If you think that you have never been involved in any kind of conflict during your years of professionalism, then you are wrong. Or at least that is not the answer that employers want to hear!

Don't get us wrong, employers aren't out looking for troublemakers to join their teams, far from it. However, employers are on the hunt for workers who can identify tensions in the workplace and prove that they have the emotional intelligence to resolve these conflicts or, even better, prevent them from happening in the first place. Hence why interviewers often ask questions that prompt you to reflect on a negative experience, in the hope that you can show the ways in which you turned it around into a positive situation.

Your scenario can be as big or as little as you see fit, so long as the outcome reflects well on you.

When not in a pressured environment such as an interview room, you can probably spend time thinking back to your various posts and may come to realise that you have actually dealt with conflict in numerous different ways at work, often without even recognising it.

Be sure to come up with something when asked questions about your behaviour at work, rather than having nothing to show for yourself.
Thinking back, you have probably been in the middle of a difficult situation at work but managed to successfully resolve it before it turned into conflict. Photo on VisualHunt

In some ways, conflict management is just common sense, having pride in your work and just being yourself. However, other times you must work very hard to successfully resolve a conflict. To avoid you finding these prodding questions too difficult though, here are some sample questions and answers for you to consider before your next interview.

Below are some sample questions that you will very likely be asked (or have been asked) in an interview:

How have you dealt with conflict with a co-worker in the past?

Recommended Answer:

This isn't a trick question, really. Employers genuinely want to know what your impulsive behaviour is like and just want an insight into how you go about your work. Discussing your behaviour can give a lot away about your personality and thus your suitability for a post.

Remember, there is no perfect answer because it all depends on what the employer is looking for. Make out that you are a peacemaker, and be ruled out due to you not being assertive enough or show your leadership skills and put the interview off with your confidence! Your best bet is to be yourself as if you think you can do well in the role after reading the job description, then the chances are that they will too.

TargetJobs.Co.uk explains why you shouldn't dodge this type of question, even when interviewing for graduate roles with little experience of the workplace and any conflict:

"How not to reply to the interview question ‘How do you deal with conflict?’

‘I’ve never encountered conflict, but I guess I would handle it constructively.’

Why is this answer unlikely to get you the graduate job you want?
There isn’t a person alive who has never encountered conflict so, at worst, this answer comes across as being dishonest, or, more likely, as from the mouth of someone who buries their head in sand and pretends conflict never happens, and ignores it when it does.

Sometimes letting problems blow away is a sound policy; but it can also be the worst thing you can do, as unresolved issues often return in worse forms. Also, in the answer above, ‘I guess I would handle it constructively’ sounds as if you’re trying hard to say the right thing but are not too sure about it."

Regardless of your story, whether true or somewhat exaggerated, remember to focus on the positive traits that you displayed.

For instance, emphasise your communication skills and your emotional intelligence (i.e. showing that you didn't make a scene but instead took the person aside for a private, diplomatic chat). Don't come across resentful about the situation, as this could paint you in a bad light. Instead, talk respectfully about your co-worker(s) and prove that you took their opinions on board by listening to their point of view.

Whether you successfully convinced the other party to jump on board with you, you caved or you agreed to meet halfway, the outcome may not matter so long you showed your processes of flexibility and mindfulness.

Focus on facts rather than the emotions of the day.

Employers want t know that you won't be a liability at work with aggressive behaviour. Photo on Visualhunt

Take every difficult question as an opportunity to share a success story with the person interviewing you.

A word for the wise - you are probably best choosing an incident where you and your colleague were able to resolve the issue among yourselves without involving your boss.

What Steps Did You Take When You Disagreed With Your Manager?

Recommended Answer:

It is never a good idea to bad mouth a former boss, whether your current manager or a previous leader. However, it is quite understanding to disagree with a person you respect so just make sure that speak truthfully but tread carefully and acknowledge how difficult you found the situation you were put in.

Remain respectful, as always, to your boss (who has worked his or her way up to the position they are in and has, therefore, proven themself worthy of the role even if you don't agree) and express the way that you positively confronted him or her and had your views recognised.

Don't go saying how you disagreed with a boss one time but didn't say anything and then you were secretly pleased when their move proved to be the wrong one - as it will look like you were sneakily hoping they would fail, which isn't a good culture for the workplace.

Give me examples of how you have dealt with an unhappy customer or client.

Recommended Answer:

This type of question is very telling, especially when you’re interviewing for a client or customer-facing position.

Remember that when you become an employee, you represent that company to all outsiders and therefore how you respond to a situation can have a huge impact on their reputation in general.

You must prove here that you take on board and fully understand the value of customer service, even when faced with particularly difficult customers. This is your chance to prove that you would do all in your power to keep difficult people like clients and customers happy, even when you don't fully agree with them or like them!

Happy customers usually make for a happy place to work.
Employers ask tricky questions as their customers' satisfaction is the most important thing and they need to make sure you can deliver excellent customer service too. Photo on Visualhunt

TargetJobs.Co.Uk once again provides some very useful information about how best to respond to questions surrounding conflict, turning them into an opportunity to showcase your skills, intelligence and confidence:

"You might say something like, ‘In my experience, where there is conflict it really helps to try and see things through the other person's eyes and to ask them open-minded questions to discover why they feel about things. Once you see the facts from the other’s perspective it’s easier to discuss how to reconcile different positions and make the situation less personal. For example, when I’ve seen people argue about how to spend money, both sides really believe their priorities are correct but they often don’t articulate clearly why they have those priorities. Ask the right questions and you might get to a situation in which people agree more easily to share what funds are available.’

You could also say, ‘Once conflict has passed you need to put in place measures to ensure it doesn’t recur. I noticed this was how things were handled when I worked part-time at store I worked for. The late shift felt that the early shift was not handing work over properly, and the early shift felt the same thing about the late shift. Once the disagreements were out in the open, I could really see how it helped when the store improved the detail on the handover sheets and continued having better meetings.’ You don’t have to pretend to be an expert on defusing tension – just show you know the principles of doing so."

When answering such behavioural questions, remember these keywords. Imagine that your interview panel is giving you a tick for each and every positive word you use in relation to conflict management and get your score as high as possible (without sounding non-human)!

  • resolution
  • negotiation
  • facilitation
  • peacemaking
  • brainstorm
  • compromising
  • mediate
  • nonviolent
  • impartial
  • smoothing
  • cool off

For more interview-style questions, visit websites such as Reed or Monster.

See here why it is so important to resolve conflict at work.

Click here to learn more about conflict management skills as well as discover different conflict management strategies.

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