Dealing with conflict in the workplace can be tricky. This is also the reason why employers are interested in how you handle such situations. Conflict resolution interview questions are common during job interviews. Disagreements in the workplace between coworkers are inevitable, and understanding how you handle certain situations is essential for interviewers.
Skills such as conflict resolution and the ability to disagree with other people on a professional level while still staying polite are necessary for successful contributions in companies. Questions about how you handled conflict in the past are called behavioral job interview questions. This is because you need to provide the interviewer example situations from your experience about how you resolved conflicts in the workplace.
For employers, finding candidates that can handle and resolve conflict professionally is very important. Employees who are willing to engage in the resolution of conflicts are more likely to come up with creative ideas and better approaches to tackling issues.
Different ways an interviewer can ask you about conflict resolution
- Tell me about a time you had to handle conflict on a team project.
- How do you deal with conflict?
- Tell me about a time when you had an issue with a colleague.
- Do you ever get into arguments with others in the workplace?
- How do you deal with different opinions when working on a team?
- Tell me about a time you had to respond to an unhappy client or customer.
- How do you handle situations when you need to do something that you don’t want to do?
The questions listed above focus on how exactly you handled these work situations in the past. The way you respond to questions about conflict resolution tell the interviewer more about your work values and ability to disagree with others professionally.
In this article, we go in-depth on why the interviewer asks you about how you handle conflicts, questions you can expect during a job interview, and how you should approach them. Furthermore, read more about frequently asked job interview questions here and check our job interview preparation checklist.
Why the interviewer asks you about how you handle conflicts
As you know, in a diverse workplace, there are going to be different opinions because people are not going to get along with each other all the time. However, most jobs require you to get along with different types of peoples and personalities. To succeed in these situations, you must be able to handle conflicts as a professional. This is also the reason why interviewers are interested in how you approach such situations. These skills are especially important in certain jobs, such as customer service, project management, and law.
Job interview questions about conflict resolution are used to filter out the candidates whose approaches and actions match the requirements and company culture of the hiring company. Candidates that possess the right conflict resolution skills can reach a peaceful resolution to a dispute. This may be a conflict between colleagues, or between a supervisor and a subordinate. However, it could also regard a dispute between a service provider and their customer or client. Whatever the case may be, when there’s a conflict in a professional workplace, it needs to be resolved. Most conflicts in the workplace are essentially arbitrary. This means that it’s not about who wins the conflict, but what counts is that the situation is resolved in a professional manner so that everybody can continue their work.
Questions the interviewer wants answers to
During a job interview, the interviewer is trying to assess how you respond to conflict situations. These type of interview questions are frequently asked during interviews because all employers want to hire good team players. Often interviewers ask you about your team experiences in previous jobs and follow-up with specifically asking about situations that involved a conflict situation or a difficult/complicated person. So, how do you think you handle conflicts?
- Are you a person that tries to avoid conflicts at all costs?
- Or are you a person who pretends there is no conflict and just ignores the situation?
- Are you a person who just goes with the flow and is more accommodating?
- Or are you a person that sees conflict as an opportunity to compromise and collaborate?
The interviewer is interested in your specific approach to conflict situations and how you handled them in the past. Through these interview questions, they want to find out how you react in certain work situations. Think of questions such as:
- ‘Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.’
- ‘Do you prefer to work as part of a team or alone? Can you explain why?’
As you can see, these questions require you to elaborate on certain specifics on how you handled conflict situations in the past. Based on such questions and the answer you give the interviewer can see if you handle situations in a way that aligns with the company culture. During a job interview, you will probably get asked several of these behavioral questions.
Behavioral job interview questions usually start with:
- Tell me about a time when you
- Describe situations where
- Give me an example of
- What do you do when
- Have you ever
Based on the job description and the research you do on the company, you can make an educated guess on what kind of questions you can expect. Based on your research, you can start preparing example answers. When you’re preparing for conflict resolution questions, you need to make sure that your answers include the situation you were in, your task in that situation, the action you took, and the specific results that can come out of those actions. This way of answering questions is called the STAR-method of providing an answer.
What are your conflict resolution skills?
There are several conflict resolution skills that you can integrate into your answers. Some of them you might think of right away and some you might already have used in the past. It’s important that you provide the interviewer with a clear answer on how you approach conflict situations. Below we discuss the most important conflict resolution skills.
