Interview Q&A: Tell Me About a Time When You Had to Deal With Conflict On the Job

Gabriela Hernandez
by Gabriela Hernandez   Career Advice Contributor 
Last Updated: June 01, 2023 

A question recruiters frequently asked in job interviews is: “Tell me about a time when you had to deal with conflict on the job?”. Although talking about conflict can make negative emotions come up, answering this question correctly gives employers valuable insight into who you are as a professional. In this article, we will approach various topics to help you craft a compelling answer to this interview question, such as:

  • why do employers ask this question
  • effective strategies for crafting compelling responses
  • sample answers to this interview question
  • common mistakes to avoid when answering

Why employers ask this question

Employers ask this question because there’s a lot to learn from how someone handles conflict. Conflict in the workplace is inevitable. People disagree about action plans, there can be misunderstandings and emotions can run high when people are under stress. Understanding the reasons employers ask this question can help you reframe your mindset to focus on the positive aspects of overcoming conflict. Here are a few of those reasons:

Assessing conflict resolution skills

Employers want to gauge your proficiency in managing conflicts within the workplace. Conflict is inevitable in any professional setting, and how you handle it can significantly impact team dynamics and productivity. By asking about your past experiences with conflict, employers can evaluate your ability to navigate and resolve such situations constructively.

Evaluating emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in professional relationships and workplace harmony. During conflict, tensions run high and emotions can cloud our judgment. However, someone with emotional intelligence knows how to manage those feelings and focus on achieving a resolution. Employers want emotionally intelligent candidates that won’t add fuel to the fire but rather encourage a harmonious work environment.

Testing problem-solving skills

Conflict situations often require effective problem-solving to reach resolutions. When employers ask this question they want to see a play-by-play of how you tackle conflict. They want to determine if you can think critically, consider multiple perspectives, and find innovative solutions when faced with conflicts.

Assessing communication skills

Communication is vital when dealing with conflicts, as it facilitates understanding, collaboration, and negotiation. Employers want to evaluate your communication skills in conflict resolution scenarios. They want to know if you can articulate your thoughts clearly, actively listen to others, and effectively communicate to de-escalate conflicts and find common ground.

By asking this question, employers aim to gain a comprehensive understanding of your conflict management abilities, emotional intelligence, problem-solving skills, and communication prowess. Craft your response to showcase these competencies and demonstrate how you can contribute to a positive and productive work environment.

How to answer this question

Crafting a well-thought-out and effective response to the question about dealing with conflict on the job is essential to impress potential employers. Here are some key strategies to consider when formulating your answer:

  • Choose a relevant and recent example

    Select a conflict situation from your professional experience that is relatively recent and relevant to the job you are applying for. Ideally, the example should highlight your ability to handle conflicts similar to those that may arise in the prospective role.

  • Structure your response

    To deliver a clear and concise answer, structure your response using the STAR method:

    Situation: Briefly describe the context and provide necessary background information about the conflict.

    Task: Explain your role and responsibilities in the conflict situation.

    Action: Describe your steps to address the conflict, highlighting your problem-solving and communication skills.

    Result: Share the outcome of your actions, emphasizing the positive resolution and any lessons learned.

  • Showcase problem-solving skills

    Focus on the steps you took to address the conflict and the strategies you employed to find a resolution. Highlight your ability to analyze the situation, consider multiple perspectives, and propose practical solutions. Emphasize your critical thinking skills and how they contributed to positively resolving the conflict.

  • Demonstrate effective communication

    Describe how you effectively communicated with the parties involved in the conflict. Discuss your ability to actively listen, express your viewpoint calmly and respectfully, and facilitate open dialogue to reach a mutually beneficial outcome. Highlight your skills in diffusing tense situations and fostering a collaborative environment.

  • Highlight emotional intelligence

    Illustrate your emotional intelligence by discussing how you managed your emotions during the conflict. Share how you maintained composure, controlled negative emotions, and showed empathy towards others involved. Being able to understand and consider others’ perspectives in challenging situations is a tremendous quality to have and one employers value immensely.

  • Quantify results if possible

    If applicable, quantify the positive outcomes resulting from your conflict resolution efforts. Whether it leads to improved teamwork, increased productivity, or enhanced working relationships, providing tangible results can make your response more impactful and memorable.

Remember, while providing a detailed and honest response is important, remain professional and avoid dwelling on negative aspects or blaming others. Use this question to demonstrate your ability to handle conflicts constructively and contribute to a harmonious work environment.

Sample answers

Sales Associate

“In my previous role as a sales associate, a customer came to me to express their dissatisfaction with an expensive air filter they had purchased. The customer was upset and demanded a refund. Instead of becoming defensive, I actively listened to their concerns and empathized with their frustration. I assured them that I would find a solution. I took the initiative to investigate the issue, consulted with my manager, and offered the customer an alternative product that better suited their needs. By remaining calm, understanding, and proactive in resolving the conflict, I retained the customer and turned the situation into an opportunity to showcase excellent customer service.”

Customer Service Representative

“As a customer service representative, conflicts were a regular part of my role. One instance that stands out is when a customer called in with a billing discrepancy and was agitated. Recognizing the customer’s frustration, I assured them I would investigate the matter. I carefully reviewed their account, identified the error, and explained the situation transparently, acknowledging the company’s mistake. To rebuild trust, I offered a refund and additional compensation as a goodwill gesture. By actively listening, taking ownership of the issue, and finding a fair resolution, I resolved the conflict and retained a satisfied and loyal customer.”

