Job Interview Questions: How Do You Handle Conflict?

Job interview questions about how you handle conflict can have multiple facets and degrees of difficulty.

Understanding the conflict question

There are three basic forms of this question:

  1. A behavioral question, usually an example from experience, based on the idea that your prior behavioral response to conflict is an indicator of your future response. It's also an analytical tool, assessing the logic and the correctness of your response.
  2.  In some forms of interview, notably stress interviews, it can be a practical exercise, dealing with conflict in a role playing situation. You are literally required to sort out a conflict on the spot.
  1. It can also be a hypothetical question, requiring you to respond effectively to a scenario. This is a particularly effective check on your understanding of the conflict situation in abstract.

Note: Conflict questions should always be considered tests of communications skills. They contain a large number of elements in which communications is a primary method of conflict resolution. Always use clear phraseology and presentation when dealing with these questions, whatever their format.

Answering the question

Important: Do not underestimate this question, or its complexity. Even a simple conflict question contains several elements which must be recognized and included in your answer to cover the issues effectively.

Giving an example of dealing with conflict

  • Select an example you know well, where you can provide a good, and if required, detailed, answer.
  • Use a STAR format, narrative form of answer, setting out the elements in the conflict clearly.

Clearly explain:

  1. The setting: The situational basis of the conflict, who was involved, and how it was created.
  2. The logical basis of the conflict: Why there was a conflict.
  3. The effects of the conflict: All conflicts have negative effects which must be resolved.
  4. Your solution, and its objectives: Your strategy for solving the problems.
  5. How you did it: The method used to resolve the conflict "colors in" the resolution of the conflict.
  6. The result of your solution: This is a description of the effects of your solution, which should cover all elements of the conflict.  

To answer a  non-example based conflict question:

1. Listen closely to the question. (In a stress interview, that means listen carefully to all elements of the opposing position.)

Note: Don't attempt to solve a problem you don't understand clearly. Ask for clarification of any unclear points, in detail, if necessary.

2. Define the conflict:

  • What are the issues?
  • What is the opposing view?
  • What needs to be done to resolve the conflict?
  • Does the person with whom you're in conflict need reassurance?

This step allows you to see the entire conflict scenario clearly, and work out an objective response as the basis of your answer.

3. Define the logic of your solution:

  • Explain your solution step by step.
  • Cover each element of the conflict.
  • Show why this is a good working solution.
  • State the result of your solution.

Each part of Step 3 should be done in a very straightforward way, literally in steps, to ensure you don't leave out important parts of your answer.