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    Dealing with a tricky interview question: How do you handle conflict at work?


    When asked about how they handle conflict at work, candidates should focus on showcasing their conflict management skills. An ideal response would include an example that highlights their role, the outcome, and the steps they took to resolve the conflict. Criticizing other parties involved in the disagreement should be avoided.

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    In an interview, hiring managers ask several questions to assess the suitability of their candidates. While some evaluate your skills and knowledge, others offer clarity regarding your general behaviour and your ability to act in different professional situations. One such behavioural tricky interview question that can put you on the spot is – ‘how do you handle conflict at work?’.

    How should you respond to this? Should you talk about a previous instance, where you had a fallout with your team member or manager? What should you refrain from mentioning at all while answering this question?

    Now, to be able to frame the correct answer to this question, it’s imperative to first find out the interviewer’s intention behind asking it.

    In a conversation with Ms. Amrit Jaidka Arora, CHRO, Digit General Insurance, a digital full-stack insurance company, she says that this question is usually asked for roles where the likelihood of the dispute is higher, and the main idea behind asking this is to ascertain the conflict management skills of the candidates.

    She then takes an example from the insurance sector to elaborate further on how conflict management skills can come in handy, especially in customer-facing roles. “If it’s a customer-facing role like claims settlement, the objective behind asking the question would be to gauge if the individual can identify the root cause, communicate effectively with the parties involved, and create a resolution that is mutually beneficial”, says Arora.

    Responses hiring managers often hear from the candidates

    On being asked the kind of responses to the question – “How do you handle conflict at work” – she often hears, Arora says she generally gets to hear two kinds of responses where: (a) the candidate uses personal experience/s to showcase their capability, and (b) the candidate relies on generic idealistic statements that would make them appear like a suitable applicant for the job.

    So, which one do you plan to use in your next interview? Irrespective of your approach to this question, make sure your narrative is well-structured and strong because you will be asked several questions based on the statement you produce.

    What should an individual not include while answering this question, especially if they did experience disagreement with a manager or a team member in their previous organisation?

    In Arora’s opinion, while answering about how one managed conflict in their previous organisation, it’s best to not criticise the other stakeholders involved in the disagreement.

    “Addressing the faults of the other party shifts the focus of the question and portrays the jobseeker in a negative manner considering he/she wasn’t able to showcase his/her strengths or approach to find a solution in a situation of conflict”, says the hiring expert.

    What is an ideal response to this question?

    While elaborating on what an ideal response to this question should sound like, Arora says that a candidate should use an example and take the panellist through their entire journey. It’s necessary to define what was their role and the outcome in their previous organisation.

    She then advises candidates to give a clear picture of the conflict to offer the needed clarity to the interviewer. According to her, they should highlight what research they did to understand it more, how they sought help from their trusted colleagues to arrive at the right decision, how they communicated their thought process to the other stakeholders and reached an amicable solution, and so on, as every bit of detail matters.

    If the candidate cannot think of an example, he/she should be honest about it or maybe use a personal story to present their strengths to the panel, concludes Arora.
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