How to answer conflict-resolution interview questions

There are different types of conflict at work, but your reactions should always showcase a diplomatic approach.

How to answer conflict-resolution interview questions

Clearly explain how well you handle conflict at work.

No one likes conflict, especially at work. But disagreements between co-workers are inevitable—and showing prospective employers that you're well versed in conflict resolution is crucial. Will you add to the melee or can you step back and remain levelheaded?

“In a diverse workplace, there are going to be differences of opinion,” says Carole Martin, job interview coach and author of What to Say in Every Job Interview: How to Understand What Managers Are Really Asking and Give the Answers that Land the Job. “The bottom line to employers is whether you can get along well with others.”

Here are five common questions hiring managers ask to assess your conflict-resolution skills and the best approach to answering them.

QUESTION 1: How do you deal with conflict?

People aren’t going to get along with each other all the time. It’s just a fact. Employers want to know that you can respond to conflict diplomatically, says job-search and interview coach Thea Kelley. If you’re a my-way-or-the-highway type of personality, you’re not going to get very far in the interview.

Start off by emphasizing communication and respectfulness as a means to conflict resolution. For example, “I always take the person aside and discuss the issue privately. I listen actively to make sure I understand the other person’s point of view, and I work with the person to develop a solution together.” Stress that even if you both don’t completely agree on the end result, you tried to at least meet each other halfway.  

Pro tip: “Don’t nonverbally communicate resentment when telling a story,” Kelley advises. “Aggressive body language and tone of voice can show that you harbor bad feelings.”

QUESTION 2: Tell me about a time when you had an issue with a co-worker.

This a behavioral interview question—meaning you should take it as an opportunity to share a success story about how you resolved an issue with a co-worker in the past. You want to make sure to choose an incident where you and your co-worker were able to resolve the issue among yourselves, without having to involve your boss or other higher-ups. Showcase your competence in problem solving.

“Focus on the facts instead of blaming the other person,” Kelley says. Rather than saying, “Jim was such a slacker,” simply explain the situation and what steps you took to solve the problem—“On at least three occasions, Jim missed deadlines that pushed back our production schedule. After I discussed this with him, we found a way to improve the workflow system together.”

QUESTION 3: Tell me about a time when you disagreed with your boss.

Tread carefully here, says Pamela Skillings, career coach and co-founder of New York–based Big Interview, an online job-interview-training platform. “You never want to bash a former boss,” she says. (And yes, we know that can be difficult.)

To set a positive tone, begin your response by acknowledging the difficulty of the situation—“It’s not easy to confront your manager, but I’ve learned that it has to be done some times.” Then choose an anecdote that shows you respected your boss’ opinion—“When my boss suggested we change our sales pitch to new clients, we figured out what wasn’t working and created a new strategy together.”

QUESTION 4: How do you deal with differences of opinion when working on a team?

Conflict resolution is often a team effort. It’s not always easy to see eye to eye with co-workers, but that’s not a good reason to discount their contributions. No surprise that 86.3% of employers seek job candidates who demonstrate strong teamwork skills, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers Job Outlook 2020 survey.

“Employers want to hear that you value diversity of opinion,” Kelley explains, “and that you realize different opinions can contribute to a better solution than if everyone just immediately agreed with each other.”

As such, your response to this question should point out that you welcome alternate perspectives—“I always appreciate different viewpoints from my own. When someone expresses a different opinion, I listen carefully to what the person says and utilize that feedback.”

QUESTION 5: Tell me about a time you had to respond to an unhappy customer or client.

When you’re interviewing for a client- or customer-facing position, you’re applying to be an ambassador for the company, says Skillings, and that type of role carries a lot of responsibility.

“How you respond to conflicts with a customer is a public matter, and it can cost the company a lot of money if you lose a major client or customer,” Kelley says. “[Show] that you’re willing to jump through extra hoops to make customers or clients happy.” This demonstrates that you understand the value of customer service. As with other behavioral interview questions, your anecdote should focus on the positive outcome—“Here was how I de-escalated the situation and kept the client happy going forward.”

Show hiring managers that you aren’t nursing an overblown ego and are eager to embrace a peacekeeping process. Not only can this type of attitude serve you well in the workplace, but it can also improve non-working relationships as well.

Work it out

Conflict resolution is just one of the many hurdles the workplace will present to you. Obviously, not everything in your career is going to be easy, whether that means confronting the person who stole your lunch from the office refrigerator to negotiating a new contract with clients to deliberating a new job offer. But learning how to peacefully coexist with your colleagues will take you far. Could you use some expert insights to help you navigate it all? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you'll get career advice and job search tips sent directly to you inbox so you can learn how to stay cool when the pressure inevitably mounts.