How To Handle Workplace Conflict (With Tips and Examples)
Updated June 9, 2023
It's common to experience conflict in an office setting when you are interacting with a variety of personalities and roles. How you manage conflict is important in being an effective team player and how you convey your conflict management skills can help you during job interviews.
In this article, we discuss how to handle conflict in the workplace and then list common interview questions and answers about conflict.
How to handle conflict in the workplace
Employers are increasingly prioritizing applicants with emotional intelligence because employees with strong soft skills and interpersonal ability are more likely to work well as part of a team. It is helpful to remember the following emotionally intelligent habits when answering conflict interview questions like these four:
1. Foster relationships with colleagues
A “relationship” in this context does not necessarily mean friendship or closeness but rather points to a mutual understanding in which members of a team agree upon roles and boundaries in the workplace. If you want to establish a professional relationship with a coworker, it can be beneficial to do so in a systematic way. You could call a meeting and discuss the following:
What role each person has and what their respective responsibilities are
Possible conflicts that may have taken place in the past, and how to best deal with issues going forward
Rules with regard to meetings and email etiquette
2. Communication is key
Many conflicts take place due to a lack of communication and understanding. For this reason, it is usually better to voice a difference in opinion immediately and in a civilized way, rather than allowing underlying resentment and anger to result in conflict.
3. Learn to listen to coworkers
There is a difference between hearing what coworkers are saying and employing active listening. Active listening involves listening with intent and interpreting nonverbal clues, including but not limited to body language. If you learn to listen to people more closely, you will respond in a more understanding way. Coworkers are also likely to notice that you’re more receptive, which might change the way they listen to you in return. In such a working environment, it is more likely that conflict will either not arise or that it will be settled in a calm way.
4. Act and react objectively in the workplace
Although it is common for individuals to act in an emotional and subjective way, you should always strive to be as objective as possible in the workplace. Attempt to focus on a coworker’s behavior, as opposed to concentrating on aspects of their personality.
5. Identify recurring conflict situations
If the same conflict repeatedly arises in the workplace, take steps to resolve the matter in an effective way. The best way to deal with such a situation is to identify the exact point of contention and calmly discuss possible resolutions.
Read more: 9 Key Steps for Conflict Resolution at Work
Common interview questions about conflict
Here are a few questions your interviewer might ask you about conflict, with example answers for each.
1. How do you deal with conflict?
To answer this question successfully, assure your interviewer that you are a good listener who can accept opposing views without getting upset. You could also mention how conflict resolution should take place in a private space. Aim to provide an example if possible.
Example: “I actively readjust my attitude during a conflict situation. This means that I strive to listen to the other person’s point of view without becoming defensive. I also attempt to move the confrontation to a private space to avoid further complications.”
2. Can you recall a time of conflict with a coworker?
Behavioral questions require you to describe how you acted in a real-life situation. Prospective employers ask this type of question to learn more about your personality. Past behavior often indicates how you would react in comparable future situations, so be sure to provide an example you are proud of or to explain the lessons you took away from the experience. It is important to emphasize the resolution that took place, as opposed to dwelling on the conflict itself.
The STAR approach may prove helpful when answering this type of question. This acronym stands for:
Situation: Briefly explain the issue you were dealing with in a positive, constructive way.
Task: Describe your role in the situation.
Action: Discuss what you did to resolve or address the situation.
Result: Emphasize what you learned and how your actions had a positive outcome.
Example: “I was working as a project manager on an IT project, and one technician was constantly late finishing tasks. When I approached him about it, he reacted defensively. I kept calm and acknowledged that the deadlines were challenging and asked how I could assist him in improving his performance. He calmed down and told me that he was involved in another project where he had to do tasks that were not in his job description. After a meeting with the other project manager, we came to a resolution that alleviated the technician’s workload. For the remainder of the project, the technician delivered great work.”
3. Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss.
Although interviewers often like to hear that prospective employees are honest and have strong opinions, they nevertheless want new team members who respond well to authority.
It is advisable to remember the following when answering this question: First, avoid saying anything derogatory about a former manager, as your interviewer will likely interpret this as unprofessional behavior. Second, ensure that your answer demonstrates that you respect authority and are able to follow directions.
Example: “In some instances, I have felt it necessary to voice my opinion when I disagreed with a boss, and it has actually proven to be constructive. For instance, a previous manager’s unfriendly behavior had a negative influence on my work, and I started losing motivation and job satisfaction. Eventually, I asked for a meeting and told him, in a calm and polite way, how I felt. To my surprise, he told me he was having difficulty in his personal life and was not coping well. After that, he made an effort to be less critical, and I was more understanding.”
Read more: 5 Effective Conflict Resolution Strategies
4. How do you approach diversity in coworkers?
It is vital to celebrate diversity in the workplace. Most companies today feature a multi-cultural workforce that consists of people with different religions, political affiliations and beliefs, so an employee who accepts and aims to learn about differences in others' backgrounds is far more likely to make a great team member.
Example: “I love to inform myself about different cultures, opinions and perspectives. I deeply appreciate the beauty diversity brings to the world, and I am always seeking to learn more about how to inform myself about and support other communities.”
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