How to answer "Can you tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult team member?" (with sample answers)

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This post is part of our series on behavioral interview questions.

Why Employers Ask This

Asking the question "Can you tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult team member?" is a common practice in job interviews. Employers ask this question to evaluate your ability to handle conflict, communicate effectively, maintain a positive attitude, and work collaboratively with others. The response will give them an idea of how you behave in challenging situations and whether you possess the necessary interpersonal skills required for the job.

Employers also want to know if you can manage difficult personalities while maintaining a positive relationship with the other team members. The question serves as an opportunity to showcase your problem-solving and conflict resolution skills, demonstrating that you can handle difficult scenarios without compromising results.

How to Answer the Question

When answering this question, there are a few key strategies to keep in mind:

  1. Begin by describing the situation and the context surrounding the experience.
  2. Explain how the team member's behavior affected the project or the team dynamics.
  3. Share the steps you took to resolve the issue that highlight your problem-solving abilities and demonstrate your diplomatic approach.
  4. Emphasize the outcome of the situation, what was accomplished, and what you learned as a result of dealing with the difficult team member.
  5. Be honest, but also be mindful of how you talk about your former team member. Never badmouth or blame them for the issue.

Remember to focus on how you handled the situation and how you effectively communicated with the team member. Show your growth and improvement as a result of this challenge, and how you can use what you learned in future situations should they arise.

Sample answers

  1. Bad Answer:

    There was this guy who was always so difficult to work with. He wasn't a team player and would always complain about everything. I just ignored him and focused on my work.

    Why it's bad: This answer doesn't provide any details about how the candidate dealt with the difficult team member. Describing someone as "difficult" without providing any specific examples or actions taken is vague and unhelpful.

  2. Good Answer:

    One time, I was working on a project with a team member who wasn't pulling their weight. I decided to have a one-on-one conversation with them to discuss the situation and find out if there was anything I could do to help. It turned out that they were struggling with some personal issues that were affecting their work. I listened and offered support, and we were able to come up with a plan to get their work up to speed.

    Why it's good: This answer provides a specific example of a difficult team member and shows how the candidate took action to address the situation. The candidate listened to the team member, showed empathy, and worked with them towards a solution.

  3. Bad Answer:

    I've never really had to deal with a difficult team member. I always get along with everyone and work well in any team.

    Why it's bad: This answer may come across as insincere and overconfident. It's unlikely that the candidate has never encountered a difficult team member, and claiming to always get along with everyone may signal a lack of self-awareness or an inability to handle conflict.

  4. Good Answer:

    There was a team member who had a tendency to dominate conversations and disregard other people's opinions. To address the issue, I suggested that we establish some ground rules and ensure that everyone had an opportunity to share their ideas. I also used active listening techniques to show that I was truly interested in what others had to say, and reminded the team member to do the same.

    Why it's good: This answer demonstrates the candidate's ability to identify and address a specific issue with a team member. The candidate took a proactive approach and offered a solution that would benefit everyone on the team. The use of active listening techniques is also a positive sign of strong communication skills.

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