One of the 5 themes in behavioral interviews is “Conflict”.
When you think about conflict. First and foremost it is not a question to shy away from conflict is a very natural outcome that happens in any work environment and often can be the impetus to push the best ideas forward and actually enhance collaboration. More importantly, the interview is really trying to get a sense of how do you go about resolving conflict and inevitably when you join their organization how will you overcome it.
So how might this question be asked? There are a few variants:
Level: Conflict between people at the same level or conflict amongst people who are at different levels in the organization.
Direct or Indirect: They also might ask you about conflict that is direct where you had a conflict with somebody or they might ask you about conflict that’s indirect where you played a role in resolving the conflict but you weren’t a key player in the actual conflict.
Personality or Ideas: And finally they might ask you about two different sources of the conflict – either about a time where you worked with a “difficult person” or about a time when you “disagreed” with someone.
No matter how it is asked, here is how You Ace This Question, especially in the later, more competitive interview rounds.
Use The Star Framework (Situation-Task-Actions-Results)
The Actions (The “A” in STAR)
It is imperative that your actions demonstrate how you personally go about resolving conflict and how you bring cohesion in moments of conflict.
Three types of actions that are powerful to highlight are:
- Communication: This is an important lever in resolving any conflict and you’re trying to give the interviewer a sense of a few aspects related to your communication skills:
- How your communication style de-escalates conflict
- Your ability to pinpoint the source of the conflict by getting people to open up and facilitating a productive dialogue
- How you use communication as a device to enhance team cohesion
- Empathy: As you articulate your story, ask yourself if you are showing how you can see things from another person’s point of view and recognizing how someone might feel frustrated by the conflict
- Solution-orientation: The interviewer will listening to hear if you are someone who is coming to the table and trying to productively drive conflict towards resolution, and whether you have problem solving skills to take competing perspectives from different vantage points and weave them together to get to the best mutually beneficial outcome.
The Results (The “R” in STAR)
Make sure you avoid the common mistake many candidates make by framing up the result as you winning and somebody else losing. Instead, it should about a joint and mutually successful resolution of the inherent conflict.
When you frame up the results make sure you are giving the interviewer a clear “before and after” picture. This means illustrating what made the conflict challenging at its peak for the “before picture” and showing the mutually beneficial outcome for all parties in the “after picture.”
Some characteristics you can highlight in the “after picture” include:
- How have the results improved the behaviors and attitudes of everybody involved? For example, are people more enthusiastic and excited? Ideally, the engagement level has risen.
- Has the communication and collaboration improved and evolved? Ideally, resolving this one conflict could also help solve broader, endemic issues.
- How has the impact spread to other areas? Ideally, this impact is not just a short-term outcome and solving this point in time conflict raises the baseline for collaboration going forward.
An Example Using The Star Method
Situation and Task
- “I am going to tell you about a time where I was a revenue analyst for a consumer product goods company. I regularly reported on the profitability and loss of five business units and one of those five business units was a very strategic business unit.
- It was an emerging play into the consumer electronics market, and as a result, because it was so new the economics of the group did not look very good”
“The head of that group told me he was going to stop giving me performance data for the group and that I could not report their results to the senior leadership because it made his group look bad.
- So ultimately we had a conflict in terms of me being able to get the information I needed to do my job.”
- “First I took this person out to lunch to build a personal relationship with them. I wanted to understand more about their personal motivations.
- I also used that time to really understand what his core concerns were around me reporting this data.”
- “After it got a little bit deeper on the undercurrents of this tension I then shared with him that if I were in his shoes I would also have a similar fear. I would not want my team to look subpar when compared to other teams.”
- “But then I took the conversation a little bit deeper and asked him what would success look like for him if we had to provide some type of an update to senior leadership. As we got into the conversation what I realized was this was more about setting expectations on what great looks like and less about the absolute data.
- “So we ultimately got to a mutually beneficial outcome of sharing this data but not sharing it until we got into some deep context and shared some of the team’s accomplishments because it was not fair to only show the data without also acknowledging their wins.”
Ultimately the results that came out of this were a few:
- “We solved the near-term challenge of getting data in the senior leaders’ hands so we can make the right decisions about the business.”
- “But more importantly than that, here we are — two years down the line — and we have a stronger partnership. His business unit and my team are collaborating on a daily basis as opposed to just monthly readouts of their data. We’re actually working together to grow their business.”
- “The group’s revenue has grown 5X over the past two years and a big reason for that is the type of collaboration we built after we resolved this conflict.
- “And finally, this has been a blueprint for how other teams in the organization are collaborating”
- Avoid framing the conflict as you “versus” them. Make it more about the situation and the structural factors that led to the conflict.
- Highlight result that has a mutually successful resolution — it does not have to be about somebody being right and somebody being wrong.
- Ensure you are poised when answering this question. Stay away from reflecting on the emotions and the negative sentiment in that conflict because those sentiments can come out in your story. It can externalize a sense of stress from you and it is important that you demonstrate to the interviewer that this is a natural part of work life.
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