How To Answer Behavioural Interview Questions: Handling Conflict?

Hiring managers love to ask behavioural/competency-based job interview questions. Past performance and how a candidate handles a specific situation, is a great way to predict future performance and can also show whether a candidate is going to fit into the hiring managers team.

Handling Conflict?

The most common subject where hiring managers love to focus their attention is conflict. Conflict in the office and more importantly, conflict with either management or team members. Conflict in the world place happens in every office across the world. It doesn’t matter how gelled together and how many years they’ve spent working with each other, team members will still have disagreements and conflict will always exist.

Typical conflict-related behavioural/competency-based job interview questions that you could be asked include;

  • Describe a difficult work situation
  • Tell me about a time when you had to work with someone difficult
  • Tell me about a time you had a conflict at work with either a co-worker or manager
  • Give an example of a time when you had to discuss a problem with an unhappy manager or colleague
  • Tell me about a time that you disagreed with a rule or an approach to a project

Competency-Based Job Interview

We have talked about this in the past, however, the basic premise around answering any questions that start with “Tell me about a time…” or “Give me an example of…” or similar is to remember the hiring manager wants to see how you’ve handled specific situations in the past. The theory is that past performance will say a lot about how you would handle yourself if hired for the job at hand.

Most jobs require you to work as a team to get the job done. Teams are typically made up of different types of people with different strengths and weaknesses. The problem with this, some of your colleagues will turn out to be idiots with disagreements bound to arise. Consequently, to succeed in your role, you need to be dealing with these conflict situations while at the same time working as a team to get the job done.

How to Answer

I would highly recommend that you prepare an answer to this one question as it’s caught even the best candidates out over the years. The biggest problem in answering competency-based job interview questions about conflict is that nobody likes to talk about conflict situations.

It’s a forbidden word that candidate feel spells disaster. Candidates would prefer you to tell you how good they are at the job, and what a nice person they are to work with. The problem is that hiring managers know this and that their team is never going to exists without some disagreements in place. Hence the question.


The idea to answer the question with a story that you can prepare the basic’s in advance, and structure your answer in such a way that it’s both concise and present you in a favourable light.

STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action and Result

Example Question – Tell Me About a Time You Had a Conflict on a Team Project

Situation / Task

The idea here is to describe the context for the conflict to arise while adding the details to make it sound believable. Ideally, I would try and prepare an example in advance of something that has happened in real life as you need to make sure you can add the details, without getting lost in the tiny details that do not matter.

Over the years I’ve met so many candidates who’ve tried to make a story up on the spot, only to either start contradicting themselves with the details or getting lost in the details that the whole thing sounds like it’s made up.

As an example of the Situation / Task, your answer could be something along the lines of; “Last year we developed a new sales brochure for prospective clients, however, we struggled with the deadline that was set. The problem was that we probably did not give ourselves, quite enough time to complete the process and the get the new brochure ready for an upcoming trade show”.

“My job was to make sure we delivered the project on time. I had to manage the team members from Marketing, Sales, Graphic Design, and Product Management. It was a large team, upwards of twenty people, who covered different areas of the sales brouchure”.

“The biggest problem I had was the design of the front cover that was heavily delayed. Sadly the designer missed the deadline that I gave him, and when I discussed it with him, he started screaming at me, and tried to tell me it was my fault.”

In the above, I’ve clearly set the scene and discussed, briefly the task that has been established. It’s also a real conflict situation and one that if not handled correctly, could have has a real effect on the company.


This the second part of the answer where you need to think about the actions that you took. In this case, because we’re looking at a conflict situation, your efforts need to show how you resolved the disagreement professionally and productively.

As an example, you could say something along the lines of, “I was taken aback by his response, but I remained calm. I acknowledged that the deadlines were tight and explained the reasoning and the importance of having the brochure ready for the trade show again”.

“When he understood that I was not there to get him into trouble, he relaxed and started speaking to me as a colleague. We had a great conversation where he told me about his other projects and how time-consuming this project was, given the details that had been asked for”.

“We tried to look at ways where I could help him with his other projects so that he could devote more time to this brochure. In the end, I spoke with his manager, explained the situation and the problems we were facing, and we all agreed that his other projects would be put on hold until this brochure was complete”


The final step is to discuss the results. Make sure you don’t just mention the project was a success, but go into detail. I would highly recommend that you use numerical figures to show how affirmative the plan was when finished.

As an example, “The designed managed to complete the design on the front cover in two days, given he was allowed to concentrate on this task solely. As a result, the sales brochure was completed on time and went down very well with new and existing clients. In the end, the sales team managed to close £800,000 in new sales, and while we have a great sales team, this brochure, I’m sure, played it’s part”.


As with all thing’s competency-based, make sure you prepare an actual example that has taken place, rather than trying to make something up on the spot.

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Nick Jones

My name Nick Jones, I am a professional Head-Hunter with over 20 years of experience working all over the world. I specialise in out-of-the-box job search strategies to get your CV directly to the hiring manager, thus skipping any ATS portals or recruiters who think they're important.

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