2 Answers To “How Do You Handle Conflict” In An Interview

how do you handle conflict

Interviews often start with some of the most difficult questions. Questions that help the interviewer understand your ability to work with a team. A common and difficult question an interviewer might ask is, “How do you handle conflict?”

For managers, this question is of the utmost importance. Considering you’ll be responsible for a team of employees, who have a greater chance of exerting conflict. Knowing what conflict resolution means and how communication plays a role is going to help you answer this interview question in an effective way.

Let’s go ahead and dig into how you might explain to an interviewer how you handle conflicts in the workplace.

The 5 Conflict Management Strategies

Generally speaking there are five different types of conflict management strategies. For managers, knowing this is going to be very important.

They are defined as:

Accommodating pertains to the conflict management style of “keeping the peace” or making sure that two parties are recognizing the low-stakes of their conflict.

Avoiding pertains to the conflict management style of “putting off the conflict” or ignoring it in hopes that it resolves itself without the need of friction or communication.

Collaborating pertains to the notion that we need to integrate ideas by multiple people. Meaning, find the acceptable solution that the group feels is valid.

Compromising pertains to the notion that both sides of the conflict have their position and that they are both agreeable, making the solution a compromise.

Competition pertains to the notion that there is only one winner in the conflict that the conflict winner is whomever is best. This is a conflict resolution strategy that only works in limited scenarios. Usually in emergency scenarios.

How Do You Deal With Conflict In A Team

If you are applying for a management position, team conflict is something you’ll have to deal with often. Being able to answer this question is a great way to show you have management and leadership experience.

The steps to understanding team conflict are:

For teams, those are the best steps to resolving a conflict. It is about setting the stage for the conflict, stopping the conflict when it occurs, getting the whole story behind the situation, meeting for resolutions and finding compromise.

Compromise strategies will always be best for teams.

How Do You Resolve Conflict Individually

If you are applying for an individual contributor position, a manager might still ask you how you resolve conflict. For individual contributors, learning how to show that you can communicate effectively, even in conflict, will give you the right structure required to answer the interview question.

For example, the general steps to resolving conflict for individual contributors would be:

Resolving a conflict between two team members often results in communication, empathy, and compromise. Compromise is also the best conflict management strategy for individual contributors who are having a conflict between one another.

You can use the structure above to help you answer your interview question.

Why This Is Different Than “Tell Me About A Conflict You’ve Had With A Coworker”

When interviewers ask you, “Tell me a conflict you’ve had with a coworker and how you resolved it” that’s going to be a slightly different method of answering than when they ask “How do you resolve a conflict?” The reason is that the first question is more situational. Meaning they want a story behind your answer. And then a resolution behind what you did that solved the conflict. When they ask “How do you handle conflict” it’s more about questioning your communication methods and knowing if you have the structure required to be able to recognize the steps you’d take to resolve a conflict if one occurred.

What You Shouldn’t Answer With When Asked: “How Do You Handle Conflict?”

A bad answer to this interview question is alluding to the fact that you don’t know what steps you’d take to confront a coworker in a polite and professional manner. Or alluding to the fact that you often appreciate the “avoiding” conflict management strategy.

Avoiding is the process of hoping that the issue will resolve itself and that no communication of conflict resolution will be required. That is often not the case unless the conflict is very small, like deciding on where to go for lunch.

Managers don’t appreciate the avoiding method because it means that the resolution will have to be resolved with mediation, meaning the management team themselves.

A bad answer to this question would look something like, “I really try my hardest not to have conflict in the work place. It takes the stress out of the job, makes it easy for me to go home early and feel accomplished and generally speaking I appreciate being liked by everyone.”

As you can see from that answer, it makes you sound too passive and not passionate about the job.

Example Answer To “How Do You Resolve Conflict?” For Managers

The below is an example answer for how you might describe your methods for resolving conflict in the workplace, especially when managing a team.

“Whenever I see a conflict occur, I try to first stop what I’m doing, understand both parties and get the situation understood clearly. I then like to ask privately, to each party, is everything ok? I want to make sure there’s not something at home which is causing them stress and it’s being brought into the workplace. From there I can find common ground on the issue, present where the employees should be focused if they need correction on their vision and then seek compromise. Our aim will be to make sure each person is heard, empathy is made, and we find a resolution.”

Example Answer To “How Do You Resolve Conflict?” For Individual Contributors

The below is an example answer for how you can describe your conflict management solutions when an individual contributor on a team. This means your conflict resolution will be more oriented towards meeting with your coworker, asking them questions, finding common ground and moving forward.

“If I feel a conflict about to occur or one that has already occurred, I try to stay calm. I collect myself and think about the other person first. Is everything okay with them? Are they having issues at home which are affecting their work? If not, then I might find a private area to discuss the situation with my coworker. I’ll explain the conflict, ask them questions about my work or my communication, ensuring I didn’t do something incorrectly. And then try to find common ground, compromise and move forward.”

Important Factors To Conflict Resolution

Whenever possible, your answer should contain information regarding your communication methods and your modes of empathizing with your colleagues. Sometimes, people are just having a hard time at home and are bringing it into the workplace. We need to empathize with that when the conflict is not large or met with aggression. A coworker might simply be “in a bad place” and we need to understand that point of view.

Talking through each of the steps you would take to make conflict resolution occur is also going to be a great way to impress the interviewer. So to recap, you want to make sure your answer contains the communication you would make, the empathy you would have and the resolution steps you would take in order to pack a full punch.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.


Help us by spreading the word