Conflict is a scary concept for a lot of people. It’s not fun to deal with or to talk about, but unfortunately, it’s inevitable. In fact, 85% of employees experience some kind of conflict at work – so it’s common for interviewers to ask candidates about their methods for dealing with tense situations.
Not sure how to begin? Think about anytime you’ve disagreed with someone, had a different opinion on strategy, or dealt with a misunderstanding – then explain how you reached a solution! As long as you demonstrate professionalism and an ability to resolve problems, you are bound to get a positive response.
Keep reading for some dos, don’ts and potential answers to the common interview question, “How do you deal with conflict at work?”
DON’T SAY: “I’ve never had a conflict!”🙅🏽♀️
Frankly, this answer will be hard to believe. While it may be true that you’ve never had a big problem at work, the reality of life is that issues will always come up. Your job is to show that you can use your communication skills to find common ground with others.
You can touch on the fact that you’ve been lucky to experience healthy work environments for the majority of your career, but it’s important to offer some kind of answer for this question. Again, this doesn’t have to be a massive conflict, but could be as simple as:
- a time you disagreed with teammates or a manager about priorities
- a time when a colleague missed a deadline
- a time when you had to negotiate for something from a client or your boss
- a time when you had to adjust your expectations of someone at work
- a time when you disagreed with any element of a company decision
DO SAY: “I set up a meeting to discuss Issue X.”🗣
A study showed that employees in the US spent approximately 2.8 hours each week involved in conflict – amounting to around $359 billion in wasted time during work hours. One of the most frequent problems that causes this wasted time? Miscommunication.
Many people wait for HR or managers to resolve communication issues, but if you’ve ever stepped up to facilitate a problem-solving meeting, now is the time to mention it. Explain how you took the initiative to talk things out face-to-face. By actually speaking to people instead of relying on email or outside parties, you’re better able to understand others’ points of view.
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DON’T SAY: “I solved the problem by ignoring it!”🤷🏿
You may be tempted to show your easygoing personality by saying that you simply let things go. However, that’s not the same as working things out. Remember, the interviewer wants to know what you’ve done to resolve issues, not what you’ve avoided doing.
It may seem counterintuitive, but conflict – when addressed correctly – can actually be a good thing. In fact, 76% of workers reported that friction, though uncomfortable, led to positive results (like improved approaches to problems, deeper insights about colleagues, and innovation). If conflict had been ignored instead of addressed, those beneficial outcomes wouldn’t have happened. So, make sure you emphasize your strength to speak up when disagreements occur!
DO SAY: “I de-escalated the situation by showing empathy.”💞
Imagine your teammate missed a deadline. Or maybe they froze during an important client meeting. In disappointing situations, it’s easy to point fingers and get frustrated, but it’s harder – and often more productive – to try to see where they are coming from and get to the root of the problem (for instance, maybe they had a family emergency, misunderstood expectations, or are feeling burnt out overall).
A 2018 survey found that 58% of workers have quit or considered quitting because of disruptive workplace politics. Meanwhile, 38% want to quit because of poor workplace culture or a feeling that they don’t fit in. That translates to a whole lot of money lost for a company that has to replace those people. However, if you’re the type to empathize with others, you’re likely to save the company some headaches by making your teammates feel heard and understood.
Different personality types will always be a factor you’ll have to deal with, and conflict is just a reality of working with others. The next time you’re asked how you handle disagreements at work, here are some helpful things to touch on in your answer:
- how you spoke up to de-escalate negativity
- how you encouraged dialogue with teammates
- how you kept your own ego in check
- how you modelled appropriate/understanding behaviour for others
- how you clarified responsibilities and expectations
- how you accepted conflict as a normal and manageable part of work
You don’t have to love every coworker, but you can always find a professional way to move forward. Overcoming confrontation is the key to quality teamwork. If you remember that, you’re sure to pass this interview question with flying colours.
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