Home / Interview Questions / How Do You Handle Workplace Conflict?

How Do You Handle Workplace Conflict?

How you handle a workplace conflict is an important question interviewers ask to ensure you are the right candidate for the role. Your response is important in conveying that you’ll be a level-headed employee who doesn’t cause unnecessary conflict but who can deal with it successfully when it arises.

Here you will learn how to craft an impressive answer to this common interview question that will help you land the job.

Why do interviewers ask about conflict?

Conflict resolution is required in industries from marketing to manufacturing and everywhere in between. It’s one of the most in-demand soft skills among employers, and for good reason. Conflicts in the workplace not only take the focus off work and detract from productivity, but if they escalate, they can quickly become a liability.

Since making a bad hire is so costly, hiring managers are always on the lookout for potential red flags during the interview process. This is a good question for revealing candidates who are hot-headed or insist on always having the last word. 

In asking how you handle workplace conflict, an interviewer is seeing whether you understand constructive conflict resolution. In addition to having the right technical skills, being able to resolve conflicts effectively is a critical quality to be considered a strong applicant.  

Other ways hiring managers phrase this question

  • Have you ever had a conflict in the workplace?
  • Tell me about a time you disagreed with your coworker/boss.
  • How do you work with someone you don’t get along with?

What are managers looking for in an answer?

When people of different backgrounds and personalities work together, there are inevitably going to be times when those people clash. An interviewer wants to see that you understand conflict is an inherent part of the workplace, an obstacle to be overcome just like any other job-related challenge. 

They’re also looking to weed out candidates who don’t have the necessary conflict resolution skills–people with a “my way or the highway” mentality that makes for difficult working relationships. 

How to answer, “How do you handle workplace conflict”

Lead with respect

Explain that your first priority is to maintain a level of professionalism with whomever you disagree with. Acknowledge that conflict sometimes occurs and when it does, it’s a time to focus on the issue at hand rather than any personal gripes you have with your coworker. 

Share a success story

The best answers to interview questions about workplace conflict contain an anecdote about you resolving a disagreement successfully. Describe the situation and the strategies you used to reach a positive outcome: talking with the other person one-on-one, practicing active listening, or enlisting a neutral third party. 

Stick to the facts

Instead of making a subjective statement like “my coworker Jane was always looking to pick a fight,” keep your anecdote focused on objective facts, like “Jane had strong opinions and would get frustrated if she felt she wasn’t being heard.”

How not to answer

Describing a heated confrontation

An argument that escalated beyond a verbal dispute or ended with someone being fired is not the type of anecdote you want to bring up in a job interview. It’s best to leave such situations in the past (and to take steps to make sure they don’t happen again in the future!).

Describing something petty

While confronting the break room lunch thief was probably highly satisfying, your anecdote should involve more meaningful stakes, like a disagreement about how to manage a client project. Choose a story where the outcome feels like a win for you, your coworker, and the company. 

Saying that you never experience conflict

Avoidance isn’t an effective conflict resolution strategy. You don’t want to come across as a doormat or someone who’s afraid to rock the boat. Instead, show that you’re an even-keeled professional by explaining how you tackle conflict with confidence and tact. 

Sample answers to “How do you handle workplace conflict”

Example #1

“When I have an issue with a coworker, I prefer to be direct. I take that coworker aside and respectfully explain my position, then give them a chance to explain theirs while I try to understand their side. Usually, we can come to an agreement on how to move forward and nip the problem in the bud. I find the longer you let a problem simmer, the more heated people can get, so it’s best to address disagreements head-on.”

Example #2

“One of my coworkers who hands off projects to me had missed several deadlines, which was causing me to have to rush in order to keep mine. When I approached her about it, she was defensive and started to get upset. I kept my cool and asked questions to find out more about why her work was late. It turned out she was being overwhelmed by projects from two different departments. We went to our manager together and explained that based on the current workload, we needed to extend our regular project timelines. We did, and we both had a much easier time making our deadlines after that.”

By demonstrating your action-oriented approach to conflict, you’ll help the hiring manager feel confident that if and when conflict comes up, you’ll deal with it smoothly and professionally.