While your resume and cover letter might give recruiters and hiring managers a good idea of your skills, qualifications and experience, they do not help the hiring manager to determine how well you deal with the different situations you might encounter at work.

As a result, during the job interview, they will ask you questions that allow you to reveal this kind of information, and in particular, they might ask you to answer some behavioral questions.

Behavioral questions are questions that ask you to explain how you dealt with certain kinds of situations during your past experience.

The idea behind behavioral questions is that your past behavior in these situations is a good predictor of your future behavior should you encounter a similar situation after you have been hired.

Behavioral questions usually start with phrases like “Give me an example of a time when…,” “describe a time when…” or “tell me about a time when…”

While behavioral questions can be used to find out how you would deal with several different situations, one of the topics where they are commonly used is on the subject of conflict resolution.

Most interviewers will want to know about your ability to deal with and manage conflict, especially if you are interviewing for a managerial or high level position, as well as positions that deal with project management, customer service, law, and so on.

The thing with conflict is that most people do not like talking about it. In addition, if you are not very careful, it is quite easy to paint yourself in bad light when talking about situations where you were involved in a conflict.

This is what makes it difficult for most candidates to answer behavioral questions related to conflict.

However, since it is inevitable that you will encounter these questions during one of your interviews, the best thing to do is to prepare in advance and learn how to answer these questions, and that is exactly what we are going to cover in this article. Before we look at how to answer these questions, however, let’s first understand why interviewers ask about conflict.

WHY DO INTERVIEWERS ASK ABOUT CONFLICT?

The typical workplace is usually a kaleidoscope of personalities.

Some of your coworkers will have a strong work ethic, always getting their work done on time, while others will be slackers who have to be constantly pushed in order to get work done.

Some of your coworkers will be clever people who always know what they are doing, while others might turn out to be idiots who do things without thinking about the repercussions of their actions. Some will egotistic and arrogant, while others will be humble.

With so many different personalities working within the same space, there will definitely be differences in opinion, and in some instances, it is inevitable that these differences will lead to conflict.

To be successful, you need to be able to get along well with all these people, and when conflicts do arise, you will need to handle and manage them professionally and ensure that the conflicts do not get in the way of work.

Considering that businesses lose about $359 billion in paid hours per year (about 385 million working days) due to workplace conflict, it is really important for employers to hire employees who know how to handle conflict professionally.

Source: Robyn Short

By asking conflict resolution behavioral questions, the interviewers want to get a sense of how you respond once conflict arises.

Are you the type who remains level headed and tries to find a solution, or are you the kind of person who stokes the fire? Are you the kind of person who will go to all lengths to avoid conflicts?

Are you the kind of person who sweeps everything under the rag and pretends that there is no conflict, even when it is there? Are you able to communicate effectively in the face of conflict and bring the conflict to an amicable solution?

No employer wants to hire an employee who is difficult to work with, or a hot-tempered employee who will create mountains out of anthills and make the whole workplace toxic.

Asking these questions allows the interviewer to filter out candidates whose personality and actions are not aligned with the company culture of the employer.

ANSWERING BEHAVIORAL QUESTIONS ABOUT CONFLICT

Conflicts usually go hand-in-hand with negative energy, and therefore, no one wants to talk about conflict at work.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what behavioral questions about conflict want you to do – talk about a real situation where you had to deal with conflict.

Discussing such situations will be difficult for most people. Describing such situations in a way that paints you in a favorable light is even more difficult.

Some of the common behavioral questions you might encounter in job interviews include:

  • Describe a time when you had to deal with conflict at work.
  • Tell me about a time when you had to work with a difficult person on a team project.
  • Give me an example of a situation where you had to deal with an irate customer.
  • Describe a time when you had a disagreement with your manager/supervisor. How did you go about it?
  • Tell me about a time you were against a certain rule or approach at work.
  • Give me an example of a situation where you had to resolve a conflict between two colleagues.

When it comes to answering the behavioral questions about conflict, you should use a technique known as the STAR formula. This is a tried and tested formula that gives you an easy-to-use structure that you can use to frame your answers for behavioral questions.

The term STAR is an acronym which stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result. A good response to a conflict-resolution behavioral questions needs to contain these four elements. Let’s take a look a closer look at each of these four elements.

