How To Answer “Tell Me About A Time You Had A Conflict At Work” Interview Question
In this post, I’m talking about how to deal with conflict at work, how to answer the conflict question effectively in an interview, and yes, for the love of God, there will be an example.
So stay tuned.
If you do love reading, let’s get back to it…
If you’re new to my channel, and this is the first post that you’re reading, the video I had before on conflict kind of sucked, and it was one of my first videos to gain traction.
So, in this post, you will find a new and improved version of that video: How to deal with conflict effectively at work, or in any situation, really.
The First Thing: Get Curious
The first thing when it comes to a conflict, when you’re in a conflict with another person, whether it be a colleague or a friend or whoever it is, is not to take it personally, so what they say isn’t personal about you.
And when we do take things personally, we make it mean something about us, and then we get defensive, and that’s when the conflict cannot go so well.
So first get curious about why that person thinks in the way that they do.
Why do they have this perspective? And ask them questions like, “So why do you think that? Why do you believe this is the best way to do it?”
Say, “I would really like to get an understanding of your thought process behind this. Why is this the way that you’re choosing to do it?”
And just come from a really genuine place of curiosity.
Another good question is, “What are your concerns if we try it a different way?” OR, “What’s your concern, if we were to do this, for example?”
And you can gain some really good insight that way.
And when you come from a place of wanting to understand, and I mean really understand and really listen to the person, they really respect and appreciate that, and then they become a lot more open to what you have to say too, and it becomes a lot smoother to navigate this disagreement or this conflict.
So then, another really important thing is you actually have to listen, and I mean really hear what they have to say.
Hear their concerns, and hear their perspective, and hear what their brain is thinking, because that information is golden for you, for when you go to share your perspective, you can keep their perspective in consideration.
So after listening to what they have to say, you can then voice your opinion. And then, you want to not take personally if they don’t agree with your opinion.
You can say a few things to show them your point of view after you’ve listened to theirs.
So, for example, “In the past, this has been my experience.“
You can give them an example of a time when what you’re suggesting has worked out really well, so you can tell them, “You might be right, but I’d like to try this way to see what results in we will get. Would you be open to testing it out and seeing what happens with this method?”
And then you can say, “Depending on the results, we can go back to the other way of doing it once we have more information about what’s going to work best.”
The second thing, how to answer the conflict question in an interview.
The best way is to tell a specific story of a time when you were in even a minor conflict or a discussion with another person, another human, colleague, friend, whatever.
I’ll give you an example of mine that happened just very recently with a colleague. We’re having an event at work coming up, and it’s for a group of engineers, so there’s going to be about 200 engineers there.
So, a guy named Pete who is very… who is technical, he’s planning this hackathon part of the event.
So I’m handling all the logistics and everything, and he’s planning the hackathon.
I like Pete very much. We work together, and he’s a great guy.
So, his idea was to give people the freedom throughout this event, and the event’s a four-day event, to work on their hackathon idea in teams, to work on it throughout the entire event.
I didn’t like this idea because I felt it was going to take people’s concentration away from the other event activities, so they were going to be in meetings and we’re going to have an excursion, and I thought that they were just going to be like, “Oh, well, we want to work on the hackathon because we want to win,” because there was prize money involved.
I was thinking, “I don’t think this is going to be a good idea.”
So I asked Pete the questions, and I asked him like, “So why do you think this is the best way to do it? What are your concerns?”
So we kind of had that open discussion, and in the end, we were able to come to a compromise.
So once I heard his point of view and I was able to understand it, then I explained to him my point of view, and then at the end of the day, we came to a decision.
And so what we decided to do was have one dedicated day just for the hackathon, instead of having it done on the side while all this other stuff was going on.
We kind of came to a compromise that way by using the method that I spoke about early in the post, which was getting his point of view first, sharing my point of view, hashing out what his concerns were, what my concerns were, and we were able to come to a good compromise.
Anyways, so this is how a conflict could go.
It’s like Pete wants to do this, I don’t think that’s a good idea, I want to do this, and then we have some back and forth. Then we decide on some solutions and we decide on an idea.
