It can feel like a trap when an interviewer asks, “Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss.” Wouldn’t talk about this topic hint that you might cause conflicts with them in the future?
While it’s a tricky subject, a question about manager-employee disagreement is meant to help the interviewer learn more about your conflict resolution skills.
Variations of this interview question
- What would you do if you disagreed with your boss?
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with your manager.
- How would you handle it if you had a conflict with a superior?
Learn how to answer this interview question and avoid making some of the most common missteps below.
Why do interviewers ask this about disagreeing with your boss?
Differences of opinion happen in the workplace. Interviewers ask about what you’d do if you had a difference of opinion with your boss to get an idea of how you handle conflict.
Good employees don’t just take every order without question, especially if it’s something they disagree with on a moral level. But, if you do have an issue with something your boss has done or asked of you, you need to be able to address it with professionalism.
Your response to this question can tell an interviewer a lot about what you might be like to manage and whether your communication style aligns with what they’re looking for from the right candidate.
What hiring managers look for in an answer about disagreeing with your boss
An interviewer wants to hear you describe voicing your concerns to your boss using clear, tactful communication. They also want to hear you describe a level of respect; you may disagree, but your boss is your superior at the end of the day. A hiring manager wants to feel comfortable that you’ll be able to express your viewpoints while respecting the workplace’s power dynamics.
How to answer the question, “Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss?”
Ponder the question
If you jump to answer this question too quickly, you risk giving the impression that you’ve rehearsed your answer or that this kind of thing happens all the time. To show that disagreements with your boss are not a regular occurrence in your work life, pause before beginning your answer or say, “let me think for a moment…” before launching into your response.
Tell a story where both sides win
Whether you’re describing an actual scenario from your experience or talking about a hypothetical disagreement, you want to tell a story where one side doesn’t overpower the other. This is not the time to mention correcting your manager’s error in a group setting or going over their head to their boss about an issue. Instead, describe a scenario where you and your manager work together to devise a mutually agreeable solution.
Highlight your conflict resolution skills
Strengthen your position as a candidate by using your answer to showcase specific conflict resolution strategies. Mention things like open and honest communication, active listening, looking for compromise, and not placing blame.
How not to answer
Say it never happens
If you say you’ve never disagreed with your boss, it can sound inauthentic and call into question the veracity of other answers you’ve given. The exception would be if you’re starting your career and haven’t had much of a chance to have a meaningful disagreement with a superior. In this case, you can phrase your answer as such: “it hasn’t happened in my job yet, but if it did, I would…” then describe your hypothetical approach.
Badmouth your boss
Don’t point fingers or trash-talk your difficult boss. Focus on the issue rather than criticizing your manager’s characteristics. So, instead of “my last boss and I were always getting into disagreements because he was so short-sighted,” say, “my boss made a big decision regarding one of our clients, but I had spoken with the client earlier that day and gotten some additional information that I thought might affect his decision.”
Share a story where you “win”
Some hiring managers won’t take kindly to the idea of you prevailing in a conflict with your superior, even if you were justified. That’s why it’s important to choose a story where you came to a compromise or worked together to find a resolution rather than a situation where you convinced them you were right.
Sample answers to “Tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss?”
As you give your answer, maintain a positive tone. If you’re describing a real-life experience, avoid getting into too many details that could affect the interviewer’s interpretation of what happened. Less is more; focus your answer on clear communication, respect, and a mutually agreeable resolution.