This is the eighth of the series of typical interview questions. For each question we outline why the interviewer is asking the question and how the interviewee should respond to it.
Our suggestions should be treated as guidelines, always adapt them to your personal judgement of the situation and to your own particular experience and individual style.
8. Have you ever managed a conflict? How did you do it?
Why is this question asked?  
  • To see how you deal with difficult issues constructively and in a resilient way
  • To gauge your positive conflict resolution capabilities and positive problem solving approach
  • To find out what constitutes your understanding of ‘conflict’ – in your eyes – is it a major challenge or a ‘normal’ part of professional life?
  • To see whether you recognise conflict when it exists and whether you can maintain a ‘team’ relationship even when facing a conflict
  • To explore whether you remain positive in a potential conflict situation or you are more likely to aggravate it
  • To flag up the possibility that conflict is unavoidable in this role; ‘conflict’ can be perceived as challenging but inevitable and constructive element of achieving the organisation’s goals
  • To probe your experience with directly taking responsibility, addressing and managing conflict
  • To explore your ‘learned’ and ‘intuitive’ skills
How to Answer? 
  • Demonstrate your expectation that conflict can occur for many reasons and take different forms in any professional role
  • Present your ability to identify conflict, indicate its signs and signals
  • Choose an example and talk through a conflict situation that you have experienced:

– Ensure your example fits the context of the role you are being interviewed for

– Use a STAR format (Situation, Task, Action, Result)
– If appropriate show how you ‘mediated’ a conflict – rather than being one of the direct parties involved
  • Emphasize the importance of initial gauging how serious and urgent the issue is:
– Is it impacting the work of the team, the progress of the project or achieving a deadline?
– Is it distracting the team?
  • Focus on the ‘process-related aspects’ of the conflict rather than on personal issues
  • Indicate principles for approaching a conflict:

– Address the conflict directly and honestly with persons involved, avoid communication via emails or ‘cc’ messages.

– Try a dialogue on a one to one basis, listen to all sides – stay objective – understand their concerns and interests, try to get to the root cause of the problem.
– Get agreement to involve the various parties together if appropriate – show willingness to listen, understand, and try to find a compromise solution that everyone can live with.
– Find a shared objective to focus parties on – and move towards the greater goal (e.g. the interest of the project, the team’s credibility)
– Only if required as last resort – involve a ‘third part’ (e.g., manager, HR if the issue is not resolvable at your level)
– Don’t be afraid to escalate and bring the issue to senior management or use other tools or mechanisms (e.g., HR processes) to resolve it
– Use ‘No blame, No names’ – protect privacy, always show discretion
– Show you can be logical and remain process-focused in an emotional situation
– Find creative and value-adding solutions if possible. Look for the results that are satisfactory enough for all involved.
– Aim for an optimal solution, remember that there is rarely a perfect outcome!!!

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