Job Interview: How to Answer Conflict Resolution Questions

Answering job interview questions that regard how you handle conflicts at work might seem tricky. In this blog, we will walk you through conflict resolution interview questions and how you should go about it during a job interview. These are frequently asked job interview questions. Your goal is to convince the interviewer of the fact that you can resolve differences and tensions constructively within the workplace.

Conflict resolution job interview questions are behavioral job interview questions. Behavioral job interview questions are questions about your past work experience. Interviewers ask these questions to find out if you possess the needed skills for the job you’re applying for. Behavioral job interview questions usually start with:

  1. Give me an example of (..)
  2. Tell me about a time when (..)
  3. Describe how you have handled (..)
  4. Walk me through (..)
  5. Have you ever experienced (..)
  6. Describe a situation where (..)

These behavioral job interview questions are used to learn more about your past work experience. The interviewer wants to know about your past behavior in certain situations. For them, this is an indicator and predictor of how you will behave in the future. Therefore, it’s important that you prepare before your interview to ensure you have example situations ready for when this question gets brought up.

The reason why job interview questions about conflict resolution are considered tricky is that dealing with conflicts can be tough. You don’t want to be that employee that avoids conflicts at all costs, but you also do not want to be the person that instigates it. Treading carefully and navigating through the complex situations that might occur during conflicts takes experience. Even if you do not yet possess this experience, you can still tell the interviewer what approach you would take if you were to be in that situation.

Why the interviewer is asking about how you handle conflicts

The interviewer understands that conflicts will happen from time to time in the workplace. If you’re able to substantiate that you’re a great team player, this is great. But how do you react when you experience a conflict situation at work? How do you approach such situations, and how would you solve it? The way you answer gives the interviewer insights in if you will fit into the company culture and position you’re applying for.

As discussed earlier, when the interviewer asks you about how you resolved conflicts in the past, he wants to gain insight into your behavior. The interviewer is looking for examples in which you demonstrate key skills such as problem-solving, judgment, and initiative. Employers are looking for candidates that can rise to the occasion and fulfill their jobs regardless of what is going on around them. A big part of this can handle conflicts. Another objective of the interviewer is to find out if you fit into the company culture well.

Never answer this question with something like ‘I have yet to encounter a conflict situation in my professional career, but I think I would apply a constructive approach.’ The interviewer might think that you’re not honest or even worse, he might assume that you’re the type of person that ignores conflict situations like they never happened.

What does the interviewer want to find out?

By asking about your experience with handling conflicts, the interviewer is trying to get more of his questions answered, such as:

  1. Are you able to constructively approach situations in which you’re given feedback by colleagues or managers you disagree with? Are you offended easily, or do you possess the needed problem-solving skills?
  2. Is professional competition something you see as a threat? Or do you view this as part of a learning process in your career?
  3. Are you able to deal with a conflict situation that is unavoidable? Are conflicts in your opinion good, bad, or neither?
  4. Do you immediately take action when a conflict occurs and address the situation? Or would you pretend that the underlying issue does not exist?

The interviewer could also ask follow-up questions after you described a specific situation, such as:

  1. How would you deal with an angry client? Are you able to approach this professionally, or would you take this personal?
  2. What would you do if a team member is deliberately disrupting the success of a project?
  3. How would you deal with a situation in which your manager does not take responsibility in a certain situation or does not dare to make an unpopular but crucial decision?

Tips for answering job interview questions about conflict resolution

Usually, conflict resolution job interview questions are used for management-level or higher positions. However, if you’re serious about your job interview, you’ll still prepare for this question and questions about handling conflicts in general. Everybody will find themselves in such a situation from time to time.

  1. Come prepared

Before your interview, you should have done enough research to know which interview questions you are most likely to get. Also, you should research the job description of the job you’re applying to. This was you know what is required and you can use this information to play into what the interviewer might like to hear in terms of example situations. It’s important to understand that providing example situations that are directly related to the position this will give a good impression of your suitability.

  1. Positivity is key

Focus on situations in which you were able to resolve a conflict. Also, try not to badmouth any of your colleagues or former managers or anyone else who was involved in the situation. Keep it professional.

  1. Be honest

Don’t say you never encounter any conflict situations at work. Everybody encountered some conflict along the way, and the interviewer knows this as well.

  1. Keep it brief and concise

Don’t ramble and get to the point. Give brief and concise answers that contain all the information that the interviewer needs to know, nothing more. When you’re preparing your answers and example, situations try to use the STAR-method to structure them.

STAR-Method

STAR-method is a great way to structure your answers to behavioral interview questions. These are questions that directly relate to a specific situation from past experiences in your professional career. STAR is an acronym that stands for:

Situation

Start your answer by giving the circumstance and context of the situation that you were in. Make sure the interviewer gets an understanding of the situation that you were in. Go for a situation that shows behavioral traits that the interviewer wants to see. Relate this to the job description.