Administrative Assistant

“In my previous position as an administrative assistant, conflicts sometimes arose due to competing priorities and tight deadlines. One particular incident occurred when two team members disagreed about resource allocation for a project. Sensing the tension, I scheduled a meeting to facilitate open communication. I actively listened to both parties’ concerns, acknowledged the validity of their viewpoints, and encouraged them to find common ground. Through effective negotiation and compromise, we devised a revised plan that addressed the needs of both team members. We resolved the conflict amicably, and the project proceeded smoothly, showcasing the importance of effective communication and collaboration.”

Food Server

“As a food server, I faced a situation where a customer grew increasingly frustrated with a perceived delay in their order. Instead of becoming defensive, I approached the table with empathy and actively listened to their concerns. I promptly communicated with the kitchen staff, provided frequent updates, and offered complimentary beverages to mitigate their impatience. By prioritizing effective communication, problem-solving, and delivering exceptional customer service, I successfully resolved the conflict, ensuring the order arrived promptly and left the customer feeling valued and satisfied.”

Warehouse Associate

“In my role as a warehouse associate, conflicts sometimes occurred due to misunderstandings or miscommunication regarding inventory management. One such instance was when there was a discrepancy in the received and recorded stock quantities. Rather than pointing fingers, I proactively investigated the issue with the receiving team. We conducted a thorough audit, reviewed documentation, and identified a procedural error that caused the discrepancy. With the support of my team, we implemented a revised verification process to prevent future errors. We resolved the conflict by focusing on problem-solving, teamwork, and process improvement, streamlined operations, and improved overall inventory accuracy.”

These examples demonstrate how candidates in various job roles can navigate conflicts effectively by employing strategies such as active listening, problem-solving, empathy, collaboration, and taking ownership of the situation. Adapting these examples to your experiences and specific job requirements can help you formulate compelling answers tailored to your potential employer’s expectations.

Mistakes to avoid

While it’s essential to provide a solid response to the question about dealing with conflict on the job, there are certain pitfalls to avoid that could diminish the impact of your answer. Here are some common mistakes to steer clear of when addressing this interview question:

Blaming others: One crucial mistake is placing the blame solely on others involved in the conflict. Avoid shifting responsibility or portraying yourself as a passive victim. Instead, focus on your role in the resolution and highlight how you took proactive steps to address the conflict constructively.

Sharing irrelevant or personal conflicts: Ensure that the conflict you discuss happened in the workplace and is relevant to the job you want. Avoid sharing personal disputes or situations that detract from your professionalism. Keep the focus on conflicts that highlight your problem-solving and communication skills within a professional context.

Lacking specificity: Vague or general responses can weaken the impact of your answer. Instead, provide specific details about the conflict, your actions, and the results you achieved. Specificity demonstrates your ability to recall and reflect on past experiences, giving the interviewer a clearer understanding of your capabilities.

Neglecting the resolution: Focus on more than just the conflict itself. It’s equally important to discuss how you resolved the dispute and the positive outcome that resulted. Highlight the strategies you employed, the compromises reached, and any lessons learned from the experience. Demonstrating a proactive approach to resolving conflicts showcases your problem-solving abilities.

Neglecting emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence is necessary for conflict resolution. Avoid overlooking the importance of showcasing your emotional intelligence skills. Describe how you managed your emotions, maintained professionalism, and empathized with others involved in the conflict. Highlight your ability to remain calm, composed, and understanding in challenging situations.

Exaggerating or falsifying information: Being honest and genuine when sharing your conflict resolution experiences is crucial. Exaggerating or fabricating details can be easily detected and may jeopardize your chances of securing the position. Stick to the truth, focusing on situations in which you genuinely faced and effectively resolved conflicts.

Forgetting the company’s values: Ensure that your response aligns with the values and culture of the company you’re interviewing with. Tailor your answer to showcase how your conflict resolution approach aligns with their desired work environment and emphasizes collaboration, respect, and professionalism.

By avoiding these common mistakes, you can present a polished and compelling response that demonstrates your ability to navigate conflicts and contribute positively to the workplace environment. Remember to practice your answer beforehand, balancing honesty, professionalism, and highlighting your critical skills.

In conclusion, mastering the art of answering the question about dealing with conflict can significantly enhance your chances of success in job interviews. By understanding why employers ask this question, honing your response strategies, providing compelling examples, and avoiding common mistakes, you can impress potential employers with your conflict resolution skills and professionalism.

Continually search for suitable opportunities and update your resume for each application. A well-crafted resume can showcase your qualifications and experiences beyond the interview room. To create a standout resume, we invite you to explore our Resume Builder, which provides valuable tools and templates to help you present your skills and achievements compellingly and professionally. Take the next step in your job search journey and make your resume shine with our Resume Builder today!

About the Author

Career Advice Contributor

Gabriela Hernandez Career Advice Contributor

Gabriela Hernandez is one of LiveCareer's resident writers. She graduated from the University of Puerto Rico with a degree in Journalism. Throughout her career, she has tackled copywriting, blog articles, journalistic writing, academic writing, resume writing, and even prose and verse.


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