  • Situation: The situation element sets the stage for your STAR response. The role of the situation element is to provide the context for your response and give some background information. Some of the information you might need to provide in this section includes details about where you were working at the time, the project you were working on, the people you were working with, how you came to be involved in the project, and so on. Done well, this section lays the ground for the rest of your response. When describing the situation element of your response, avoid the temptation to ramble. Keep it short and sweet. One or two sentences is enough. The aim is simply to make sure that the interviewer has enough information to understand the circumstances of the conflict.
  • Task: The task element of your STAR response should provide information about the role you were tasked with and how it led to the conflict. What task were you assigned? What results were you expected to deliver? What is it that led to the conflict? Did someone provide an approach to your task that you were not in agreement with? Did you feel that you had not been given enough resources (time, information, equipment, materials, etc.) to effectively complete your task? Were you directly involved in the conflict, or were you acting as a mediator? With this section, you want the interview to understand the exact thing that caused the conflict. Once again, one or two sentences are enough.
  • Action: This is a very important part of your response. This is the section that explains the action that you took to manage and resolve the conflict. It is the part that tells the interviewer how you handle conflicts, which is the exact information the interviewer is looking for. Do not explain this section in a rush. You want to show the exact steps and approach you used to come up with an amicable resolution to the conflict. Here, you want to focus your attention on what you did, not what others did, which means using “I” statements. Talking about what other people did to end the conflict does not show your conflict management skills. Actually, it could make you come across as a person who cannot handle conflicts on their own without a mediator stepping in to save the situation.
  • Result: This is the last section of your STAR response. This is where you get to talk about the outcome of the steps you described in the action section above. Were you able to bring the conflict to an amicable resolution? Were you able to maintain a good relationship between yourself and the other party you were in conflict with? Did resolving the conflict have any impact on the organization’s bottom line? Did you learn anything from the conflict? When describing the result section of your STAR response, you should only focus on showing that the conflict came to a positive ending. Giving a negative ending to the conflict could paint you in bad light and mess up your chances of getting the job. If possible, you should quantify any results you were able to achieve after resolving the conflict. Were you able to reduce the delivery time by a certain percentage? If you came up with a better approach, what was its impact on production or sales or whatever aspect the conflict was about?

EXAMPLE OF HOW TO USE THE STAR TECHNIQUE TO ANSWER BEHAVIORAL QUESTIONS ABOUT CONFLICT

Below, let’s look at an example of how to answer a behavioral question about conflict using the STAR technique. We are going to assume that the interviewer has asked you the following question:

“Describe a time when you had a disagreement with your boss.”

Situation

Start by giving a brief description of the context in which the conflict arose. Here is an example of how to do that:

In my previous job, I was the head of the digital marketing department at Copy Cat Limited. My boss, the director of sales and marketing, asked me to implement a content marketing campaign with the aim was to increase traffic to the business website and generate more leads.

Task

Here, you will explain the exact role you were tasked with that led to conflict. Here is an example of how to do that:

My boss wanted the campaign to be up and running within a week. However, I knew it would be impossible to have the campaign running within a week, since I would need to do a keyword research to figure out the kind of content our audience would be interested with, come up with a content plan, and interview and hire content creators to create the content for the campaign. I spoke to my boss and explained this to him, and we agreed that the campaign would be up and running within two weeks. The following Monday, however, he called me with an angry tone wondering why no content had been uploaded on the company website yet. When I tried to remind him that we had agreed that the content would go up after two weeks, he seemed to have no recollection of that conversation, and he blew up at me for not having the content ready.

Action

This is where you explain the key actions you took to resolve the conflict productively and professionally, without ruining the relationship between you and your boss. Here, you could say something like:

I was shocked that he had no recollection of the conversation where we had decided that the campaign would be up and running in two weeks rather than one. However, instead of arguing with him about what we had agreed on, I remained calm, and changed the focus of the conversation to what I had already done since our last conversation. I notified him that I had already completed the keyword research, created a content plan, and was in the process of performing the final round of interviews for content writers.

