How to answer "Can you tell me about a time when you had to navigate a difficult conflict with a colleague?" (with sample answers)

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

Why Employers Ask This

Conflicts can arise in any workplace, and how you handle them speaks volumes about your communication, problem-solving and collaboration skills. This question is asked to assess how you deal with difficult situations with colleagues, and whether you have the ability to resolve conflicts in a professional and constructive manner. Employers want to see how you approach conflict resolution and whether you can adapt to different professional situations.

By answering this question, you can also highlight your ability to work in a team and your emotional intelligence. Employers seek candidates who can navigate difficult situations while keeping their cool and maintaining a positive attitude. Your answer demonstrates how you interact with others and how you tackle complex problems in a collaborative environment.

Finally, your answer provides employers an insight into your potential to thrive in their workplace culture. How you react to conflicts and challenges can indicate your fit with an organization, and whether you are aligned with their values and vision.

How to Answer the Question

When answering this question, be mindful of the S.T.A.R (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) method. Make sure your answers follow this framework and focus on the situation and how you handled it. Keep your answer concise and focused but provide enough detail about the situation.

Start by describing the situation, emphasizing the nature of the conflict and the parties involved. Then, explain what steps you took to resolve the issue and the rationale behind your actions. This demonstrates your analytical thinking and problem-solving skills. Make sure to highlight how your approach helped mitigate the situation and how you worked collaboratively with your colleague to reach a resolution.

End your answer by summarizing the results and the impact it had on the team or organization. This could include how the conflict was resolved, any changes that were implemented, and how the situation helped you to grow professionally.

Lastly, stay positive and professional. Avoid criticizing your colleague or dwelling on negative emotions. Focus on how you overcame the challenge and delivered positive results.

Sample answers

Bad answer:

Well, I can’t say I’ve ever really had a conflict with a colleague. I tend to get along with everyone and try to avoid confrontation.

Why it's bad: This answer is bad because it fails to answer the question. It also gives the impression that the candidate does not have interpersonal skills or experience handling conflict, which may be a red flag for the interviewer.

Good answer:

At my previous job I worked on a team where we had a disagreement about the best way to approach a project. One colleague wanted to focus on one aspect of the project while another wanted to focus on a different aspect. We were at a stalemate for a while, but eventually, I suggested we meet to discuss the pros and cons of both approaches. In the end, we came to a consensus that combined the best aspects of both approaches and the project was successful.

Why it's good: This answer shows that the candidate has experience dealing with a conflict and was able to come up with a solution that worked for everyone involved. It also highlights the candidate’s problem-solving skills and ability to compromise, which are positive traits in any job.

Good answer:

During my last job, a colleague and I were working on a project and we had a disagreement about the direction of the project. We were both passionate about our ideas, and it started to escalate into a heated argument. After taking a step back, I asked my colleague to tell me more about their vision for the project, and I found out that they had some valid concerns that I had not considered. We were able to find common ground and work together to come up with a plan that incorporated both of our ideas.

Why it's good: This answer shows the candidate’s ability to maintain composure during a conflict, de-escalate the situation, and ultimately find a solution that worked for both parties involved. It demonstrates the candidate’s ability to be open-minded and consider other perspectives.

Bad answer:

One time, a colleague and I had a disagreement and it got really bad. We both yelled at each other and it got so heated that other colleagues had to intervene to separate us. We eventually resolved the conflict, but it was a really uncomfortable situation.

Why it's bad: This answer is bad because it highlights the negative aspects of the conflict and lacks a focus on how the candidate resolved it. It also gives the impression that the candidate might have a temper or are difficult to work with, which could be a turnoff for a potential employer.

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