When it comes to the conflicts you face at work, you’d probably be lying if you said that you don’t enjoy venting about them in your free time. I’ve done my fair share of complaining about issues with teammates that I just couldn’t handle for one more day. However, it’s no secret that discussing conflict resolution over drinks and sharing the details of an interpersonal challenge you faced during an interview require completely different approaches.
In one scenario, you might be trying to one-up a friend on who has the worst co-worker ever over drinks; in the other you’re attempting to show that you’re not only good at resolving conflicts professionally, but also that you’re open to learning from tough experiences.
The problem is that sometimes the fine line between these scenarios get confused
When I was a recruiter, candidates would sometimes be excited about answering this question because they were just ready to do some ranting and get me on their side. But even if the wound’s still fresh, don’t forget that the interviewer is looking for some amount of proof that you can resolve conflicts professionally. So, if you’re still feeling frustrated, go ahead and acknowledge it—but then quickly turn your focus to how you solved the problem with that colleague, and how you might approach the situation differently in the future. (And if you’re still that upset over it, best to choose another example.)
For starters, it’s perfectly OK to acknowledge that you’re a little uncomfortable with the question. It’s even more acceptable to talk about how you try your best to resolve issues before they become full-blown conflicts. But it’s also important to [have an actual example ready to talk about in detail. You’re not perfect, and I’m sure you’ve let things boil over to the point where something inane became an actual issue. And the best news? Most hiring managers know this too, and very few will expect you to be 100%-turmoil free throughout the course of your career.
First of all, take a deep breath and remember that you’re not the first person who’s ever faced a conflict at work—and you definitely won’t be the last. Once you’ve done that, remember that the interview’s trying to get the proof she needs to make a solid hiring decision about you. The fact that she’s asking the question is not a personal attack against your character. It’s an attempt to see how you approach problems. So don’t be afraid to get into some of the details when answering—just make sure to end on a positive note (a.k.a., what you learned from the experience).