Tell Me About a Time You Had a Conflict at Work: 7 Answers

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How should you talk about conflict at work during a job interview?

What is the best way for job seekers to answer that age-old interview question, "Tell me about a time you had a conflict at work?" We asked business leaders and coaches for their advice. Here are seven helpful tips to remember.

1. Use the STAR Method

Use the STAR method to structure your response: Situation, Task, Action, Result. Here’s an example of how best to use it: At my previous job, I had a conflict with a coworker over a project we were both working on. The Situation was that we had different opinions on the direction the project should take. The Task was to find a solution that would work for both of us. I suggested we schedule a meeting with our manager to discuss our concerns. The Action we took was to present our respective ideas to the manager and discuss the pros and cons of each. And the Result was that we came up with a compromise that incorporated elements of both our ideas and the project was completed successfully.

Brooke Krieger, Regional Sales Manager, ParkMobile

2. Decide Between Integrity and Peace of Mind or Money

Remember who you are, and don’t trade integrity for money. Conflict is emotional and brings out the worst in us. How you feel about the other person is secondary to resolving the issue at hand. Feelings are not facts, and sometimes you need to step away. For example, I declined a position that I was not qualified to accept from a newly appointed MD. Within weeks, he turned antagonistic and started disciplinary proceedings against me. I responded with a written counter proposal to his notification: "We could discuss a workable solution, or we could discuss a separation agreement with no noise." He chose the latter, but then tried to renege. I reminded him we had agreed to "an immediate severance without noise." The company’s legal team also agreed that he had no grounds to make any demands and needed to honor the separation agreement. In the end, I left with my integrity intact, knowing I hadn’t accepted a job I was not qualified to do.

Renata Fester, Owner, Ideal Careers Coaching

3. Choose a Conflict Example That Actually Involved You

Many candidates don’t actually have conflicts in the workplace, so they lean toward an example that involves helping others resolve a conflict. I would always recommend choosing an example that actually involved you personally, even if it was just a misunderstanding or you sensed some impending conflict. Sample answer: "I was working on a project with a colleague, and suddenly I noticed that her behavior toward me had changed. I couldn’t understand why this might be the case, so I discussed this openly with her. I approached her casually and asked if everything was okay between us. She then explained that she felt I had put her down in a meeting with our superior. I explained that this had not been my intention at all and apologized. Following this open and frank conversation, we could continue to work together with no issues and felt more confident discussing any differences of opinion."

Leah Lambart, Career & Interview Coach, Relaunch Me

4. Take Action and Seek to Understand

By focusing on resolving the conflict and how you can work collaboratively with your team members to find a solution, you can show your ability to handle difficult situations in a professional and effective manner. Here’s an example: "In a previous role, I had a conflict with a coworker over a project we were working on together. We had different opinions on how to approach and start the project. It was clear we had the same aim in mind, but it was tense as we left our kickoff meeting. Rather than letting the conflict escalate, I asked the team member if we could schedule a meeting to discuss our varied approaches. During that dialogue, we could talk through our ideas and come up with a solution that satisfied both of us. After the meeting, I attempted to communicate more clearly with my team members and involve them in the decision-making process, which helped prevent future conflicts from arising."

Ankit Pathak, Employer Brand Lead, Interview Coach & Resume Writer, Spring Health

5. Refuse to Speak Negatively About a Former Colleague

When asked about a conflict at work, it’s important to avoid speaking negatively about a former colleague or staff member, as it can reflect poorly on your character and professionalism. Instead, focus on the situation itself and how you handled it. Start by providing context about the situation. Be sure to highlight any steps you took to resolve the conflict. Emphasize any positive outcomes and lessons learned that resulted from the situation. For example: "In my previous job, there was a situation where my coworker and I had a disagreement about how to approach a project. We both had different ideas about how to move forward, and it caused some tension between us. However, I attempted to listen to their perspective and find common ground. We ultimately came up with a solution that combined both of our ideas, and the project was completed successfully. As a result, our working relationship improved, and we could collaborate more effectively on future projects."

Lissa Appiah, Founder, Certified Career & Resume Strategist, WeApply

6. Turn the Negative Situation into a Positive Outcome

Focus on how you handled the situation professionally and constructively. It’s important to show that you can remain calm, positive, and objective when conflicts arise and that you can work through them effectively. This will help the employer understand how you practice conflict resolution. Here is how you can answer the question with a positive outcome: "In my previous job, I disagreed with a colleague about the best approach to a project we were working on. We had different ideas about how to solve a particular problem, and we both felt strongly about our respective approaches. Instead of letting the disagreement escalate, I scheduled a meeting with my colleague to discuss our ideas in more detail. During the meeting, we both listened to each other’s perspectives, and we could find common ground. We combined our ideas to come up with a more comprehensive solution that worked well for the project."

Analia Mendez, CEO & Founder, Signature Careers

7. Answer with Confidence, Showing Your Teamwork Skills

Interviewers usually ask this question for people in advanced-level positions, where you will frequently be required to handle difficult employees. Therefore, choose a situation that shows you can handle employees of different opinions and attitudes confidently, displaying your teamwork skills. For example: "My team had an interpretation task at a three-day conference. At first, each interpreter decided to interpret casually with no specific time span allocated. However, one interpreter took a rather long break, putting me and the other interpreters under great pressure. Therefore, I called him to explain how his long break had such a negative effect on all the interpreters, and I divided the time span equally for each interpreter. He apologized and promised to stick to the period of break allocated. Finally, we delivered our interpretation with no pressure at all for the entire three days."

Razan Elyan, Career Coach, NetExpat

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