Tell me about a time when there was a conflict within the team you were working on, how did you handle the conflict in order to get the job done?
Question forms part of
Other interview questions that are similar
How do you deal with conflict?
What do you do when you disagree with a fellow team member?
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
The first thing to note here is that by asking this question the interviewer is not implying that their organisation is constantly fraught with conflict and arguments among colleagues. But don’t discount that it might be!
All workplaces will have some kind of internal conflict. What is good for one department’s targets may not be good for another department. Budgets are finite so there will always be disagreements with how that budget is spent.
Even on a smaller level, there can be disagreements within teams. On a project level there may be multiple competing proposals that each have their own benefits and drawbacks.
How you handle these conflicts is what the interviewer wants to know. Do you listen to other people’s thoughts and opinions and come together for a mutually beneficial approach? Or do you bulldoze over everyone and try to get your way at every opportunity? (Hint – tell the interviewer you do the former not the latter!)
The best approach to answering this question
Let’s see how you use this method for this question:
B – Belief – Start the question with what you believe is the best way to handle conflicts. A good answer will talk about how you try to resolve issues before they escalate enough to become a “conflict”, however as that is not always possible talk about how you practice empathy so that you can understand where the other party is coming from and how you try and approach the situation with tact to ensure everyone leaves happy
S – Situation – Pick a situation that is easy to describe, you don’t want to get bogged down in scene setting. The best answers will be simply, ‘there were 2 options I wanted one and another colleague wanted another’. This is straightforward enough that everyone will be able to relate.
T – Task – What was your role in this conflict? Briefly talk about what you were doing prior to the conflict arising and what you had been tasked to do to resolve it (or tasked yourself to do to resolve it).
A – Activity – What steps did you take to resolve the conflict? It’s best here to talk about how you did research into your ‘opponents’ position so that you could better understand where they were coming from. Then talk about how you formed a new proposal that met in the middle of both of your stances. Finally mention how you approached the other party and talked things through.
R – Result – Tell the interviewer that everything was resolved amicably and both parties were happy with the alternative solution.
How NOT to answer this question
“I have never been involved in a workplace conflict. I get along with everyone I work with”
Don’t answer like this. Unless you are incredibly inexperienced the interviewer is not going to believe that you have never had a conflict in work. If you give this answer you will leave the impression that you are either completely oblivious to other people (that’s one way to avoid conflict I suppose) or that you are a complete pushover and you never conflict with anyone because you let people do what they want.
If you are struggling to find a time you were involved in a conflict remember that a conflict doesn’t require a fist-fight over the meeting desk to count. A conflict can be a simple disagreement.
“…I knew that I was right so I pushed hard for my idea to be approved, I didn’t need to look at their idea to know it wasn’t the correct solution”
Having belief in your work and your ideas is one thing, but do not completely dismiss others. There is nobody in the world that is above learning new things and without even entertaining other ideas shows the interviewer that you are not a team player and that you are overconfident to the point of being a detriment to the organisation
Tell me about a time when there was a conflict within your team – Example answer
“Honestly, I hate conflict. I suppose everyone does really now I think about it. But because I hate conflict I always try to keep one step ahead of it by being aware of those around me and what they are working on and what their targets are, this way I have been able to resolve many issues before they even come up.
Obviously that is not possible all of the time, one such occasion was when our departmental budget was cut at the very last minute causing quite the stir with all of the management.
I was tasked with revising our costs based on the new allocation we would receive. This meant that certain areas would need to reduce (or eliminate) their funding. The conflict started almost immediately as each manager wanted to keep his or her own allocation and were convinced that their area was special and needed the full allocation as previously sought.
The first thing I did was meet with each manager individually to understand exactly what the impacts of cutting their budget would be, and ask them if they knew of any area that could be cut without impacting our operational effectiveness.
Once I collated all of the feedback I found that there were a number of items that could be cut that a majority of the management team were in agreement on.
My final budget proposal was to remove these non-essential items and for each area to absorb the remaining cuts equally according to size.
Obviously no-one was happy with receiving less funding but everyone was content with how the decision process had played out and there was no more inter-departmental squabbling about who should get what, so overall a positive result out of a negative situation.”