The interview question ‘Have you ever had conflict with a co-worker? How did you solve it?’ or one of its variations is almost standard in job interviews these days. This question is what is called a behavioural question. It is designed to see how you manage a particularly stressful situation i.e. conflict and with the response you provide, the interviewer can judge your personal skills.
Why is such an Awkward Question Asked?
The reason interviewers love questions about conflict so much is because in the workplace we have to deal with people we like, as well as people we dislike. It is inevitable then that at some point you are going to have conflict with a co-worker, manager, or worse, a client and so the employer wants to know in advance if you have the capability to handle such a situation professionally.
Turn a Negative into a Positive!
No one enjoys talking about conflicts they have had with previous co-workers and it can make people a bit more nervous than they already are. But if you are prepared for the question then you will be fine. Whatever you do, don’t say ‘no’. This is one of the worst mistakes you can make because they know you are lying and then you will seem disingenuous. The key is having a good answer and example ready which will show how you dealt (or would deal) with a conflict in a positive way.
How to Answer the Question
The best way to answer this question is using the STAR method. This method allows you to write down bullet points to lay out the basic structure of your answer, meaning you can easily adapt the answer for whatever conflict question they ask.
S/T (Situation / Task)
Briefly describe the context for the conflict that arose. The situation needs to have some background information.
For Example: Team member showing up late, or not at all, to team meetings. When he was approached about this he got extremely angry.
Talk about what approach or actions you took in order to solve the conflict at hand.
For Example: Gathered all the other team members together to discuss what to do. It was suggested that we tell the team member what is expected of him. It was also suggested that we ask the member what days he was able to commit to. We met the team member and told him why we were frustrated. The team member apologized for missing meetings but said that he had been under a lot of stress at home.
You are essentially telling a story and every story should have an ending. This is especially true if you are trying to turn a positive into a negative. Make sure that your example has a positive outcome.
For Example: We decided that the best option was to have meetings on Wednesday afternoons as this was best for the team member. The problem vanished and work was back on track without putting our co-worker under any more stress.
Be Concise and Clear
Your answer needs to be concise but it should still tell a story. If you create a few bullet points with different scenarios then you will be prepared for any situation. The key is practicing using these examples out loud. Being confident and making yourself believable is extremely important. This is particularly the case where you have not actually had to deal with co-worker conflict (applicable to fresh graduates who have not worked before); you need to be able to come up with something believable!
Behavioural questions are not the most pleasant questions to answer but if properly prepared, are quite easy to master. If you follow the rules I have outlined above then you should on the right track. Remember, your aim is to show that you can deal with conflict in a positive way.