Facilitating a productive dialogue
The first step in resolving a conflict is getting people to open up to facilitate a productive dialogue. Communication is always key to bringing cohesion in moments of conflict.
Assertive behavior is a form of communicating to others in an open, direct, and honest way. Being assertive means that you’re able to stand up for either your own or other people’s rights in a positive and calm way. This is a valuable skill to possess and highlight in your answers.
Asking questions and active listening
Asking the right questions and listening carefully to what people involved are saying is an essential part of resolving conflicts. Through this process, you are more likely to gain an understanding of the origin of the complaint and how you should go about solving it.
Perspective & Empathy
These regard the ability to understand someone else’s feelings and points of view. This is an important element in resolving conflicts. If you can understand other people’s thoughts, observations, and triggers, you are more likely to solve the conflict.
Problem-solving skills help to determine the source of a conflict or problem and find an effective way to solve it. For instance, during a conflict situation in the workplace, problem-solving skills can be used to identify certain areas of compromise between the people who are in disagreement.
Positivity in the work environment is brought by employees who are open-minded, kind, and also considerate of other people’s feelings and thoughts. Therefore, empathy is important in various jobs but especially in customer-facing positions.
Accountability and holding people responsible for their (follow-up) actions is an important part of starting the resolution of a conflict. For instance, when an agreement is reached, a senior supervisor can check-in a couple of days later to ensure that everybody is still on the same page.
Red flags for the interviewer
- If you cannot provide the interviewer with an example situation in which you resolved a conflict situation, this is considered a red flag. Your resume only offers a glimpse into your work history, but this is only a starting point for an in-depth conversation about your background. If the job that you’re applying for requires you to deal with conflict situations, you should prepare example situations before the interview.
- What’s also considered a red flag is if you cannot provide the interviewer with learning experiences you had in your previous work experience. Asking what you learned from a specific situation is a very common follow-up question if you have not already provided a learning experience in your answer yourself. Being able to reflect on situations and discussing what you’ve learned is a big factor for interviewers if they want to assess whether or not you have grown over time and learned from your experiences.
- Negativity is always considered a red flag. When you’re discussing a situation in which a conflict needed to be resolved stick to the facts and stay objective. The interviewer is not interested in any complaints, and bringing negative energy is considered disconcerting — the way you discuss a former employer, colleagues, or industry matters. The interviewer will notice if you’re making unnecessary comments about former teammates or if you’re minimizing their work. Also, any indication that you might have interacted poorly within the team is a red flag. Therefore, make sure to leave a negative attitude out of your answer.
- Focusing too much on the conflict and not enough on the actual resolution or just dodging the question is considered a red flag.
Frequently asked job interview questions about conflict resolution
Below you can find a list of common conflict resolution questions.
- Describe a time when you were on a team project where you had to work with someone difficult.
- Tell me about a time you had a conflict at work.
- How do you handle conflicts in the workplace?
- Tell me about a time you had to respond to an unhappy manager/coworker.
- Give an example of a time when you disagreed with an approach or rule.
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with a colleague. What happened?
- How do you deal with different personalities when working on a team?
- What would you do if you could not help a customer?
- How do you handle a situation with a person who’s upset/angry/frustrated?
- Do you handle conflict situations well?
How to discuss the process of conflict resolution in your answers
When you’re structuring your answers about conflict resolution, it’s important that you highlight that you possess certain important skills. Below we discuss how you can resolve conflicts in logical steps. You can use these to your advantage in your answers, depending on what you think the interviewer is looking for based on the job description and company culture. Below you can find the steps that you can use to resolve conflict situations in the workplace.
Positive body language and staying calm during the situation
Whenever you’re part of a conflict situation, it’s important to stay calm and maintain a positive body language. This shows everybody involved that you’re open to discussing any disagreements that there may be.
Discussing conflicts in the workplace in a private place
The best place to discuss conflict situations is in a private setting, where everybody can openly discuss their points of view and feelings. Conflicts in the workplace can impact other colleagues, as well.
Acknowledging that there’s a conflict
When you find a quiet place to discuss the conflict situations, it’s important that everybody involved agrees to acknowledge that there’s an issue that needs to be resolved to move forward.
