Artwork by: Nadiia Zhelieznova
During a job interview, the interviewer is likely to assess your management skills by asking you questions about handling conflicts at work. Here’s how you can respond to these types of questions.
Conflicts are a normal part of any workplace. Whether you’re working in a managerial role or an entry-level job, you’re likely to encounter a few conflicts within your team. Conflict resolution is so important that one of the most commonly asked behavioral questions during an interview is, “how do you handle conflicts at work?” If you’re looking for the best strategies for answering this question, you’ve come to the right place.
In this blog post, we’ll take a look at the best ways to
Effectively handle conflicts at work and maintain team harmony
Respond to interview questions involving conflict resolution
According to recent statistics, employees in the United States spent roughly 2.8 hours a week at work resolving conflicts in 2022. 85% of employees faced some level of conflict at work, and managers spent about 15% of their average work week resolving conflicts.
The importance of conflict resolution cannot be ignored. Organizations all over the world are prioritizing job applicants with key soft skills, including interpersonal and conflict management skills. Whether you’re looking to resolve a conflict at work or simply learn more about handling difficult situations at work, here are a few things you need to do.
There’s a big difference between hearing someone out and actively listening to what they’re saying. Actively listening to someone involves paying attention to the speaker’s nonverbal cues, including body language, with the objective of understanding their intent.
When you’re trying to resolve a conflict at work, your colleagues are likely to pay close attention to the way you respond to them. When you practice listening at work, you not only observe the way your colleagues are reacting, but you’re also mindful of your own body language. If you listen to people carefully, you’re more likely to respond in an understanding and empathetic way to de-escalate the situation at hand.
During the heat of the moment, it’s likely for people to get riled up and become emotional. But when it comes to conflict resolution, objectivity is the key. Your focus should be on your colleagues’ response to the conflict, instead of their overall personality. This means that you should be truthful in the way you assess the situation and not let your bias get the best of you.
One of the biggest reasons behind conflicts at work is lack of communication. Similarly, a lot of conflict resolution strategies fail when the aggrieved parties do not communicate properly. For this reason, whenever you’re resolving a conflict, try to be as thorough with your communication as possible.
If the same conflict keeps happening again and again at your workplace or within your team, try to investigate the root cause of the problem. Calmly discuss the issue with all the parties involved and try to look for a lasting solution to the conflict, instead of quick, short-term fixes.
Developing a professional relationship at work means having a healthy discussion with your colleagues to establish the roles and boundaries of each team member. If you want to foster relationships with colleagues, it’s best to do so in a systematic manner. For example, you can discuss the following points with a colleague during a meeting:
The role of the individual and the common challenges associated with that role.
Any past conflicts that arose and what was done to resolve those conflicts.
Any existing rules and regulations on communication etiquettes and best practices.
During a job interview, there are different ways the interviewer can ask you a question involving dealing with a conflict at work. When responding to this type of behavioral question, here’s what you need to do.
Disagreements are a normal part of work. However, the interviewer wants to assess whether you’re capable of de-escalating the situation or whether you tend to make things worse. Hence, when you’re answering a question about handling conflicts at work, stay calm and focus on how you managed to stay level-headed throughout the ordeal. Talk about how you were able to compromise and help your team members reach a win-win agreement.
Interviewers typically look for new hires who utilize a blend of creative thinking and logical problem-solving to resolve conflicts at work. When responding to the interviewer, talk about how you use facts and logic to decide on the best course of action when handling a difficult situation at work. This type of response will give the interviewer the impression that you’re predictable and you don’t act impulsively.
When it comes to managing conflicts, the expectation is that you should place the company’s needs and objectives above everything. This means that whatever conflict resolution strategy you create should agree with your organization’s goals, mission, and culture.
So, when responding to a question about handling conflicts, your answer should include a focus on how your solution helped create a positive environment at work and allowed the company to achieve its objectives.
Just as there can be multiple interview questions revolving around your ability to handle conflicts at work, there are several ways you can respond to these questions.
Sample conflict-related interview questions and their responses
Question: How do you deal with conflicts at work?
Answer: I try to adjust my attitude during a conflict and look at the situation objectively. I listen to everyone and their points of view without getting judgmental or defensive. I also handle these situations privately. For instance, if an argument takes place in an office, I encourage my colleagues to use the conference room where we can have a healthy debate on the issue so that the other employees are not distracted by what’s happening.
Question: Can you recall a time when you had a disagreement with a colleague and what did you do to address this issue?
Answer: I was working as a program manager in an IT company. One of my colleagues was constantly missing her deadlines. When I approached her, she got defensive. I immediately maintained my calm, clarified that my intention was not to hurt her, and changed my tone of voice. I then explained that I wanted to help her manage her workload better so that she can manage her tasks more efficiently. She apologized and told me that she was dealing with some personal issues that are affecting her productivity. I spoke to my supervisor and we had a meeting to discuss her workload and expectations. As a result, we were able to create a manageable work plan for her that significantly improved her productivity at work while giving her some much-needed time off to tend to personal matters.
Question: Tell us about a time you had a disagreement with your supervisor. What did you do to manage this situation?
Answer: In most cases, whenever I have had a disagreement with my boss or I’ve voiced an opinion that was different than my supervisor’s, the discussion has been constructive. For instance, at one of my previous jobs, I had a disagreement with my supervisor over the sales targets for a quarter. My supervisor was ambitious that we could achieve the target, but I felt we were aiming too high. Eventually, I had a meeting with my supervisor where we discussed the overall economic conditions and why the sales target was too ambitious. He agreed with my concerns, and we both decided on a more practical and realistic target for that quarter.
Question: How do you ensure a safe, positive, and conducive environment at your workplace?
Answer: When it comes to creating a positive environment at work, I go the extra mile. Firstly, I have an open-door policy at work where I encourage my team members to bring their ideas and share their concerns with me without any fear of reprisal. Secondly, I’m careful with my choice of words, especially when dealing with a conflict at work. I try to use positive or neutral words in an effort to diffuse the situation. Lastly, I like to read up on different cultures and communication practices so that I fully comply with our organization’s diversity, inclusion, and equity policies and don’t offend anyone.
If you want to advance in your career and get more recognition at work, you’ll need to work on your soft skills, especially conflict resolution.
To successfully resolve conflicts at work, you must remain objective, practice effective listening, and ensure proper communication with your colleagues.
When responding to an interview question involving a conflict at work, try to remain truthful and neutral. Focus on how you created a win-win strategy for all.
Asad's writing expertise lies in the fields of HR and marketing—putting him in the unique position of understanding the job-search process: both from the side of the applicant, and the side of the hiring managers. With this valuable blend of perspectives, he’s able to help his clients position themselves as top candidates for their desired roles.