Updated for 2022: Conflict interview questions are some of the most common behavioral interview questions that hiring managers ask.
The idea is to find out about your ability to handle conflict, be it with coworkers or supervisors, as well as how you manage and nurture interpersonal relationships in the workplace.
What Is a Conflict?
In the workplace, as well as in other aspects of life, conflict is tricky to deal with; it can cause a great deal of tension, distrust, and disruption.
Some kind of conflict is somewhat inevitable when there’s more than one person in the same space, especially if they are pursuing a common goal. Some of your coworkers, managers, and/or clients will turn out to be… well, difficult to work with. Disagreements are bound to arise.
The important thing is to know how to resolve conflicts professionally, peacefully, and constructively. This is particularly true in certain jobs (project management, customer service, law) and in certain company cultures.
So, conflict interview questions are asked in order to check your experience and how you deal with tricky situations.
Common Conflict Interview Questions
- Tell me about a team project when you had to work with someone difficult.
- Tell me about a time you had a conflict at work.
- Give an example of a time you had to respond to an unhappy
- Tell me about a time that you disagreed with a rule or approach.
- Describe a situation where you disagreed with the supervisor.
- How do you handle conflict? Give me an example.
- Tell me about a challenge or conflict you’ve faced at work, and how you dealt with it.
Notice how each question begins with “Tell me about…’’, “Give me an example of a time…’’ or “Describe a situation when…’’? That means these are all behavioral questions about conflict.
Behavioral questions ask for particular situations in which you displayed a specific skill or behavior that is relevant to the position you’re applying for. In this case, it’s conflict management.
Recently, I was conducting an interview skills workshop for managers at a large corporation. The subject of conflict behavioral questions came up (this big multinational company uses primarily behavioral questions when interviewing candidates).
One manager shared a memorable answer to “How would you handle a conflict at work?” A recent candidate responded: “I’d invite that person to meet me in the parking lot after work and sort it out man-to-man.”
Guess what? He didn’t get the job. But here’s how he could have answered instead.
How to Answer Conflict Interview Questions
Questions about conflict can catch you off-guard, as nobody likes to talk about conflict at work. Plus, you’d probably prefer to pretend that you are an absolute delight to work with and that nobody has ever had an unkind word to say about you.
But you’ll have to talk about a less-than-delightful situation. It can be difficult to come up with a good example on the fly — and even more difficult to describe a conflict concisely and in a way that presents you in a favorable light.
This is why it’s important to prepare an example in advance using the STAR format.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Results. It tells a story from beginning to end and showcases your competencies.
In the Situation part, you’ll want to set the context, which is, in this case, a conflict involving you and other people. Task is there for communicating what you had to do – find a way to successfully resolve the conflict. Action is describing how exactly you did it, and Results, well… it’s clear. Pro tip: let the Action part take up 60-80% of the answer. This is because recruiters want to know every detail about how you completed your task, how you communicated, which strategies you used, and similar.
For a detailed answer and strong storytelling, we also recommend jotting down key points and then practicing.
In our software Big Interview, we’ve developed a tool specifically for building your STAR interview answers. We call it the Answer Builder.
Once you log in to your Big Interview Dashboard, you can navigate to the “Practice” area and choose from four different practice options: Practice Interviews, Interview Roulette, Question Library, and Answer Builder.
Once you have selected the Answer Builder, you will be directed to a screen that allows you to go through the STAR format step-by-step, carefully laying out your answer.
You can select which competency area to create answers for, name your STAR stories, and be guided on how to craft your answers.
Remember, the goal is not to script out an answer word-for-word. The STAR format allows you to structure the general shape of your response by jotting down bullets for each of the key aspects of the story.
When you feel confident in your STAR answers, it’s time to start practicing!
Return to the Dashboard and navigate back to the “Practice” tab. Select “Practice Interviews.”
From here, you can choose what type of interview you would like to practice. Since we are discussing behavioral interview questions that demonstrate competencies, we will choose “Competency/Skillset” to practice our STAR answers.
Now you can select which competency you’d like to practice.
Once you have selected your competency question set, you will be taken to the practice area. A pre-recorded interviewer will ask you a set of questions about your chosen competency. You will have the opportunity to practice your answers using your STAR bullet points as notes.
Continue to practice until you can seamlessly give a complete answer without referencing your notes.
When you have mastered your answers, navigate to the “My Videos” tab where you will find all of your recordings.
From here, you can send your video to be reviewed by trusted friends and mentors, get AI feedback, or simply review and grade yourself.
Now that we covered the process of crafting a perfect answer to conflict interview questions, let’s check out some examples.
Conflict Sample Answer #1
Briefly describe the conflict that arose. Provide just enough background information for context.
- I was managing the creation of our new corporate brochure and we were on a very tight deadline because we had to have brochures printed in time for a big upcoming trade show.
- I was in charge of delivering on time and I had to manage team members from Marketing, Sales, Graphic Design, and Product Management.
- The designer that was assigned to the project was very talented, but unfortunately missed a deadline that I assigned. When I approached him about it, he blew up at me.
Why We Like This
These bullets provide good context — it was an important and complex project with a tight deadline. The designer not only missed a deadline but threw a fit when called on it. This is a real conflict with a coworker that could have led to disaster if handled poorly.
Tip: Don’t get too caught up in unnecessary details. The interviewer doesn’t need to know about the color scheme of the brochure, the history of the trade show, or the designer’s weird wardrobe choices.