Involve everybody to agree to find a solution to the conflict
Once everybody agrees that there’s an issue everyone involved should also agree that this problem needs to be resolved. If you’re the mediator in the conflict resolution process and one or more participants is not ready to discuss the conflict, it’s best to take them aside to talk to them. Find out why they feel a certain way and how you can encourage them to participate actively in the resolution process.
Understanding the points of view of everyone involved
Most conflict situations in the workplace occur due to misunderstandings. Therefore, take your time to listen to everybody and try to understand why they think or feel a certain way about the situation. This will make it easier to clear the air and find a solution to the conflict.
Identifying the trigger that caused the problem
When everybody is ready to discuss their points of view, it’s important that the conflict trigger that caused the problem is identified. These can be different factors such as conflicting deadlines, miscommunication, stress, or any other cause that can lead to a conflict.
Finding opportunities to reach an agreement
To resolve conflicts in the workplace, usually, everybody will need to compromise one way or another. When you’re working out the differences, it’s important that you focus on the areas where people can reach a compromise.
Compromise to agree on a conflict resolution plan
Once a compromise has been reached, you can translate this into a conflict resolution plan. Depending on the issue discussed a plan could be made to make sure that the conflict does not happen again.
Monitoring compliance with the agreement
To ensure everything goes according to the resolution plan, several check-in points can be created. These can, for instance, be within a couple of days or weeks. The goal of these check-in points is to make sure that everyone follows the plan of action.
A backup plan if the conflict continues
A backup plan is a must in a conflict resolution plan. If someone does not follow the plan or another conflict arises, there’s always an option to involve the human resources department or somebody from a higher leadership level.
Structuring answers to conflict-resolution interview questions
Below you can find a step-by-step list on how you can prepare strong answers to interview questions about handling conflicts. However, make sure that you come across naturally when answering questions, avoid fully reciting answers because the interviewer will notice.
- When the interviewer asks you a behavioral interview question, make sure to answer in the form of a logically structured situation in which you had to handle a conflict.
- Explain the conflict situation that you faced and how you approached the situation. Include some of the steps described above on how to discuss the process of conflict resolution in interview questions.
- The easiest way of structuring your answer is by using the STAR interview technique. STAR is an acronym that stands for a situation (S), your task (T) in that situation, the actions (A) you took, and what results (R) you got based on your actions.
- Display the skills and abilities that you also need to perform the job successfully. Ensure that you match your qualifications to the job and skills, as mentioned in the job description.
- Expect follow-up questions depending on the answers that you give the interviewer. Based on the information that you provide them, they are more than likely to ask follow-up questions. Interviewers do this to go more in-depth into the situation that you provide them to test your conflict resolution skills.
STAR Interview Technique for conflict resolution questions
The best way to answer conflict-resolution interview questions is by providing the interviewer with an example situation. By doing so, you provide the interviewer what they’re looking for; an example of you using the skills that you claim to possess. It’s also an opportunity to provide a to the point answer about how you resolved conflict situations in the past. STAR in more detail:
Start by providing context around the situation. Explain the conflict to the interviewer in such a way that he or she has enough information to understand what was going on. However, don’t ramble; keep it short and concise.
Next, talk about your specific responsibilities and what your role was. Were you part of the conflict or mediator? It’s important that the interviewer gets an understanding of your task.
Here you discuss the actions you took to address the situation that you were in. It’s important that you focus on the approach and steps you took to bring the conflict to a productive resolution.
The result of your conflict resolution is essential to mention in your answers. Discuss what the result was of your actions and use an example that had a positive ending. If possible, quantify the results you achieved. If this is not possible, provide the interviewer with anecdotal evidence of the positive accomplishment in that situation.
Sample answers to discuss conflict resolution questions
Below you can find some examples of answers to conflict-resolution interview questions. Some of these questions require you to provide the job experience you had in a previous job. These behavioral interview questions are already written in STAR format so that you see how you can structure your answer.
Conflict Resolution Example 1: ‘How do you handle conflicts in the workplace?’
‘Based on my experience, the best way to handle conflicts is to approach the situation professionally and directly. The situations that I have been in taught me that the best strategy is to try to see things from someone else’s perspective and to approach the situation with an open mind. Understanding the perspective of others allows you to get a better feeling of how they really feel. In conflict situations, this gave me the opportunity to get to the core of the issue and the ability to reconcile. Also, creating an environment where the situation is less ‘personal’ is a good starting point to resolve a conflict.