Task

Next, give a summary of your tasks and key objectives. Talk about what you were responsible for that particular situation.

Action

Walk the interviewer through the actions you took to achieve your key objectives. This is another opportunity to play into the job requirements of the job that you’re applying for. Talk about your strengths and relate them to the requirements as stated in the job description.

Result

Finally, discuss the outcome of the situation and the final result of all your efforts. It’s also good to include what you have learned from the specific experience.

Sample answers to conflict resolution questions

Depending on in what form the interviewer asks questions about conflict in a professional work environment, you can tailor your answer. Make sure you prepare a general answer on how you deal with conflicts and specific example scenario too.

General sample answer:

‘My experience with conflict situations learned me that it’s always good to try to see things from the other person’s perspective and to approach the situation open-minded. By understanding the other person’s perspective, you get a better feeling of how they really feel about things. This, in turn, gives you the opportunity to talk about how to reconcile different positions. This approach makes the situation less personal which is a good way to start working from. 

For example, in my previous position, we got into a discussion within the team about the budgets that needed to be allocated for the next quarter. The argument was about where to allocate the budgets in terms of teams and departments. Basically, the team split up in two sides, and both sides thought they were right and really believed their priorities were correct. As it often goes during a discussion, the articulation and substantiation on why their priorities were that way, was not clear. Both teams made assumptions on the reasons behind each other’s decisions. I tried to mediate the differences by asking specific questions to both sides to understand where they were coming from. Within 20 minutes, both teams were able to remove a great deal of the tension and started working on a constructive solution because they understood each other’s logic behind their choices.’

Conflict resolution answer (graduate and entry-level):

Situation and Task

‘During my study, I took a course in which we were required to work in group projects. The groups were put together randomly to make sure people from a different background would work together. Everyone was assigned a specific task. My group decided to work independently from each other and collect all the work before the deadline and combine it into a final project report. During weekly calls, everybody said they were making progress as they were supposed to. When the day came to put together our combined efforts into the final report, a week before the final deadline, we found out that one team member did not even finish 50% of what he was supposed to deliver. Of course, with a large part of the project missing this would mean that we would all fail.

Within the group, there was a lot of anger towards this particular team member because failing the assignment would mean we would all fail. We set up a group meeting and asked him why he failed to deliver his part of the project, and voices were raised. Instead of solving the issue, this made matters worse and soon after people started shouting at each other.

Action

To ease the tensions a little I tried to calm everybody down and asked him directly what went wrong and the reasons for delivering his part late. He told us that things at home were not good lately and his parents got divorced. He broke down and apologized to the group for not delivering on time, but he ran out of time and felt terrible about it. When the group confronted him, he told me that he switched to being defensive because all eyes were on him. 

Result

Even though some team members were still somewhat upset, we still had a week to improve and finalize our report. We got together and figured out a plan for him to finalize his parts. We were not going to do the work for him but provided him enough support to make sure that everything he worked on would fit into the report perfectly. Not only did we get to deliver the project in time, but we got an A in the end.’

Conflict resolution answer:

Situation and Task

‘At my previous job, my team manager asked me to develop a software implementation plan. The system we used was outdated and needed to be upgraded. The goal of this task was to work together with our development team. Our team manager gave us three weeks to develop this plan. After discussing this with our development team they immediately indicated that three weeks would be insufficient to create such an implementation plan. I went to my team manager to discuss my findings and what the development team said about it. He told me he understood it needed more time and asked to provide him the plan as soon as possible.

After three weeks I got an email from him to provide him the plan within 48 hours because he wanted to present it to the board of directors. This caught me off guard because I notified him about the situation. I went to his office and brought up what we discussed three weeks earlier, but he could not recollect extending the project deadline. 

Action

I was a bit nervous when I read his email, and of course, I disagreed with what he said, but I was able to stay calm. The development team told me that we needed at least 5 weeks to create our implementation plan so we were three weeks in. Instead of starting an argument about the deadline I thought it would be more constructive to walk him through what the development team and I already came up with. We already made a framework on what to implement, and how to implement it. After walking him through the plan in more detail he was happily surprised about the work already done. I proposed to deliver him a more detailed outline in a report the day after.

Results

By demonstrating my problem-solving skills and ability to work under time pressure, I was able to provide what he needed to present to the directors. He was very pleased with the strategy I chose to go with and the cooperation with the development team. He told me that he specifically mentioned my efforts during that meeting and made it clear that I was responsible for this new strategy. We finished our plan after the five needed weeks and the new software system was implemented soon after. At the end of that year, I got promoted to team manager myself.’