Answering "Tell Me About a Time You Had a Conflict at Work"
Indeed Editorial Team
Updated March 22, 2023
Conflicts may occur at work, so it's invaluable t for you to know how to resolve these issues professionally. If you're interviewing for a new job, the hiring manager may ask questions about your experience with workplace conflicts to understand how you behave. Learning how to answer these questions may help you answer them well and demonstrate your skills effectively.
In this article, we explain why hiring managers ask about conflicts at work and how to answer these questions, and we offer sample answers.
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Why interviewers ask about conflicts at work
Interviewers ask behavioral interview questions about conflicts at work to understand how you respond to challenges in the workplace. They want to understand if you work well with others, have a solution-oriented mindset and learn from these experiences to prevent further issues in the future. Your response may also help them determine if you have certain skills, such as the following:
ability to remain calm
How to answer a question about conflicts at work
Follow these steps to answer interview questions asking for examples of conflict at work:
1. Choose an example
Think about your work experience, and choose a relevant example that aligns with the position you're seeking. This can help the interviewer understand how you might behave if a similar situation occurs if they hire you, and it may demonstrate how your skill set matches the job requirements. It's also important to select an example with a positive outcome so you're able to highlight what you learned from the experience.
2. Think about the STAR technique
Consider using the STAR method to answer the question. This interview response technique helps you tell stories easily when sharing examples and allows you to emphasize the results you achieved. Answers with the STAR method include the following:
Situation: the specific conflict
Task: your role in the situation
Action: how you approached the conflict
Result: the outcome of your actions
3. Explain the situation
Outline the details of the conflict to the interviewer, such as who it involved or what caused it. Support your answer with context to help them better understand the situation, such as your relationship with the people involved. It's important to remain positive when discussing the situation to show your professionalism and to be honest so you can avoid bias or presenting the conflict incorrectly.
4. Describe what you did
Explain your actions for processing the situation and resolving it. It may be helpful to discuss your reasoning for specific actions or the emotions you felt throughout the experience to help the interviewer understand your mindset. In your answer, look for opportunities to highlight the skills you used throughout the conflict resolution. For example, talking about how you helped two coworkers resolve an issue between them may show leadership skills, and explaining a problem with a customer may show customer service skills.
5. Discuss the outcome
Share the direct results of your actions, highlighting how you resolved the issue. Include specific details as relevant, such as if your resolution helped the team complete a project three days before the deadline or if your proposed solution encouraged the client to sign a new contract for a longer term. This gives the interviewer more context about the importance of your resolution.
6. Emphasize what you learned
Finish your answer by talking about how the conflict influenced your future behavior at work. Explain what you learned from the situation, and discuss what you did to prevent the situation from occurring again. For example, if you address issues with sales representatives not calling prospects back quickly enough, explain the new system you implemented and how the company benefited from it. This demonstrates your willingness to learn and your ability to grow from challenges.
Example answers when questioned about conflict at work
Consider these potential examples to help you develop your own answer to questions about conflict at work:
Example 1: Junior software developer
Here's an example answer for a junior software developer:
"At my current job, I'm part of a large software development team organized into junior and senior developers. While we often work together, there's one senior developer who continually pronounced my name incorrectly. I politely corrected them the first time, but they tried to joke that my name was too hard to pronounce and wanted to give me a nickname. I felt frustrated and uncomfortable, so I spoke to our department manager about the situation.
My manager was very sympathetic to my situation, and they spoke to my coworker to give them a warning. Unfortunately, the senior developer began ignoring me at work, so I asked if they would speak with me privately about the situation. I explained the correct pronunciation of my name and why it matters so much to me, and they began to understand. They apologized for their behavior, and they always pronounce my name correctly and make an excellent effort to pronounce others' names correctly, too."
Example 2: Content writer
Here's an example answer for a content writer:
"I recently received feedback from an editor about one of my articles that conflicted with one of our client's style guides. While I couldn't find information confirming the client had a preference for how to format years in their blogs, the editor insisted they preferred a format different than what I used. I reviewed the style guides thoroughly, and I looked for examples on the client's website to see if they used one method more than the other.
When I couldn't find anything, I spoke with the client's project manager about the situation. They said the client did have a preference, but they realized they forgot to update the style guide with the correct information and apologized. I edited my article to match the client's preference, replied to the editor to share what I learned and used the preferred format in all future articles. This taught me that it's always good to ask for clarification to prevent internal conflicts or potential client complaints."
Example 3: Graphic designer
Here's an example answer for a graphic designer:
"At my current company, I'm responsible for delegating tasks to the other graphic designers on our team and monitoring everyone's performance weekly. Each of us has a weekly quota of assignments to complete to achieve our goals, and I compile a report of everyone's numbers the following Monday. While there's some allowance for being under, especially when we complete more complex requests, I noticed one designer consistently completed five fewer assignments than expected of them weekly.
I invited the designer to meet with me to discuss their performance, and I asked them if they had concerns about their workload. They were confused and said they thought they were completing enough work each week. I realized their first week of work outside of training happened when I was out of the office for a personal emergency, meaning no one told them their actual goal for each week required five more assignments. I apologized for the oversight, assured them they weren't in trouble and learned to review expectations more thoroughly at the start of and throughout training."
Example 4: Marketing coordinator
Here's an example answer for a marketing coordinator:
"When I first started at my marketing agency, it was my first professional job and I was quite shy and not very confident. During team meetings, I was often quiet when sharing my ideas, and sometimes people didn't hear me. One of my coworkers did hear me often, and, instead of encouraging me to speak up, they would repeat my ideas and take credit for them. This was frustrating to me, but I wanted to be respectful of the people who were more experienced than me and didn't want to give others the wrong idea about me.
I asked my manager to speak with me about the situation, and they apologized for how I felt. They encouraged me to talk to my coworker to ask them to let me share my own ideas, and they also told me they valued my opinions. My coworker apologized because they didn't realize they were talking over me so much, and they suggested I raise my hand when I wanted to talk during meetings. They started pointing out to others when I had an idea if they saw I raised my hand, and I became more comfortable speaking with the team."
Example 5: Sales associate
Here's an example answer for a sales associate:
"Our store recently had a sale that required customers to spend a certain amount of money to be eligible to purchase a special gift bag. During my shift, I was working at the cash wrap to ring up customers and advise them if they qualified for the purchase and, if so, how many gift bags they could buy. One customer told me that one of the sales associates on the sales floor told them reaching the minimum purchase requirement allowed them to purchase as many bags as they wanted, which is incorrect.
To provide clarity, I asked the sales associate to meet us at the cash wrap and explain again what they told the customer. The associate explained the promotion correctly, emphasizing that you meet the minimum purchase requirement each time you want to buy a gift bag. The customer felt frustrated, but they apologized for the misunderstanding and thanked us for explaining it again. This taught us to ask customers on the sales floor if they intended to purchase multiple gift bags, allowing us to ensure they understand how much this required spending before they tried to purchase their items."