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How To Answer “How Do You Handle Conflict”?

It’s undeniable that conflicts are part of life. Even if you’re the most peaceful person on this planet, chances are that sooner or later, you’ll find somebody that you can’t really get along with. When that happens in our private life, it’s not a big deal. We can decide to simply walk away, so we don’t have to deal with it anymore.

But when a conflict arises in the workplace, that’s a whole different story. It can severely affect our productivity and, therefore, it can be detrimental to the company we work for. Therefore, your ability to handle conflicts is something that is often tested during a job interview.

how to answer how do you handle conflict

So, let’s find out How to answer “How Do You Handle Conflict”? and why it is such a crucial and common interview question…

Why is The Interviewer Asking You This Question?

Recruiters teams all over the world love this question because your answer shows a lot about your personality and the attitude that you’ll bring to the workplace.

If you’re applying for any job that involves working in close contact with other people, it’s almost guaranteed that you will be asked how you handle conflicts. Or at least, as we will see later, some alternative questions that have a similar meaning.

Work-related

Let’s make it clear from the beginning that the recruiters are not interested in how you deal with conflicts in your private life. In that situation, you can be the most confrontational person or the most compromising one, and that would make no difference to them.

At the end of the day, when your shift is over, you have the freedom to decide who you want to spend your time with, and you don’t need to take any action to resolve a conflict unless the other person is important to you. But when we are at work, we don’t have the luxury to do that. Maybe the person we don’t get along with is sitting next to you for eight hours every day.

If we don’t do something, the situation can quickly escalate and become a major issue for us and the company we’re working at.

Different Ways To Ask The Same Question

There are a few different ways to formulate the question, and the meaning can be slightly different depending on the job you’re applying for.

The first option is when you’re interviewing for an entry-level job or a non-management role. In this case, the recruiters will be interested in knowing how you would react to a conflict that involves you. Here is what they could ask you:

  • Have you ever experienced any conflict in the workplace? How did you handle it?
  • Describe a time when you had a conflict with a team member

The second situation is when the job you’re applying for is a manager position or any role where you will have the responsibility to lead a team. In this case, your ability to resolve conflicts between members of your team is crucial.

how to answer how do you handle conflict guide

This is what the recruiter team will ask you:

  • How would you handle conflicts in your team?
  • Tell me about a time you resolved a conflict between team members

It appears clear that all these questions are slightly more specific and, therefore, easier to answer.

However

When we are asked, ” How do you handle conflict?” the reality is that it can mean all the options above. So, how do we know if we have to talk about a conflict that we were part of or not?

Well, it all depends on the job you’re trying to get. Will you be part of a team, or will you be leading the team?

Many times the job posting will give you a clue. Search the job description, and you might find something like:

  • Ability to quickly detect and resolve conflict
  • Creating and maintaining a peaceful and stress-free work environment

If you’re still not sure what to answer, there is nothing wrong with asking the recruiter to be more specific. By doing so, you’re actually showing them that you’re prepared to handle conflict in both situations.

Common Conflict Sources in The Workplace

In an ideal world, conflicts shouldn’t happen at work. But the reality is the opposite, and most of the time, conflicts often occur in a professional environment.

However, not every moment of tension is necessarily negative. If we are able to quickly face the problem, understand the cause, and have a mature confrontation, the initial conflict can lead to a better understanding of the other person and can result in an improved working relationship.

But why are conflicts so common in the workplace?

The main reason is that we are forced to spend time with people that we didn’t choose to, while in our private life we can always decide whether to hang out with somebody or not, in work that is not the case.

So, let’s have a look at the most common causes of workplace conflicts…

Lack of Communication

This is by far the most common reason for a conflict to happen. Luckily, it’s also quite easy to handle, as long as the problem is tackled before it becomes a bigger issue. The simple solution is to be available for an open and mature conversation that goes to the root of the problem.

how to answer how do you handle conflict tip

Leadership Conflicts

Everyone has a different way of being a leader, and when the leadership changes, it’s always hard to accept the newcomer. A good leader should be able to slowly introduce his new methods without drastically changing the habits of their team.

Again, communication is crucial, and any innovation in the business processes should come with an explanation.

Preferential Treatment

Even if we should always focus on our job, it’s natural to notice if somebody is treated differently. Sometimes it’s just an inaccurate perception; other times, it is based on actual events.

Personality Conflicts

When a conflict doesn’t have a professional cause, it’s way harder to find a solution. Keeping a mature approach and focusing on the professional side of the relationship is the only way to be able to work alongside someone that we don’t like. Only experience can teach how to leave personal issues out of the office.

There are certainly many more reasons that can initiate a conflict: cultural differences, excessive workload, impossible deadlines, or even something as trivial as forgetting to bring a coffee to a colleague when it was your turn to do it.

However, all of these situations can be seen as a result of, again, lack of communication, and when they are managed promptly, they can be easily fixed.

