How Do You Handle Conflict? (Frequently Asked Questions in an Interview)

By Joe Stein

In today’s work environment, so much involves working with other people in order to accomplish goals. With our evolution moving away from individuals working with machines without interaction and more towards team-based work groups’, questions about your ability to work with others has gained greater significance. 
The reality is that all of this interaction will sometimes cause conflict between individuals. It is understood that conflict will sometimes occur; the issue is how the Job Seeker feels about it and attempts to resolve the situation.
As we continue our series examining the questions Interviewers most frequently ask, this time we will focus on “How Do You Handle Conflict?”
Why Is It Asked?
·        Gauge Desire To Work With Others – There are many people who do not wish to work closely with others. There are also those who do not work well with their co-workers. Individuals who answer that they wish to avoid others will most likely not impress an Interviewer. For these people, the quantity of work opportunities are rapidly shrinking.
·        Determine Personality – A significant portion of the importance of the interview is to determine your personality and how it fits with the position, the culture, and the co-workers of the organization. An Interviewer will ask questions regarding your interaction with others both positive and resulting in conflict to help determine your personality.
·        Assess Your Approach – The approach a person takes towards conflict can be quite telling for an Interviewer. If you are someone who makes great effort to avoid conflict, that will be informative to an Interviewer. If you are someone who serves as a facilitator, bringing people together to resolve issues, that will also be important to know for a Hiring Manager.
·        Prevent a “Bad” Hire – In today’s litigious society, employers are often more concerned regarding making a bad hire than they are a good hire. It is generally much easier to remove someone from an organization for productivity or attendance because it is documented as opposed to someone who does not get along well with others. To avoid the challenge of having to deal with a difficult hire, an employer will often side with the person who appears to work well with others and their culture.
How Should It Be Answered?
·        Provide Examples – Let the Interviewer know about the times you worked closely with others, perhaps on a project or in your day-to-day job. Paint the picture regarding the level of interaction and how the teamwork led to a successful end result.
·        Keep It Quick - This is not a question to spend an inordinate amount of time answering. Provide an example where you had to overcome an obstacle caused by some mild conflict. Answer the question and then quickly transition the conversation back to the positive and how you can help the company.
·        Play It Safe – Don’t dwell on the types of personalities you do not work well with. If you are pushed for an answer on what type of co-worker you struggle to work with, then give a safe answer such as someone who performs at a substandard work level. It would be hard for anyone to have a problem with that answer.
·        Describe How You Have Brought Others Together – If you have a story regarding successfully working with a previously difficult co-worker or joining a team that was struggling, then share with the Interviewer. The idea is to not dwell on what caused the difficulty or struggle but rather what you did to resolve the situation.
What Not To Do:
·        Get Too Specific – The questioning may lead to what type of person you do not work well with. Make sure you are not too specific regarding a personality that you have had difficulty with as your Interviewer may possess some of those qualities.
·        Be Negative – Perhaps, in your career, you have worked on a team or with an individual that had particularly challenging personalities and the situation could not be resolved. That is not the example then to provide the Interviewer. You want to focus on your success stories and have a happy ending in any example you provide.
·        Be Arrogant – If the questions are about how well you work with others, make sure to not make every situation solely the fault of the other person. Explain to the Interviewer how you worked closely with the other person to resolve any issues. Perhaps it was a simple misunderstanding or misperception; remember to always focus on the happy ending.
The “How Do You Handle Conflict?” question is very important for an Interviewer for a number reasons, but mostly to gauge your ability and desire to work with co-workers even in difficult situations. Ace this question and it just may give you the edge you need against your competition.
As always, best of luck in your job search.
The following has been prepared for the general information of WNY Jobs readers. It is not meant to provide advice with respect to any specific legal or policy matter and should not be acted upon without verification by the reader.
Joe Stein
WNY Human Resources Professional
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