“How Do You Handle Conflict” Interview Question (+ Sample Answers)

By Mike Simpson

Quick question for you: how do you handle conflict?

  • Are you someone who avoids conflict at all costs?
  • Are you someone who pretends it’s not there and just ignores it?
  • Maybe you’re someone who is more “go with the flow” and more accommodating?
  • Perhaps you’re someone who uses conflict as a way to jumpstart compromise and collaboration?

Regardless of what your favorite method is, there’s no doubt that life is full of conflict.

From trying to figure out where you want to eat lunch with friends (half of you want tacos. Half of you want burgers.), to having to deal with the grumpy old lady in your apartment complex who simply can’t seem to figure out that the parking space with your apartment number on it is your space!

Now, how do you handle conflict in the workplace?

More importantly, if a hiring manager asked you “How do you handle conflict,” how would you respond?

Of course, how you answer that interview question is directly related to why that questions is even being asked in the first place.

Hiring managers are looking for someone they know will be able to rise to the occasion and do their job regardless of what’s going on around them, and a big part of that is how you handle conflict in the workspace.

They’re also looking to see how well you’ll fit into the culture of the company and how well you’ll mesh with your fellow employees.

But be aware, this is one of those trick questions that really has no absolutely right answer and what a hiring manager is looking for can vary wildly between jobs.

Some hiring managers want someone who is willing to voice their opinion and stand up for what they think is right. Others want an employee who is more geared towards quick conflict resolution and compromise. Regardless of what the employer is looking for, what’s truly important is how you answer the question.

Now before we teach you how NOT to answer this conflict question, we wanted to let you know that we’ve designed a free cheat sheet that will not only help you answer this question, but will also give you word-for-word answers for some of the toughest interview questions you are going to face in your upcoming interview.

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How Not To Answer “How Do You Handle Conflict?”

Let’s start with how NOT to answer the question “how do you handle conflict?”

“I’m not a huge fan of conflict. To me conflict equals stress and I definitely don’t put up with stress well. The best way for me to handle conflict and stress is to just isolate myself. In my last job there was so much conflict between my coworkers that I ended up moving my desk to the basement next to the boiler. It was hot, but at least it was finally quiet.”

While this is an extreme example, it does bring up a good point. Avoiding conflict all together by completely removing yourself from the situation probably isn’t going to win you points with any hiring manager…especially if they have to hunt you down in the basement to talk to you.

A hiring manager can tell a lot about your personality based on how you answer this question, which is why you want to avoid any responses that align with any of these ‘problem’ people:

Confrontational Carl: While standing up for what you think is right is a noble trait, fighting tooth and nail because you’re unwilling to compromise or admit you may not be right isn’t, especially if your default is to become angry and lash out. Confrontational Carl can’t admit he’s wrong and will stubbornly argue his point, becoming increasingly angry.

Dissin’ Debbie: Never make work conflict personal. Turning a disagreement about a professional situation into a personal attack is never the right way to handle any conflict. Keep in mind you want to always focus on the situation, not on personalities.

Dissin’ Debbie is just the opposite. She’s the kind of person who can take a simple disagreement about what type of toner the printer takes and turn it into a brutal dissection of your fashion sense, your taste in men, and your relationship with your parents.

Wallbuilder Wally: This isn’t just about leaving the confrontation physically, but mentally as well. Keeping an open mind and clearly listening to both sides is the mark of a true leader. You never know, you might just learn something or (gasp!) change your mind!

Wallbuilder Wally might be standing in front of you, but you can tell just by looking in his eyes, that he’s a million miles away. He might as well have his fingers in his ears.

Festering Frank: While dealing with conflict can be difficult, it’s much better to handle it as soon as it arises rather than letting it sit and fester.

Festering Frank is just the opposite and this personality type has the potential t