This typical behavioral interview question about a past experience, gives the interviewer a practical outlook at how you approached a challenging situation.
With an increased number of conflicts arising at the workplace, the interviewer wants to know how you would handle one, if such a situation ever arose. It shows the interviewer your maturity level and your emotional intelligence. Like all indicators, past performance (or situations handled) is a good example for future handlings.
What kind of conflict should you talk about?
We all have had some level of disagreements with our managers / bosses. These disagreements could rage from job responsibilities, to leave vacations, to how situations were handled.
Below are some guidelines to follow:
Professional issues. An example would be when you and your boss saw a project differently or disagreed on how to handle a client’s account. Avoid personal issues, such as holiday party incidents, or stolen parking spaces. Non-work-related issues might come across as immature and unprofessional in an interview.
Positively resolved conflict. Arriving at an amicable resolution, displays your negotiation and resolution skills. It shows your ability to resolve incidents quickly, mutually benefitting both sides. This proves that you are amenable to compromise.
Simple story: A long complicated incident throws the interviewer off, and takes focus out of your resolution skills. Pick something that’s easy to understand so your interviewer can grasp what happened quickly and your conflict resolution skills can be front and center.
It is quite possible, that you may never have had a conflict with your boss. In such a case, provide your interviewer with a hypothetical situation and describe how you would respond to the conflict just as you would for a real past experience. Tell an honest interesting story. The format ensures you include all important pieces of the story—the Situation, Task, Action, and Result (STAR)—in a clear and compelling way.
Here’s how you might use the STAR method for this question:
Lay out the Situation (S) The biggest thing is to discuss is why the disagreement came up. Whether it’s related to lack of communication or a difference of opinion, paint the scene well, so the interviewer can picture what happened and understand the rest of your answer.
It is important to present both sides of the argument in a positive way. You come across as level-headed and professional. For example, you might say, “I understood why she said that,” or, “I could see his reasoning too.” This balance shows that you can see other people’s perspectives and that you’re not narrow-minded when it comes to working with others.
Establish your Task (T) Explain your responsibility in the situation. For this question, that’s not necessarily your job duty, but what your goals were in the situation. Conflict is a normal part of life, and recognizing how to navigate it, is essential. For example, did you need to negotiate for a payment duration or did you need more resources?
Discuss what Action you took (A) You should discuss the exact steps you followed to address the conflict. Did you set up a one-on-one meeting with your boss? If so, how did you approach the conversation? Not only are you showing how you’re willing to take ownership over a situation, but you’re also demonstrating your problem solving skills. This gives your interviewer an insight at how you will approach conflict—so they can decide whether or not you’ll be a good fit for their team.
Share the Results (R) The outcome of the conflict is a crucial aspect of your answer. We look for a positive resolution, where both sides came together even though they didn’t see eye to eye at the beginning. In this case, positive doesn’t mean you “won,”. Positive means that both parties came out of the situation better than before. In fact, one possible outcome might be that you came around to see things from your boss’s point of view. Talk about how the conflict ended, what you learned, what your boss might have learned, and how the two of you approached issues going forward.
Avoid these in your story
To help you focus on the most important points, stay clear of:
Unwanted information: The interviewer doesn’t need to know all the specifics of the project or how many people were in a meeting.
Negative comments: Stay away from blaming or negative comments like, “My boss never liked me,” or, “He’s a stubborn person.” These types of remarks don’t make you look good.
Blaming others: You’re not trying to convince the interviewer that you were right in the situation. You’re trying to show them how well you handled the conflict. Stay away from persuading the interviewer to agree with you.
People’s opinions: Skip mentioning that your coworkers sided with you or that most people didn’t care for your boss. Direct your story toward the situation, actions you took, and results.
Rehearsed narratives: Don't practice a script in detail. It will be noticed. You can definitely plan points and make the story sound natural and not rehearsed.
Answer to follow the STAR method and focus on a positive resolution. A sample answer could be “As a marketing assistant, I’m in charge of putting together reports for potential company strategies. One time, my boss asked me to generate a new report on a Wednesday morning and wanted it done by Thursday at 5 PM. Due to the amount of work involved, and wanting the report to be accurate, I knew there’d be no way I could finish the report on time. Because I’m committed to high-quality work and I wasn’t sure my boss fully understood what goes into each report, I knew I needed to speak up. I decided to approach my boss about the impossible timeline. “At her next available opening, I sat down with my boss and explained my concerns, telling her it wouldn’t be possible, even if I stayed late that night. But my boss insisted that the deadline was non-negotiable. I knew that the management was meeting on Friday, so I understood the pressure my boss was under. So I decided to switch gears and ask my boss if there was anyone who could help me with the report. She found another assistant who could put in a few hours and we worked together to get the report done on time to the high standard I always deliver. “The management was really pleased to be able to review the report at the meeting. My boss was happy we got it done, and appreciated my extra efforts to make it happen. I felt good that I hadn’t let the quality of the report slip. And once I explained how much time and work goes into each report, my boss was careful to assign them further in advance after that.”