each other’s position grows with each encounter.”

Question: Tell me about a time when you were working on a team project and one of the team was being difficult and impeding the progress of the entire team.

Explanation: Conflicts at work frequently occur when groups of co-workers are working together on a team project. Each team member brings their own perspective to the project  which sometimes conflict with each other. You should be able to describe how you worked through such conflicts in the past and the techniques you use to address conflicts that occur when working as part of a team.

Example: “My current organization usually assigns a diverse group of employees to work together as a team to develop a solution to a challenging issue. Most recently, I participated in a team assigned to reduce workplace accidents. One of the members of the team felt their ideas took precedence over everyone else’s. This caused conflict and disrupted the team’s ability to get the job done. Recognizing this, I took the employee aside and described how their actions were impacting the team. I suggested that if they were silent at the next meeting and listened to the other members’ suggestions, they may realize their opinion closely aligned with those of the other team members. They agreed to do this, and the result was the group made more progress during that meeting than we had in the past. The offending team member recognized this and became more cooperative at subsequent meetings. This resulted in the team achieving its goal, reducing workplace accidents by over 50% in the 12 months following our recommendations being implemented.”

Question: What is your approach to working with a group of diverse co-workers who have different backgrounds and opinions?

Explanation: Working with diverse groups of people is becoming more common in today’s business environment. Getting along with people of diverse backgrounds, cultures, religious beliefs, and political opinions is an important quality for any employee. When asked about this, you should provide several examples of how you work effectively with diverse groups and individuals.

Example: “Most of the organizations I’ve been affiliated with are made up of people with diverse backgrounds which include different cultures, countries, religions, and political affiliations. My approach to working effectively with people different from me begins with respecting each individual’s opinion, beliefs, and values. I then try to learn about their backgrounds and how they are both similar to and different from my own. I do this by interacting with my co-workers, both formally and informally throughout the day. This has even led to me adopting some of my co-workers’ ideas and practices which has enriched my life.”

Question: What is your methodology for helping the people you work with resolve a conflict?

Explanation: In addition to resolving conflicts you have with co-workers, managers, or clients, you may be asked to help resolve conflicts between your fellow employees. This requires a variety of skills, including communication, diplomacy, and tact. The ability to do this increases your value as an employee and is something hiring managers look for during an interview. Being able to describe your methodology is something you should be prepared for and practice before the interview.

Example: “In my last job, I earned the title of peacemaker because I was often asked to help resolve conflicts between my co-workers. My manager recognized my ability to do this based on my listening skills, how I communicated with other employees, and my diplomacy. I learned the best way to resolve conflicts was first listening to each individual’s position, asking qualifying questions, suggesting compromises, and helping the employees negotiate a settlement. I found conflict could not be resolved unless both of the people involved contributed to the solution.”

Additional Communication Questions:

Give an example of when you had to respond to an unhappy customer and the steps you took to satisfy them.

Have you ever disagreed with a rule or procedure at work, and if so, what did you do about it?

Tell me about a time when you disagreed with an approach to a problem your boss wanted to pursue. How did you resolve the disagreement?

Give me an example of how you handle conflict in general.

What advice would you give a team member who complained about another co-worker’s behavior?

What was the most recent conflict you encountered at work, and how did you resolve it?

Please recall a time of conflict with one of your co-workers that you addressed without involving your supervisor.

How comfortable are you dealing with differences of opinion based on each individual’s culture? Can you provide an example that demonstrates this?

Discuss a time when a co-worker initially seemed to agree with a group’s consensus but afterward raised objections to the decision.

When working on a team project, how do you professionally raise objections to team members’ recommendations?

The key to nailing your interview – practice, practice, practice.

As with anything, practice makes perfect. The most common ways to practice are with in-person mock interviews or a list of questions. While these options are a great place to start, they can leave a lot to be desired.

Practicing with In-Person Mock Interviews and Question Lists

One way to get valuable interview practice is to set up in-person mock interviews. Unfortunately, they can be somewhat inconvenient. You have to find someone to conduct the mock interview, and schedule a meeting every time you want to practice.

Question lists offer a much more convenient way to practice interviewing. Unfortunately, they do little to recreate actual interview pressure. In a real interview you’ll never know what’s going to be asked and this is exactly what can make interviews so stressful.

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