Result

This is where you explain the impact of your actions above on the conflict and the relationship between you and your boss. Below is an example of how to word this:

After showing him what I had done and the timelines, he relaxed and realized that it would have been impossible to have the campaign up and running within such a short time. He apologized for blowing off on me, showed his appreciation for the work I had done so far, and ask me to continue with the interviews. Eventually, we got the campaign up and running, and by the end of the campaign, traffic to our website had increased by over 50%, and we were able to generate 20% more leads.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN ANSWERING BEHAVIORAL QUESTIONS ABOUT CONFLICT

Even when answering behavioral questions about conflict using the STAR technique, there are some things you need to keep in mind if you want to give an effective answer that will increase your chances of getting the job. These include:

Pick A Good Example

When asked to give an example of a situation where you dealt with conflict before, you might have a few such situations in mind. However, not all of them will be suitable answers to this question.

You need to make sure that you pick the right example that will present you in the best light.

This means that you should go for an example where you actually took active steps to resolve the conflict.

If you were involved in a conflict, but then the conflict was resolved by the other party or a mediator, this might not be a very good example to use when answering the question.

In addition, you should pick an example that shows a significant work-related conflict, not meaningless disagreements like what to have for lunch during a department luncheon.

You should also go for examples that you remember clearly. The interviewer might decide to follow up your answer with more questions, and if you do not remember important details about the example you provided, it could appear like you are lying, which will definitely hurt your chances of getting the job.

Finally, you should not pick an example that could end up making you look bad. For instance, if the conflict was caused by some mistake or negligence on your part, it is best to avoid it.

Get Specific About What You Did

The main reason why the interviewer is asking you these questions is because they want to understand what you would do when faced with conflict, and therefore, the major focus of your answer should be on what you did. Don’t just say that you resolved the conflict.

Instead, you want to get specific on the exact actions you took to diffuse the conflict. Explaining the specific actions you took gives the interviewer a glimpse into your thought process when dealing with conflict, which makes it easier for them to figure out the action you would take when faced with a similar situation once you are hired. However, remember to keep your answer short and focused.

Avoid the temptation to go off on tangents that do not add anything useful to your response.

Emphasize Your Communication Skills

It is impossible to resolve conflicts without proper communication.

Actually, lack of communication when dealing with a conflict can make the conflict worse and lead to losses that could have been avoided. Lack of communication also leads to resentment, which can gradually make the entire workplace toxic.

Therefore, when giving your response to behavioral questions about conflict, be sure to emphasize your communication skills and your willingness to work through conflicts.

Emphasize The Results

The actions you took to resolve the conflict do not matter if the conflict was not resolved amicably.

Therefore, you also need to emphasize on the outcome of the conflict and your actions.

Did it lead to better performance in the project you were handling? Did it result in improvements being made to the approach used by the company? Were you able to learn something new as a result of the conflict?

All these are very crucial to giving a good answer.

Don’t Present Yourself As Someone Who Doesn’t Get Into Conflict

Wouldn’t it be better to present yourself as a good employee who never gets into conflicts because of your exemplary interpersonal skills? Wouldn’t employers want an employee like that?

The answer is no. The typical workplace is made up of people with very diverse sets of characters, behaviors, and opinions, and in such environment, it is inevitable that conflicts will arise.

By painting yourself as someone who never gets into conflict, you are basically saying that you will go to all lengths to avoid conflict. It says you are someone who cannot stand up for what you believe in.

It says you cannot defend your opinions if they get challenged. It basically says you are a pushover. No one wants such employees. Therefore, resist the temptation to say that you have never gotten into conflicts.

Practice, Practice, Practice

We already saw that talking about conflicts can be difficult for most people. In addition, in an interview situation, the interviewer will not give you time to start arranging your response according to the STAR framework.

This can make answering these questions difficult, even when you know what to do.

The best way to make sure that you go about answering these questions the right way is to practice as many times as possible.

Get the common behavioral questions about conflict, prepare your STAR response to each question, and then practice saying that answer out loud. You can either practice in front of a mirror, or ask a friend or family member to conduct a mock interview and have you answer these questions.

Remember, however, that the aim is not to memorize your answers. Instead, you want your answers to come out naturally, like you are engaging in a conversation with a friend.

WRAPPING UP

Answering behavioral questions during a job interview can be difficult. Answering behavioral interview questions about conflict at work is even harder. However, it need not be hard if you know what to do.

The solution is to craft your answer using the STAR technique, where you structure your answer to explain the situation you were in, the task that led to the conflict, the action you took to resolve the conflict, and the results of your actions.

Practice answering behavioral interview questions about conflict using this technique and your interviews will become a breeze.

How To Answer Conflict-Resolution Behavioral Interview Questions

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