Don't let this behavioral interview question trip you up.

As you may know, behavioral questions are common in job interviews. The reason? Hiring managers love to know how you handle certain situations you might come across in your position — especially conflict. Here are some examples of popular conflict interview questions:

  • How do you deal with conflict?

  • Tell us about a time when you had issues with a colleague.

  • Tell us about a time you disagreed with your boss.

  • Give us an example of a time you had to deal with an unhappy client.

  • How do you deal with differences in opinion when working with a team?

These conflict questions are popular in job interviews because they help the hiring manager evaluate your conflict management ability and interpersonal skills.

Why do interviewers want to know how you handle conflict?

Regardless of which organization you choose to join, your job will most likely require you to get along with different kinds of personalities. Some of your colleagues might be absolutely pleasant to work with and end up being your closest friends. At the same time, some co-workers, or even bosses, might turn out to be bullies and a pain to work with. Sometimes, climbing the corporate ladder essentially means being able to handle work conflicts professionally and efficiently. The hiring manager doesn't just want to hire someone who has the right skill set for the job; they also want a good team player with emotional maturity.

How to answer conflict interview questions

Conflict-related interview questions often catch you off-guard and force you to talk about an unpleasant situation at work. It will be really difficult to come up with an answer on the fly, so it's critical to do your research on conflict interview questions and answers to be prepared. You can use the STAR method to prepare your responses to these potential interview questions. This technique allows you to curate your answer by listing down bullet points for each of the key aspects of the story. Here's how you can use the STAR method to answer a conflict-related interview question:

  • S/T (Situation/Task)

Briefly describe the context for the conflict that arose at your workplace and describe your role in that situation. Be as specific as possible. It's helpful to talk about a story that had a positive outcome for all parties and can be summarized easily. 

Example: I was managing the creation of a new website for the company. The IT consultant that we engaged kept missing his deadlines and got angry at me when I confronted him.

  • A (Approach/Action)

Next, elaborate on the approach that you took to resolve the conflict. Be sure to emphasize how you resolved the conflict in a professional and productive manner. Focus on what you did, rather than what your boss or colleague did in resolving the problem.

Example: I was surprised by his reaction, but remained calm and explained the reasoning behind the tight deadlines and the importance of having the website running on time. He opened up to me about the other projects on his plate at the moment and how overwhelmed he was with his workload. I agreed to approach his manager with him to explain to her about how time-consuming this project was. The manager was completely understanding and assigned some of his ongoing projects to other consultants in the team.

  • R (Results)

Finally, end your response by describing the positive outcomes of your action/approach. It's even better if the results are quantifiable (increased sales by 30 percent, saved the company $100,000, etc).

Example: After our meeting with the manager, the IT consultant was able to fully focus on completing our website design. He apologized for getting angry and thanked me for talking to his manager. We successfully launched the website by the deadline set by my top management. The website enabled us to promote our new line of products that led to an increase of $500,000 in sales. 

The key to answering conflict-related interview questions is to be honest and emphasize communication. If you realized during the conflict that your opinion was wrong, be honest about it! Show the interviewer that you're willing to learn and are open to constructive criticism. This will certainly make you a more attractive prospective hire.

Feeling a little shaky when it comes to answering questions like this? A professional interview coach can help you. 

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