If Pete had won, it wouldn’t have been a huge deal to me. We would’ve done what Pete suggested, and then in the results, we would’ve spoken…
The results would’ve spoken for themselves. What some people want to do is they want to go, “Well, I told you so. I told you, Pete, that wasn’t going to work.”
But there would be no use in me doing that, because whatever the result was, we got a result, and we could then assess that result to see for next time what was going to work better.
And I don’t know, because honestly, Pete’s idea could’ve been great, and I could’ve been completely wrong about what I was thinking and what I was assuming would happen.
So if you’re getting into a conflict with someone, if someone says something and you’re like, “Oh, I totally disagree with that,” are you getting defensive or are you getting curious?
You want to be curious about what the other person is thinking. Why did they think this?
And don’t make it mean something personal about you. A lot of people will say, “The person doesn’t respect me, the person thinks my idea is stupid,” and it’s not that at all.
It’s just that they have a different perspective, and that’s what we do as humans. We think differently, we come to the table with different things, and that’s okay.
So if your idea didn’t resonate with somebody, it doesn’t mean that they don’t respect you, it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person or anything about you.
So I want you to stop thinking that if that’s what you thought in the past. How boring would it actually be if everyone always agreed on everything, right?
Like, no conflict at all. Think about a movie, for example. You go to a movie because you want to watch somebody having a struggle, and then coming out of it, and then having a solution at the end.
You don’t want everyone just to be happy ever after from the beginning, right?
What would be the point?
There we have it, really listening to what the other person has to say will get them to be really responsive to you when you have your idea.
Getting curious, figuring out why it is they’re thinking that, figuring out their concerns, and then really coming to a discussion and a place where you can have a meeting of the minds, and really get together and focus on the solution.
And in the end, handling it so that you’re not in an argument, and you’re not feeling bad feelings towards this person, and thinking that it has nothing to do with you, it’s just factual.
Like, “How can we actually get the best result here, and what thought process would it take for us to get the best result?”
That is how conflict can go really well, and how it doesn’t have to be stressful and tense, and it doesn’t have to be defensive.
What if you’ve never ever had a conflict before, or you can’t think of one?
People tell me that. They’re like, “Well, I’ve never had a conflict before, so what do I talk about?” First of all, I don’t believe that’s true.
You have had a conflict even if you didn’t voice it, and even if it didn’t turn into a dialogue. Because think back, I bet there was a time when you thought something, like someone, said something and you were like, “Oh, I really don’t agree with that,” or “Oh, that’s a really bad idea.”
That itself is a conflict, it’s just you didn’t say anything out loud about it.
The point of the question is that they want to know how you handle the conflict. Some people will voice their opinions, and if they’re not well received, they’ll get angry, they’ll get upset, they’ll get defensive, or they’ll just withdraw and say, “Fine then, nobody cares about what I have to say,” and they go into self-pity, and then they don’t do their best work.
Some people will not voice them at all.
They’ll be scared, or they’ll just not want to, because maybe one time they had a bad experience and someone didn’t agree, they made them feel bad, or they made it about them, and then now they’re gun-shy and they’re hesitant to voice any of their opinions.
That’s why you have had conflicts before, even if you haven’t voiced them out loud. Talk about that conflict in your head, how you thought it through, and how it worked out.
If you found value in it and you like examples, I have 10 examples guide.
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What you’ll get inside the guide:
Top-ten examples of stories that have proven to be impressive interview answers
The S.A.R.I. formula breakdown of how to answer these questions
The step-by-step of why it works
Fill-in-the-blank templates for each question so, you’ll be able to fill in the blanks and get going!
Now you’ll need to come up with your own stories! (You can steal the ones in the guide if they apply to you though too, I don’t mind)
If you are still getting stuck because you can’t think of your own stories…
I’ve included 25 questions that you can ask yourself to come up with your stories much quicker!
You’ll get all this in a beautifully designed workbook prepared specifically for you to prepare for your interviews.
By the end of working through this guide, you’ll be feeling confident and ready for any situational interview that comes your way!
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In Work & Life
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– XO Natalie