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Tell Me About a Time You Disagreed With Your Boss

When an interviewer asks about disagreeing with your boss, it can feel like a trap. Wouldn’t talking about this topic hint that you might cause conflicts with them in the future?

While it’s definitely a tricky subject, a question about manager-employee disagreement is really meant to help the interviewer learn more about your conflict resolution skills. 

Here are other ways they might ask about this topic:

  • 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 question?

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

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 at the end of the day your boss is your superior. A hiring manager wants to feel comfortable that you’ll be able to express your viewpoints while also respecting the power dynamics of the workplace.  

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 worse, 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, take a 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 past 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 come to 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 just 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. 

Interview answer example #1

“I submitted my proposed travel itinerary for an upcoming conference, but my boss booked the trip for a day shorter than I had suggested to save on costs. I went to him and explained that the reason I wanted to arrive a day early was to have a chance to network with potential leads without also trying to juggle conference sessions. He hadn’t realized so many people arrive in advance and was able to adjust my bookings to give me the extra day. I wound up closing four deals on that trip.”

Interview answer example #2

“If I disagreed with my boss, the first thing I would do would be to schedule a time to talk with them one on one, free of distractions. Then, I would explain my concerns calmly, giving as much information as I could to help them understand my position. If I had a solution in mind, I would make the case for why I thought it was the best option. Then, I’d listen as my boss explained how they wanted to move forward. Whether or not I agree with them, I understand that my boss has the final say, so I would respect their decision and do my best to work with it.”

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.