In my previous job, my team got into a discussion about the quarterly budgets that needed to be allocated. An argument started about which department should receive what part of the budget. During the meeting, I saw the team split up in two sides. Both sides thought they were right and tried to convince the other side of their choices. In my experience, conflicts usually arise due to differences in priorities, whether it be internal or external.
It was my responsibility to prevent this minor conflict from escalating into a large one. As it often goes, the way things were said influenced the discussion negatively, and the substantiation of priorities was not clear to the other side. Both sides of the team made assumptions of why the other side felt a certain way. I mediated the conflict to understand their differences by asking specific questions to both sides to get a feeling of where their train of thought came from. Within 15 minutes, both sides were able to remove a large part of the tension and started working on a constructive solution because they understood each other’s logic behind their choices.’
Why is this a strong answer?
- This answer shows that you can approach conflict situations in a professional way and stay objective without choosing sides.
- The answer shows based on what you made your decisions and how you mediated the process to resolve the conflict.
- This answer demonstrates that you focus on quickly and directly addressing a conflict situation to make sure that productivity is not affected. Furthermore, this example answers shows a positive result and what you have learned from past experiences with conflict resolution.
Conflict Resolution Example 2: ‘Tell me about a time you had difficulties working with a supervisor.’
‘In my previous position as a marketer, our department got assigned a new manager where I initially had some trouble getting along with. In terms of job performance, and I received less feedback than I was used to, which made it difficult at times to meet expectations because they were not fully clear. Due to this situation, it was difficult for me to evaluate my own performance. This led to some disagreements on the work floor, but these are based on misunderstandings from both sides.
I asked her if we could schedule a meeting. During this meeting, I directly asked her if she could provide me with more direct and specific feedback on crucial moments on the work that needed to be done. Based on what I told her about my experience with working under her, she indicated that she understood what I meant, and from that day on, we were on the same page in terms of work expectations. We had a successful professional relationship for over two years and worked together on several large projects. Eventually, she got promoted to head of the department, and I got a new manager to run the team. My most important learning moment was that I should take time to discuss management styles with new managers and make sure that expectations from both sides are clear in order to perform as well as possible.’
Why is this a strong answer?
- Even though this question requires you to talk about a complex situation with a supervisor, the answer turns a negative situation in a positive one. The example also excludes emotions, and the focus is put on describing how you approached and resolved the situation.
- The answer does not criticize your supervisor but only discusses the situation in an objective way.
- The answer includes an important learning moment from handling this situation in a professional way.
Conflict Resolution Example 3: ‘Tell me about a time you had to resolve a conflict between two colleagues’
‘I was tasked with resolving a conflict between two of my team members. There was an issue that caused a situation where they could no longer work effectively in the same team. As the conflict escalated, it started to affect the productivity of the other team members but other employees on the floor as well. I asked them both if I could talk to them privately to calm the situation. During that conversation, I invited them to talk together to calm the tension and resolve the conflict. I took the position of the mediator to make sure emotions would not get the better of them during the conversation, which often happens during conflict situations.
At the start of our conversation, I told them that a compromise needed to be reached. My main objective was to get an understanding of each person’s position, without siding with one of them. I gave them both a chance to tell why they felt a certain way while asking them to respect the perspective of the other as well. I emphasized that a solution needed to be reached to create a workable situation, not only for them but also for other colleagues.
After discussing their differences, they found out that there perspectives and views were not so far apart, and their conflict was based on a misunderstanding in communication. Based on this conclusion, we all agreed that future disagreements should not lead up to a point where a conflict impacted other colleagues and team productivity. Also, if such a situation would occur in the future, they would handle this in a professional and considerate way while leaving out any emotions. The result of our meeting was that their work relationship was restored and all tensions within the team were gone.’
Why is this a strong answer?
- In this answer, you walk the interviewer through the situation and the actions you took to resolve the conflict.
- This answer demonstrates important parts of resolving conflicts and that you can stay calm under pressure.
- In a short and concise way, the answer shows how you successfully brought together two colleagues and persuaded them to solve their differences. This answer is professional, convincing, and logically structured according to the STAR method.