25 January, 2019
By Mike Simpson
Quick question for you: how do you handle conflict?
- Are you someone who avoids conflict at all costs?
- Are you someone who pretends it’s not there and just ignores it?
- Maybe you’re someone who is more go with the flow and more accommodating.
- Perhaps you’re someone who uses conflict as a way to jumpstart compromise and collaboration?
Regardless of what your favorite method is, there’s no doubt that life is full of conflict.
From trying to figure out where you want to eat lunch with friends (half of you want tacos. Half of you want burgers.), to having to deal with the grumpy old lady in your apartment complex who simply can’t seem to figure out that the parking space with your apartment number on it is your space!
Now, how do you handle conflict in the workspace?
More importantly, if a hiring manager asked you “How do you handle conflict,” how would you respond?
Of course, how you answer that interview question is directly related to why that questions is even being asked in the first place.
Hiring managers are looking for someone they know will be able to rise to the occasion and do their job regardless of what’s going on around them, and a big part of that is how you handle conflict in the workspace.
They’re also looking to see how well you’ll fit into the culture of the company and how well you’ll mesh with your fellow employees.
But be aware, this is one of those trick questions that really has no absolutely right answer and what a hiring manager is looking for can vary wildly between jobs.
Some hiring managers want someone who is willing to voice their opinion and stand up for what they think is right. Others want an employee who is more geared towards quick conflict resolution and compromise. Regardless of what the employer is looking for, what’s truly important is how you answer the question.
How Not To Answer “How Do You Handle Conflict?”
Let’s start with how NOT to answer the question “how do you handle conflict?”
“I’m not a huge fan of conflict. To me conflict equals stress and I definitely don’t put up with stress well. The best way for me to handle conflict and stress is to just isolate myself. In my last job there was so much conflict between my coworkers that I ended up moving my desk to the basement next to the boiler. It was hot, but at least it was finally quiet.”
While this is an extreme example, it does bring up a good point. Avoiding conflict all together by completely removing yourself from the situation probably isn’t going to win you points with any hiring manager…especially if they have to hunt you down in the basement to talk to you.
A hiring manager can tell a lot about your personality based on how you answer this question, which is why you want to avoid any responses that align with any of these ‘problem’ people:
Confrontational Carl: While standing up for what you think is right is a noble trait, fighting tooth and nail because you’re unwilling to compromise or admit you may not be right isn’t, especially if your default is to become angry and lash out. Confrontational Carl can’t admit he’s wrong and will stubbornly argue his point, becoming increasingly angry.
Dissin’ Debbie: Never make work conflict personal. Turning a disagreement about a professional situation into a personal attack is never the right way to handle any conflict. Keep in mind you want to always focus on the situation, not on personalities.
Dissin’ Debbie is just the opposite. She’s the kind of person who can take a simple disagreement about what type of toner the printer takes and turn it into a brutal dissection of your fashion sense, your taste in men, and your relationship with your parents.
Wallbuilder Wally: This isn’t just about leaving the confrontation physically, but mentally as well. Keeping an open mind and clearly listening to both sides is the mark of a true leader. You never know, you might just learn something or (gasp!) change your mind!
Wallbuilder Wally might be standing in front of you, but you can tell just by looking in his eyes, that he’s a million miles away. He might as well have his fingers in his ears.
Festering Frank: While dealing with conflict can be difficult, it’s much better to handle it as soon as it arises rather than letting it sit and fester.
Festering Frank is just the opposite and this personality type has the potential to be the most dangerous. Festering Frank takes any sort of conflict and internalizes it, holding onto it like a precious little seed of anger. He feeds and waters it, letting it grow and grow.
From the outside, Festering Frank looks fine, but inside, he’s a seething mass of anger ready to boil over at a moment’s notice, and often triggered by something completely unrelated.
Playground Pete: I’m sure this is something that you’re probably already aware of, and I truly hope I’m preaching to the choir when I say this but regardless of the conflict, violence is never the answer. Never, ever, ever, ever.
Playground Pete never got that memo so his answer to any conflict is “Let’s take this outside and solve it man-to-man.” Not only is this individual absolutely not a candidate any hiring manager would want working for them, but he’s also a huge potential liability. Threats that amount to assault and battery are a really quick way to end just about any interview.
So, how do you answer this question? Let’s take a look.
5 Tips for answering “How do you handle conflict?”
- Pick a relevant example: Just like all our answers during interviews, you want to make sure that you’re not only telling the hiring manager how you would do something, but backing that up with a concrete, targeted example. Pull a story from your professional work past that has a positive result for all parties and can be summed up quickly and easily.
- Emphasize communication: While this might seem like a no-brainer, you’d be amazed at how many confrontations escalate wildly out of control just because the parties involved refuse to talk to one another. A hiring manager is going to want an employee who is willing to work through a conflict.
- Discuss the steps you took: Make sure your example includes the steps you took to resolve the conflict. A hiring manager is going to want to know how you’d handle future situations and being able to walk them through past conflicts is a quick and easy way to showcase that.
- Be honest: If you realized during the conflict that your point of view was wrong, or the position you had first taken was not the right one, be honest about it! Use it as an opportunity to demonstrate your willingness to learn, to remain open minded, and to learn.
- Emphasize the results: What happened once the conflict was resolved? Did it change how you approached things? Did it impact the work environment overall? Were there improvements made as a result?
Now let’s take a look at three possible ways to answer this question.
3 Example Answers
Use these examples as guides to help you build your own response to the question “How do you handle conflict?”
A few hours later a young woman came in and asked for me. She explained that she was the daughter of our earlier customer and that she was so sorry for the confusion. She said her mother came home absolutely furious at us but after being told (again) by her daughter that she was at the wrong store, she finally realized her mistake and was mortified. The daughter told me how grateful she was that I had been patient with her mother and calm. I told her it was fine and that I had gone through similar situations with my own mother.
Both mother and daughter still come into my store and now come directly to my cash register whenever they’re in just to say hello and made a point to tell my manager how pleased they were with my customer service.
Putting It All Together
Well, there you have it, how to answer “how do you handle conflict” as well as why it’s asked, a few good tips on what not to do, a few great tips on what to to and three solid example answers you can use to come up with your own response.
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