Answering "Tell Me About a Time You Had a Conflict at Work"

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 1, 2022

Published October 18, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Conflicts between colleagues and coworkers can occur at work. When you go for an interview, hiring managers may ask questions about how you might handle conflicts. Knowing how to respond can help you demonstrate that you have good interpersonal skills, which can be important for the job. In this article, we discuss how to answer the question "tell me about a time you had a conflict at work," provide answers to other similar questions and share tips for dealing with conflicts in the workplace.

How to answer "tell me about a time you had a conflict at work"

Here are some steps you can follow when answering the question, "tell me about a time you had a conflict at work":

1. Describe the situation

The first step to answering this question is to describe the situation preceding the conflict. Describing the situation can help the interviewer understand the context, which can help them appreciate your answer. When describing the situation, start with the task that led to the dispute. It's important you mention who you had a conflict with and their role in relation to yours. For example, the person may be a colleague, contractor, client or supervisor. Including this detail can help the interviewer understand the circumstances and why you chose your approach.

Provide details about the conflict. Details include the specific nature of the conflict and why it arose. For example, you may have a conflict with a coworker if they refuse to turn in their work when due. Remember to be honest with your analysis so the interviewer doesn't view you as having a bias. The best approach is to highlight ways you may have avoided the conflict in the first place or how your actions contributed to the person's defensiveness.

Related: How To Handle Rude Coworkers in the Workplace (With Tips)

2. Discuss your approach

The next step is to discuss how you approached and solved the issue. You can walk the interviewer through your thought process at the time and any steps you took to understand the conflict. For example, you can mention that you spoke to a coworker or supervisor for advice. Highlighting your emotions during the period can make your answer sound more genuine. You might mention that you felt anger or frustration at the person's reaction. Doing this can help the manager respect your composure and professionalism.

It's essential you highlight the soft skills you used during the period. You may highlight that you were patient or used your interpersonal skills to reconcile with the person and become their friend. If the conflict was with a customer, you could highlight your customer service skills as instrumental in resolving the dispute.

Related: 8 Steps for Conflict Resolution at Work

3. Highlight the results

Next, you should emphasize how you resolved the conflict amicably. If your conflict management led to impressive work results, you can mention that. For example, you can talk about how resolving a conflict with a colleague who felt overburdened led to developing a work-sharing system that improved efficiency. It can also be that resolving the conflict allowed you to meet a deadline you may have missed. Discussing these results makes your answer more impressive to the hiring manager.

4. Mention what you learned from the experience

Discussing what the conflict taught you is a great way to show that you're teachable and keen on professional development. To impress the hiring manager, you can highlight what you learned about avoiding conflicts and solving them. It's also important to mention any soft skills the encounter helped you develop or improve. This shows the hiring manager you're committed to being a productive employee and improving your chances of success.

Sample answers about a time you handled conflict at work

Here are some sample answers to how you handled conflict at work, which can help you prepare for your interview:

Example 1

"As an entry-level marketer, my boss assigned me to a team working on a marketing campaign for a detergent company. One of the associates in the team frequently talked over me during brainstorming sessions and dismissed some of my ideas as inexperienced. Feeling frustrated, I reached out to the team lead, who advised me to speak to the associate about how their behaviour affected me. So I did, and the colleague apologized. We immediately developed a healthy working relationship and have been friends to date. The experience taught me that communication can resolve most conflicts."

Example 2

"I once had to work with a colleague who was in the habit of mispronouncing my name. After correcting them the first time, they insisted I was overreacting and made no effort to change. As my frustration grew, I approached our manager, who offered to issue them a warning.

I felt this likely affected my relationship with other colleagues, so I decided to speak with the colleague one last time. I explained the cultural significance of my name and why it was important to me. The conversation seemed to help them understand, and they immediately made an effort to change."

Related: 5 Conflict Management Styles (And How to Use Them)

Example 3

"I was the head of a business analysis team, which made me responsible for allocating tasks. Over time, I noticed one of the junior analysts was increasingly late to meetings and always had a defensive attitude. I decided to speak to them to encourage them to arrive on time. In the discussion, I realized I had unknowingly overburdened the analyst while others had less work. I apologized and reallocated the tasks. The analyst's mood improved, and they arrived at meetings on time as they didn't feel overwhelmed with work. The experience taught me the importance of listening to other parties."

Other conflict interview questions you may encounter

Here are some other questions relating to conflict handling and resolution which you may encounter in an interview:

How do you deal with conflict?

Interviewers ask this question to assess your general attitude towards conflict at work. When answering this question, it's important you emphasize your communication and interpersonal skills. You can use this opportunity to mention any special techniques you have for resolving conflict.

Example: "When I experience conflict with a colleague, my first response is to check my temper and ensure I'm not defensive. Usually, I request that the colleague and I speak privately to avoid interference. Then I try to listen to their views, discuss mine, and work together on a compromise."

Related: Tips for Dealing with Interpersonal Conflict at Work

Can you tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss?

This question tests your ability to handle conflict and your respect for authority. All organizations are protective of their authority structures, so it's important you don't suggest any confrontational or disrespectful approach. Similarly, avoid badmouthing your previous employer when answering this question.

Example: "While I believe in respecting authority, I also consider it necessary to speak up if my boss does anything to hinder my productivity. For example, I once had to speak to my boss about their criticism, which I considered unfair. After a brief meeting, my boss expressed surprise that their actions had such an impact on me and promised to be more positive in the future."

Related:

  • Q&A: "Describe a Situation Where You Disagreed With a Supervisor"

  • How to Deal With a Difficult Boss (With Additional Tips)

Tell me about a time you dealt with an angry customer

One of the most common sources of conflict in the workplace occurs between employees and clients. Organizations consider their clients very important and expect their employees to do the same. To answer this question properly, it's essential you emphasize respect for the client and focus on the most effective resolution.

Example: "I worked as a receptionist where I once encountered a furious client. The client came in yelling and visibly angry. After some time, I managed to calm them down and asked what was wrong. While the client's responses were rude, I focused on their complaints. I eventually discovered one of our consultants had kept them waiting too long. I immediately apologized on behalf of the company, offered them some water, and connected them with another consultant. The client then approached me after to apologize for their behaviour."

Related:

  • Common Behavioural Interview Questions With Example Answers

  • How To Answer Conflict Resolution Interview Questions

Tips to avoid conflict in the workplace

Here are some tips you can follow to avoid conflict in the workplace:

  • Practise effective communication: Frequently, conflicts in the workplace are because of misunderstandings. Effective communication can help clarify each person's position so everyone can reach a compromise.

  • Focus on the task: Conflicts may persist due to differences in personalities or priorities. Focusing on completing your tasks can make it easier to work on the best compromise.

  • Be polite: Politeness is being considerate and respectful towards others in your conduct. To avoid conflict, ensure you're polite in your speech and actions within and outside the workplace.

  • Speak up: Conflicts often escalate when someone refuses to speak up and allows resentment to grow. By addressing the issue quickly, you can resolve issues in time and protect your relationship with others.

  • Be diligent with work tasks: Failure to perform your duties properly can affect others, which can sometimes cause conflict. In contrast, by completing your tasks punctually and delivering quality work, you make the jobs of your colleagues easier.


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