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Answering CONFLICT based Emotional Intelligence Interview Questions

Since we now learned a bit about emotional intelligence and how EQ is used in interviews, (those who missed it, can read it here), it’s important to know which common interview questions you are most likely to encounter from a recruiter or hiring manager looking to assess EQ—as well as why they’re asking and how to answer.

When you get a “Tell me about a time…” question, or others assessing EQ, answer using the STAR method. Describe the situation (S), explain your task (T), the specific actions you took (A), and end with the results of your efforts (R). This shows a proven record of emotional intelligence instead of simply being able to talk about it.

1. Tell Me About a Time You Experienced a Conflict at Work.

This question is really about your thought process in addressing an issue and gauging your perception of their role and others’ roles in solving the problem.

Explain the situation (in brief and be neutral without blaming) you encountered. Then explain the task, or what you were responsible for doing in this situation. Next, list specific steps and processes you tried in order to solve the conflict, such as meeting with colleagues for open dialogue to clear up a misunderstanding. Finally, give the results of your efforts, even if they didn’t work as you’d hoped, and the lessons you took with you.

2. Tell Me About a Time You Experienced a Setback and How You Dealt With It.

This question is an indicator of resilience. Someone with high EQ tends to use setbacks to learn and ultimately gain the advantage of new knowledge about themselves, others, and work processes that will help them avoid similar issues and set them up to succeed the next time around. Those with low EQ might blame others, try to change the circumstances, or fail to see the lesson or the bigger picture.

Future employers looking for high EQ are trying to see how you reacted to the setback in the moment: Did you get agitated and snap at your coworker? Did you let the problem fester and grow because you didn’t want to deal with it? Or did you handle it gracefully and see it as a learning opportunity for you and your team? If you can choose a time when a setback actually resulted in a better outcome, or led to an improved process in the future, all the better. Avoid speaking negatively about your colleagues and don’t forget to emphasize the results and learnings.

3. How Do You Respond When a Coworker Challenges You in a Meeting?

A key element to EQ is identifying when you feel yourself getting upset and strategically choosing what to do about it, when, and how, instead of going with your first reaction. This question is the perfect opportunity for future employers to understand how you assess and address a situation.

How you answer this interview question reveals your ability to regulate your emotions when the stakes are high and the situation is charged. Employers watch out for someone who is “easily frustrated who may try to shove their opinion down peoples’ throats.”

To succeed at communicating EQ in your answer, ideally pick a real example and don’t shy away from explaining the emotions you did feel at the time. Remember, EQ isn’t a lack of emotions but rather the ability to regulate and handle them in a productive way. To that end, if you were stressed or angry that you were being publicly questioned, you can say so, but then take the interviewer through your personal process of managing those emotions. Maybe you practice deep breaths. Maybe you take a walk and reengage later. Or perhaps in this particular situation, you asked a question to clarify if the tone you were sensing was actually what the person intended, which shows you’re able to pause and ensure you fully understand before reacting, a key trait for future employees at any company.


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