Talk about the key actions that you took. In the case of a conflict story, the focus should be on how to resolve the disagreement in a professional and productive way.
- I was taken aback by his response, but I remained calm. I acknowledged that the deadlines were tight and explained again the reasoning and the importance of having the brochure ready for the trade show.
- He relaxed a little when he saw that I wasn’t attacking him. He told me about all of his other competing projects and how overwhelmed he was. I asked him if there was any way that I could help him come up with a solution.
- Eventually, we agreed that it would help if his manager had a better understanding of how important and time-consuming this project was. We decided we would speak with her together.
- She ended up assigning some of his other projects to another designer, which took some of the pressure off of him.
Why We Like This
This candidate walks us through the actions taken and why. He shows that he stayed calm under pressure, tackled the issue head-on, and was able to persuade others (the designer and his manager) to his point of view.
Tip: Again, stick to the actions that are most relevant and that show your conflict-management prowess.
Every good interview story includes a happy ending. End your response with a description of the positive outcome(s) of your action. These results can be quantifiable (increased sales 20%, saved the company $25K) or anecdotal (The client was thrilled and sent my manager an email, my manager loved my approach and gave me a promotion).
- As a result, the designer was able to focus on the brochure and meet the deadlines.
- He apologized for his blow-up and thanked me for my help.
- We successfully completed the brochure in time for the trade show and received numerous compliments from both our own sales reps and potential customers.
- Our trade show presence led to $300,000 in new sales leads and I believe the new brochure played a key role in that.
Why We Like This
This is a nice, concise happy ending. The candidate describes the resolution of the conflict, the positive effect on the relationship with the designer, and the business outcome.
Tip: The bottom-line results ($$$) make it even more impressive. This is not possible with every conflict-resolution story, but you should always pick the example with the most significant results.
Conflict Sample Answer #2
S/T (Situation and Task)
- I was managing a team of content writers. We had a junior writer join our team.
- He was eager to learn and partake in team projects but he kept getting proofreading tasks from our coworker from another team which took up a lot of his time. Needless to say, these tasks were not significant to his role and wouldn’t be taken into account during his performance reviews.
- He started missing deadlines for tasks that matter to him and getting frustrated with the coworker who kept assigning the proofreading tasks. It was time for me to step up and resolve the situation.
Why We Like This
The bullet points provide sufficient context without going into too many details. There’s no need to talk about what exactly the projects encompassed, and similar.
- I scheduled a meeting with the 3 of us: the junior writer, the coworker who kept assigning him the tasks, and myself.
- I told our coworker that I understood she was too busy and couldn’t proofread the materials by herself. But I also told her our junior writer had some goals to hit in order to successfully complete his probationary period, and he had no time to work on them because he was too busy with proofreading. Yet, he wasn’t comfortable with setting up boundaries and refusing those tasks.
- The coworker was uncomfortable; she apologized and said she wasn’t aware that the junior writer had a lot of work on other projects. She said she kept assigning him because she thought he had nothing else to work on.
- This is where I realized this might be my mistake because I hadn’t clearly communicated our goals and the writer’s workload. I apologized, explained the situation, and suggested that she decrease the amount of work she sent to the writer.
- I came up with a plan: she’d send a couple of tasks each week that the writer could finish in 2-3 hours. Nothing more, nothing less.
Why We Like This
Notice how the Action section is longer than the Situation/Task section? That’s because recruiters are more interested in hearing details about how the conflict was resolved. Feel free to go into more detail in this section, and keep the others shorter.
- Our coworker from another department still had help, but with the limited time for her tasks, the junior writer had more time to work on projects directly tied to his KPIs.
- He successfully passed his probationary period.
- I started communicating more clearly with other departments we collaborated with because I wanted to avoid this situation in the future.
- Overall, we all realized how important communication is.
Why We Like This
A triple happy ending. The conflict was resolved, a new strategy was put in place for everyone to thrive in their roles, and an important lesson about clear communication was learned.
Additional Tips & Tricks
Here are additional things to consider when crafting your answer to conflict interview questions.
1. Pick Good Conflict Examples:
- Choose an example that shows you taking an active approach to resolving an important conflict, such as a real conflict with a coworker, or a conflict with a supervisor.
- Be specific. Don’t give a general answer like, “I deal with conflicts all the time and have learned to stay calm and that communication is key.” It’s boring and it doesn’t answer the question.
- Don’t choose a minor disagreement (“He didn’t want Italian for lunch“) or a conflict that was resolved by someone else or just went away without direct action. The idea here is to show off your interpersonal skills and problem-solving ability.
- Avoid examples that could make you look bad. For example, don’t share a time when your mistake or miscommunication CAUSED a conflict.
2. Get Specific About Your Actions for Conflict Resolution
- The most memorable and compelling stories include enough detail to paint a picture. Show why this conflict was important and that you handled it capably.
- However, you must make an effort to keep the story concise. It’s very easy to go off on tangents (especially if you haven’t prepared in advance). Keep it focused.
- Stick to bullet points. Don’t try to memorize a script.
- Take the time to practice telling your story. This is especially important when telling a story about conflict.
- Conflicts often lead to arguments, problems, and damaged or broken professional relationships. You want to feel confident discussing the sensitive details in a way that gets your points across.
- To feel 100% ready and confident when delivering your answer, we recommend practicing in advance, as much as you can.
Your future awaits, good luck!