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Other interview questions that are similar
- Can you share an instance where your communication skills resolved a potentially negative situation?
- Tell me about a time when your ability to communicate helped you handle a challenging circumstance at work.
- Could you provide an example of when you had to deliver difficult information to a team member or superior? How did you handle it?
- Have you ever had to mediate a conflict within your team using your communication skills? Can you tell me more about that?
- Describe a situation when you had to persuade someone who disagreed with you using effective communication.
- Can you recall an instance where clear communication helped you manage a crisis situation at work?
- Describe a time when you used your communication skills to build consensus during a challenging project.
- Could you tell me about a time when you had to rely on your communication abilities to handle a difficult client or customer situation?
- How do you maintain good communication during challenging circumstances?
- Have you ever had a situation where communication broke down? How did you overcome this?
What the interviewer is looking for by asking this question
“Difficult situation” is a bit of a vague term, and can mean completely different things based on your line of work.
A difficult situation for an ER nurse is going to involve a whole heap of injuries I imagine. Whereas an IT project manager a difficult situation would be when a server crashed and users cannot access the system.
Completely different stakes involved in both situations, however good communication skills are required in each.
And that is what the interviewer is looking for by asking this question.
Are you able to communicate effectively when everything seems to be falling apart? This is what the interviewer wants to know.
The reason why they ask this question this way (“Describe a time when”) is because they want to hear from you how you have handled difficult situations before.
The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour.
The interviewer wants to understand if you have experience with communicating under pressure and wants to see how you handle yourself.
The best approach to answering this question
This is a “Describe a time” question so the best answers will follow the B-STAR technique. Let’s see how you should structure your answer for this question:
B – Belief – Discuss your thoughts / feelings as they pertain to effectively communicating during difficult situations. In your answer ensure you talk about how you believe it is best practice to prepare yourself for all eventualities so that when difficult situations arise you can remain calm regardless of what is happening and fall back on your planning.
S – Situation – Briefly describe the difficult situation that was taking place and touch on why being able to communicate effectively was so crucial. The situation you choose will vary greatly depending on your role/profession. A good answer will put you in the middle of a difficult situation that was not of your doing (for example a natural disaster, or an IT issue if you are not the IT manager). Remember that you might not have that much time to explain all of the intricate details of the situation. Pick a nice easy to follow example and stick to high level scene setting.
T – Task – What was your role / responsibility in this situation. The best answers will have you in the middle of whatever drama or action is unfolding. Talk about how it was your responsibility to ensure everyone had the correct and up-to-date information.
A – Activity – What did you do? You have just talked about how it was your responsibility to communicate, but how did you do it? Drill down and give a step-by-step description of what you did and why.
R – Results – How did it all end up? This is an interview and you are trying to impress. So your answer should always be that everything worked out well in the end. Feel free to talk about lessons you learned that you would implement the next time around but ensure that the overall message is positive.
How NOT to answer this question
Do not avoid the question. I have seen candidates answer all types of different questions except the one being asked. This question is about communicating effectively in a difficult situation. It is not about how you develop a communication strategy, or how you influence stakeholders using your communication skills. You can talk about those things should it help you but your answer should definitively answer the question that has been set.
Do not downplay the situation. Oftentimes interviewees will try to show off their resolve and experience by talking about the situation as if it were a minor inconvenience. The idea being that you are so confident in your abilities that difficult situations are nothing but trivial matters to you. Don’t do that, you want to show that you have confidence in your skills and communication abilities but you want the interviewer to understand the gravity of the situation you were in. If you downplay the situation did you even communicate effectively in a difficult situation?
Do not overhype the situation. The opposite of the above. Don’t take a small situation and make it some huge dramatic exercise. Sure it gives you the chance to play the hero whose communication skills in the face of adversity saved the day. But it also shows the interviewer that you do not have much real world experience as your ‘difficult situation’ is nothing more than a minor inconvenience in their office.
Describe a time when you communicated effectively in a difficult situation – Example answer
The examples provided below can serve as a foundation for creating your unique answers. For additional inspiration, our new guide includes five sample responses to this question and over 100 answers to all of the most common interview queries.
“I believe that proper planning and training is the most effective way to get out of most difficult situations. Sure you cannot plan for everything but if you prepare as best you can you will be happy to fall back on that preparedness when difficult situations arise.
Recently while working on a major software deployment at my current employer I was tasked with being the ‘Go-live Day Coordinator’. This meant that I had to communicate with the IT team, the business team and senior stakeholders all throughout the deployment. We took the servers down for 4 hours to deploy and 2 hours to test before release.
During these 6 hours it was my job to receive status updates from the IT teams and to facilitate the communication between IT areas. I also needed to communicate with the business team doing the testing so that any issues were raised through the IT team for fixing and then back for retesting. All of this had to be done without delay otherwise we would not meet our 6 hour target. On top of this it was expected I provide hourly updates to senior management.
In order to prepare for this I needed to establish a communication strategy. We use Teams within the organisation so I created a number of new Team groups so that information could flow through. I also established a backup WhatsApp group for the IT team and the Testing team – this came in handy when all of our systems went down partway through the activity!
Even though the whole 6 hours felt like one long continuous hectic process we were never hindered by a lack of communication. All information was provided as and when it was needed thanks to the effective planning that took place earlier. At the end the deployment was completed successfully and on time.
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