Conflict Resolution Interview Questions and Answers

Conflict resolution questions are behavioral questions typically reserved for individuals being considered for management or advanced-level positions, but any serious job-seeker should be prepared for these types of questions.

Organizations with horizontal hierarchy typically ask conflict resolution questions to individuals who could eventually be promoted to management. These types of questions help hiring managers and prospective employers assess a candidate's ability to manage conflict and their interpersonal skills in general.

Interviewers also include conflict resolution questions in their repertoire because most jobs require you to be able to get along with different types of people with different personalities. It's not uncommon to end up working with coworkers and/or clients that are egomaniacs, slackers, idiots or just plain weirdos. Differing view points will be the norm, and disagreements are bound to occur. To succeed professionally, you must be able to deal with conflict in a productive (not destructive) manner.

Conflict questions are also a good way of seeing whether you're a team player. Interviewers want to see how well you function as part of a team. In fact, it's quite common for interviewers to ask interviewees to share a team experience that involved conflict or a "difficult person" and how they dealt with it.

Finally, an interviewer may just want to get a sense of what it would (will) be like to work with you. It's not uncommon for the interviewer to also be the division manager who you'll be working with day in and day out.

How to Answer Conflict Resolution Questions
First of all, when responding to conflict resolution questions, answer with confidence. You're likely being considered for a management or supervisory position where you will frequently be required to work in teams, delegate responsibilities, and handle difficult problems (and employees). Only confident candidates need apply.

Most job-seekers come to the interview prepared with various work related experiences that cast them in a positive light, but few come adequately prepared to provide less-than-delightful examples of past work-related conflicts they'd just as soon forget ever happened. Preparing a few good examples of conflicts you've dealt with in the past is the key to answering conflict resolution questions.

When constructing your example of a conflict to present in an interview, we recommend using the STAR format. STAR stands for:

  • ST - Situation/Task
  • A - Approach/Action
  • R - Resolution/Results

First, identify and describe as concisely as possible the problem or situation. Then discuss the approach you took to addressing it. Finally, describe the positive resolution that you were able to achieve.

Using the STAR approach to constructing conflict resolutions examples will take what was once an uncomfortable and negative experience and turn it into a stellar example of your conflict management abilities.

Again, the key is to have good examples -- prepared ahead of time. Practice several examples with a friend and get comfortable discussing your past behavior in a way that highlights your ability to effectively address conflict situations. Don't be shy. Respond with confidence. Let the interviewer know you're well versed in the ways of conflict resolution.

Sample Answer - "Tell me about a time you had a conflict with your boss"
The following example will help you understand how you might employ the STAR format when present your personal conflict experience.

S/T (Situation/Task)
This is where you'll help the interviewer to understand the conflict, as well as the context for the conflict. Providing a solid context for the conflict is important, but keep it short and sweet.

Example Situation/Task

My boss, a division manager for Walmart, asked me to develop a marketing plan aimed at increasing online sales for certain product lines. The plan was to be developed in cooperation with corporate's Internet marketing department. A deadline of two weeks was set for plan development. After speaking with the internet marketing team, I realized a two week deadline was not going to be realistic. I informed my boss that based on my conversation with the Walmart internet marketing team a two week deadline was not possible. He said he understood and asked me to get it to him as soon as possible. Exactly two weeks later my boss send me an urgent memo requesting the plan so he could present it at a board meeting the next day. When I reminded him that he had extended the deadline following our previous conversation, he said he had no recollection of extending the deadline and blew up at me.

A (Approach)
Your approach should present the key actions you took to address the situation. Make sure the focus of your approach is on the steps you took to bring a productive resolution to the bad situation.

Example Approach

I was momentarily taken aback by his unexpected response, but I stayed calm. Instead of arguing with him about the deadline, I changed the focus of our conversation to the strategy we had come up with to support a substantial increase in online sales for each of the product lines he had earlier identified. After discussing the strategy in detail, he relaxed a little. I told him I could have a detailed marketing strategy outline, for each online product line, on his desk first thing in the morning ready for his meeting.

R (Results)
A good conflict resolution example has a happy ending. Describe the positive outcomes resulting from your actions. When possible provide quantifiable results. If you're unable to measure the results, provide anecdotal evidence that positive outcomes were achieved.

Example Results

By being solution oriented with my boss, I was able to provide him with what he really needed -- something substantial to present at his board meeting. He later mentioned to me that the strategies I had developed were genius and apologized for blowing up at me. A few of the strategies I developed were adopted on a division level. I was never provided with the specific results of the strategy implementation, but by 2013 my boss had been promoted to regional manager, and I was promoted to division manager.

Other Conflict Resolution Tips and Examples
The following is an effective way to answer conflict resolution questions:

Before proposing a solution, I collect all relevant facts surrounding the conflict. Conflicts are often resolved if sufficient time is devoted to determining root causes, while disregarding trivial or irrelevant facts.

An effective answer can also be supplemented with the following response:

When resolving a problem between employees, I serve as a neutral third party. When needed, I establish rules of conduct. For an organization to operate efficiently, employees must be on the same page. At most organizations, bad feelings may exist among some employees, so a manager is responsible for ensuring that employees are placed in situations where they're comfortable to focus on their job responsibilities. In other words, employees must be situated around others they can work with so productivity is not affected.

The following are a few common conflict resolution questions and effective strategies answering them:

1. How do you cope with conflict in the workplace?

I'm proactive. In other words, I monitor situations closely to prevent minor problems from escalating into major ones. In most cases, minor problems can be resolved by simply meeting individually with affected parties. It's not a good idea to ignore a problem in hopes that it will resolve itself. Some managers avoid confrontation, which often results in bigger problems that are more difficult to handle. Effective leaders are aware of many factors, including jealously, individual differences, and other issues that create conflicts among employees. Therefore, effective managers must meet individually with feuding employees and suggest workable solutions.

2. Are there any times where you had a conflict with a superior? If yes, how did you handle it and resolve it?

I have had differences of opinion with previous managers. Our disagreements were not significant, but some had to be confronted and resolved. I have learned that two parties typically quarrel when each one refuses to consider the other's perspective. Therefore, I asked the manager I disagreed with to explain his or her perspective, and then to consider my point of view. This way, we were able to take into account each other's perspective and come to an agreeable compromise. When a compromise could not be reached, I accepted my manager's decision. Regardless of individual perspectives, managers are responsible for setting policy, and subordinates are responsible for executing it.

3. Give an instance where you had to settle a conflict between two individuals.

At a previous job, I was responsible for resolving a conflict between two team members who could no longer work effectively together. Their relationship began affecting the productivity of other employees, as well as their team. The first thing I did was separate them to calm the situation. I then proceeded to meet together with both parties to discuss the problem in a calm and controlled setting. I assumed control of the discussion since emotions frequently trump reason during disputes between two people and made it clear that a compromise must be reached. One of my main objectives during the meeting was to understand the perspectives of both parties without siding with either one. At first, this was difficult since each party presented their arguments without considering other perspectives. To counter this, I made it clear to each party that changes must be made since the status quo was unworkable. Shortly thereafter, we agreed to a workable solution. Before concluding the meeting, I emphasized that during future disagreements each party must act considerately and professionally, and avoid getting emotional. After our meeting, work resumed as normal and the overall work atmosphere became more pleasant.

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