Tell us how you deal with conflict in the workplace?

Questions about conflict can be very important in some workplaces. Conflict is a huge issue in the employment market, and so are the extremely complex legal situations which can arise from it.

It's also a basic reality of the workplace. Conflict with co-workers, conflict with customers, all come in varying degrees, and there's plenty of opportunity for things to get messy.

So don't lose sight of some important facts.

  • There's not supposed to be any conflict.
  • People don't get paid to get into conflict.
  • There are rules for dealing with conflict.
  • There's no scope for going outside those rules.
  • Employers have a right to deal with conflict in their workplaces, according to law.
  • Other people have rights, and the idea is that conflict is supposed to be managed properly.
  • Employment laws cover some things, but not others.

When answering this question you will need to explain, so the interviewers get a complete answer:

  • How you've experienced conflict,
  • What you know about conflict and how it's handled,
  • How you behave to avoid conflict
  • How you behave when confronted with conflict

This is also a competency question.

It's about how well you know the basics of working with people, and particularly your level of training and experience in this area. The question isn't really hard, but some employers need to know you know your stuff.

Obviously, this question needs to be answered clearly, using the four basic points above as a structure.

How you've experienced conflict

The introduction to your answer, because you have to start with your basic knowledge, and build up the information.

I've seen some conflict in the workplace, and I've had to learn to deal with it properly, and understand policies about conflict. I've also had some training in workshops for things like dealing with difficult co-workers, and proper procedures for dealing with conflicts like clashes with people in the workplace.

At this point you've said you're experienced, and have been trained. So far so good. Now you have to explain the practical side.

What you know about conflict and how it's handled

I deal with conflict by doing things according to the rules. I just don't like conflict in the workplace. I won't create conflicts or add to conflicts in any way. Frankly I think they're counterproductive, as well as disruptive. If I have a grievance, I use the grievance procedure. If I don't agree with someone, I get advice from a manager or supervisor, someone who knows what they're talking about, rather than try and fight it out.

Translation: I do things by the book.

That's something employers absolutely must know, and be sure you understand the way things are done in a modern workplace that complies with employment laws. You've also added the important point that you're aware of the processes available to deal with conflicts. That answer will reassure your interviewers when they recommend you for the position.

How you behave to avoid conflict

The next part of your answer is based on the second part. You now develop that theme:

I avoid conflict by simply not involving myself in conflicts. I avoid aggravating any situations like that, and I'll try and calm things down, being a neutral party, if I can. I try to get things back on track, if possible. I do everything I can to prevent a situation escalating into a conflict. Same thing with customers, it's a problem solving issue, not a conflict, for me.

This just means you don't allow conflicts to develop, and avoid them. Quite correct, and you're not paid to get into conflicts with anyone.

How you behave when confronted with conflict

The remaining issue is how you handle a conflict, when you meet one. You've already set the scene for this with your previous answer.

If I'm involved in a conflict, I just follow the rules of the workplace. If I have to report an incident, that's what I'll do. I'm under an obligation to the employer to follow the procedures for conflicts.

This is the strictly interpreted version of what you're actually supposed to do. The relevance to the interviewers is that you're aware of that requirement.

Actually, doing anything but what the rules require is wrong. In the second part of this answer you've also gone slightly beyond the requirements, trying to calm things down. However, it's a useful contribution in many workplace conflicts, and interviewers will recognize it as such.

In some cases these four points can be questions themselves.

They're all based on the same basic principles, and have the same requirements for information content in your answer.

Stick to the fact that you know the rules about conflicts in the workplace.

It's vital that you show that clearly to the interviewers.

There's another advantage. You may find that the other applicants don't know the rules at all.