‘When is a time you’ve faced conflict at work?’. There are a variety of forms in which this question will be asked. You may be asked to discuss a specific incident in your work history, or respond to a rhetorical question. What the interviewer is really trying to figure out is whether or not you deal with conflict well. It’s important to approach this question with a specific mindset, like most interview questions. 

Why Ask About Conflict?

First, it’s important to realize conflict is a part of every workplace, which is why any logical person who is hiring a new employee will ask about it. Knowing who can get along with others in the workplace, and resolve conflict on the go is great info for a hiring manager. Although this question may seem simple, it’s answer can be very telling. Anyone can appear to be a nice person in an interview. What this question does it put the interviewee on the spot. Someone who badmouths all their coworkers answering the question is likely the source of the problem him or herself. For anyone interviewing for a leadership role, be especially prepared for this question. Conflict-resolution is an invaluable skill to have in a management or leadership role, so you’ll likely be asked about it.

While it can be tempting to trash on the others involved with the situation it will only make you look bad, no matter how you dress it up. Although this question may seem general, most hiring managers are looking for an answer about a real life situation. They want to find out if you’re someone who ignores conflict, or faces it in a professional manner. Although it could be tempting to say, “I’ve never had to deal with any issues” this is most likely not true. Almost every work position has some form of conflict arise in it. No matter how big or small of an issue it was, most of us have dealt with it in some capacity, and should be able to speak to a problem.

Explaining Yourself

It’s easy to get caught up in the story as you explain yourself. As we mentioned previously, make sure you don’t talk badly of anyone. If you have to discuss a negative trait, don’t make it seem black and white. Being empathetic in conflict situations will demonstrate your potential value to the hiring manager. Someone who can understand all sides of a problem are valuable in any role. It’s important to diagnose the source of the conflict. Whether it was from creative differences, poor performance, abuse of power, or salary, know why it happened and make that clear to the interviewer. If you are able to remember a situation where the conflict experience would directly impact the new position, use that example.

If you’ve done your research on this type of interview question, you’ll notice the S.T.A.R. method is highly recommended in most situations. What this means is answering in a certain format:

  • Situation/Task
  • Approach
  • Results

First, discuss the situation or task that brought about the problem. Then speak to the approach you used to overcome the issue. Lastly, demonstrate the results. If you were able to achieve a positive outcome with a quantifiable measure, don’t hesitate to mention that. Finally, always be honest. Interviewers have interviewed thousands of candidates, and likely have a keen sense of knowing if your story is true or not. That’s it for today! As always, we’ll be back next week with another question and answer. See you then!