How To Take Action When a Conflict Arises?

Before we talk about how you should answer this question, it’s important to understand what we should do when a conflict arises in the workplace. What’s the best strategy to deal with it?

Act Fast

This is the single most important factor in dealing with a conflict. The more we ignore the problem hoping that it will disappear, the more likely the conflict will escalate to such an extent that finding a solution will become much harder.

Also, when the issue initially occurs, it could well only be between two people, but if not handled rapidly, it can quickly affect other workers.

Assess The Situation and Find The Real Source of The Problem

Once you acknowledge that there is a problem, it’s crucial to understand how serious it is and where it comes from.

How long has it been going on? How many people are involved?

Start with some self-examination. Sometimes we are the problem, even if we like to think that the situation originates from the other person. Do I behave differently with that person, and could this be the cause of the conflict?

how to answer how do you handle conflict tips

Communication is The Key

We have already established that lack of communication is the number one cause for the majority of conflicts. Therefore, the quickest way to resolve them is by facilitating communication between the people involved.

If you are one of them, leave your pride aside even when you’re certain that you did nothing wrong. Do everything in your power to have a constructive conversation in a private and safe location. Make sure you give the other person enough time to voice their opinions and try to reach an agreement on what you should do to overcome the issue and reach your ultimate goal.

And What is The Ultimate Goal?

Regardless of the nature of the conflict, the purpose of a confrontation is to be able to go back to working together in a successful and peaceful manner.

During the conversation, keep a positive and calm attitude all the time, and pay close attention to your body language, ensuring that you never appear aggressive.

Prepare Your Answer

Now you have all the tools to prepare a powerful answer to convince the recruiters that you know how to handle a conflict. And to make sure that when you answer the question, you don’t forget anything important, use the STAR method.

  • Define the Situation
  • Explain what your Task was
  • Describe how you took Action
  • Did you accomplish your goal? Describe the Result of your actions

The Wrong Answer

This is such a personal question that it’s hard to define what the wrong answer is; however, there is one thing that you should never say, and that is…

“I never had a conflict at work.”

This is not credible, and the recruiters will immediately lose trust in whatever else you might say. If you’re a fresh graduate and you don’t have any working experience, pick a situation when you had to complete a group project at university.

Let’s now take a look at how you can put all this information together…

An Example of an Effective Answer to “How Do You Handle Conflict”

It’s now time to wrap up everything I’ve gone through with an example of a good answer to the question. Use this as a starting point to get an idea of how you can structure your own answer.

“Even though I pride myself to generally be able to get along with coworkers, there have been a couple of situations when I had to handle a conflict.

While I was working as assistant restaurant manager at (name of the restaurant), I had an issue with the new head waiter that had just been hired. From the very first day, I had the impression that he was annoyed by anything I would tell him, and even though he was clearly trying his best, he was failing to follow the restaurant processes.

After taking a few days to evaluate the situation and understand if I was the problem, I approached him and asked him to have a chat. I knew that I had to act quickly to avoid any repercussions to the excellent service that our customers were used to.

It turned out that he was completely unaware of what my role in the restaurant was. He confessed that he found it weird that he didn’t have a supervisor to rely on when the manager wasn’t there, but since he was new, he didn’t want to ask anybody.

As usual, it was just a problem of lack of communication, and since then we’ve been working together for three years without any other problem”.

Want to Earn More Money at Work?

Who doesn’t? Therefore, you may want to invest in a guide aimed specifically at the industry you’re in. I would highly recommend checking out How to Earn 6-7 Figures Selling Timeshares, Art of Commercial Morgage Brokering, Millionaire Real Estate Flippers, or 6 Hours to 6 Figures.

Or, for more useful interview suggestions, such as Answering Tell Me About Yourself in Interview, or how to respond to questions like Why We Should Hire You or even Why Do You Want to Work Here, take a look around the site.

Or, if you’ve decided to leave your current job to get your dream high-income position, find out How to Write a Resignation Letter. And for additional support that will put a smile on your face through the difficult process, I recommend Work Sucks!: A Funny View of a Serious Problem, as well as Good Luck Finding Awesome Coworkers Like Us Again or How to Quit Your Job Gracefully.

Back to today’s topic…

Final Thoughts

It can take ages to build a relaxed work environment where everybody works together happily to reach communal goals. And a single conflict can ruin everything in the space of a few days. Therefore, it’s not surprising that recruiters want to assess your ability to handle and resolve conflicts.

Knowing How to answer “How Do You Handle Conflict” is key to a successful job interview. If you apply the suggestions in this article, your answer will be exactly what the recruiter team is waiting for, and the moment to sign that contract will be a bit closer.

Happy interviewing!

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About Calvin Miller

Calvin has over 20 years of experience in a leading employment agency in Tucson, Arizona, and is passionate about finding the perfect position for everyone who uses the companies services.

He lives with his wife, Annette, and their two sons Jake and Joseph.

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