How to Answer Interview Questions About Conflict

During a job interview, you’ll be asked a series of tough questions to help the employer determine what kind of employee you are. Many of these questions can be challenging, and they can vary quite a bit between different industries. One of the most common categories of questions is about conflict. In this article, you can discover the most common interview questions about conflict resolution and how to properly respond when you are asked these tough interview questions.

Why do employers ask tough conflict-resolution interview questions?

No matter what kind of industry you enter, conflict is an inescapable part of any job. Whether it be with clients, customers or coworkers, conflicts will arise at some point and it has to be managed appropriately. Since management cannot be expected to oversee every single disagreement, it’s up to employees to take initiative and resolve the conflict themselves.

In learning how to answer conflict interview questions, you can demonstrate you’re willing to take on the burden of conflict resolution in the workplace. The employer doesn’t want to hire a person who won’t know what to do, so they ask how you might handle conflict with a colleague. By practicing good interview answers for dealing with conflict, you’ll demonstrate your skill and resolve as a productive employee. 

Common conflict-resolution interview questions

Here are some of the most common interview questions about conflict:

How do you deal with conflict?

Typically, this question is to get an overall impression of your conflict-resolution skills, and it’s almost always followed up by questions pressing for more details. When answering, make sure you emphasize how de-escalation is your primary goal. When conflict gets out of hand, it can become incredibly disruptive to a workday, so avoiding that kind of disruption should be a top priority. Additionally, make sure you’re not conveying any body language or tone of voice that can be considered aggressive as you want to show you don’t harbor resentment.

Example: ‘When there’s conflict, I always start by privately discussing the issue with the person involved. By actively listening, I can understand their perspective, which in turn, makes it easier to come to a conclusion that everyone can be satisfied with. Part of coming up with that solution is working with the other person. I’ve found conflict resolution is most effective when approached as a team effort.’

Related: How to Appear Confident in an Interview

How have you dealt with conflict with a coworker?

While it may be easy to think of an instance in which you had an issue with a coworker, it’s important to tread carefully when providing your answer. This question is designed to draw out behavioral traits, and you don’t want to present yourself as someone who is petty, angry or holding grudges. Additionally, you need to show your competence at problem-solving and conflict resolution, so make sure you pick an instance in which you and your coworker were able to come to a solution. Stay focused on the facts of the situation rather than blaming the other person for the problems. Don’t make excuses and don’t make accusations. Focus solely on the facts and the solution.

Example: ‘At my old job, I worked on a team with a man named Joe. Due to the nature of our work, we had to meet deadlines in order to have an efficient workflow. Unfortunately, Joe repeatedly missed deadlines, which compromised the efficiency of the entire system. I pulled Joe aside and discussed the problem with him. We found a way to reorganize our personal workflows that allowed him to meet deadlines better to maximize the system’s efficiency.’

Have you ever had to deal with an unhappy customer or client?

If the position you’re applying for involves interaction with customers or clients, conflict resolution takes on a whole new meaning. While you still have to be concerned with conflict among coworkers, conflict with customers and clients can also become an issue. As an employee, you’re effectively a company representative, and your potential employer is going to want to know how well you’re going to fulfill that role should an issue arise. Your answer here should reflect your willingness to keep customers and clients happy with their experience being the focus and ultimate end goal of your interaction.

Example: ‘I’ve had to deal with quite a few unhappy customers back in my retail days, but one instance that stands out was at my previous company. One of our clients ordered in bulk every two months or so, and they were one of our biggest sources of income at the time. Unfortunately, one order shipped with our product in the wrong color. They called to complain and were extremely dissatisfied obviously. I listened to them explain the situation on the phone and vent about the problem while simultaneously doing a few quick calculations on my end. I discovered that losing them as a client would be far more costly in the long run than sending them a new bulk order free of charge. With my calculations in hand, I cleared the idea with management and offered the new order at no cost plus 10% off their next order. They agreed and stayed on as a client.’

To always give the best answer when asked about conflict resolution during an interview, just remember the ultimate goal is always de-escalation and problem-solving. Being prepared to answer conflict interview questions can be the difference between you and other applicants, so do your best to stay competitive. Keep in mind you can ask for a brief moment to think of an answer to any question. A moment of silence followed by a thoughtful answer is always better than a jumbled insufficient answer given immediately.

Related: How to Succeed at Your Second Interview