“Tell me about a time you’ve dealt with a difficult person.” This behavioural question is a popular one with recruiters. Essentially, they are interested in finding out about how you resolved a conflict in the workplace. It allows the interviewer to further assess your personality type aswell as your communication and interpersonal skills.
This question can be asked in many different ways;
- Tell me about how you responded to a difficult customer/supplier
- Can you describe how you managed a project where one team member didn’t contribute accordingly? How did you deal with them?
- Can you talk about a time where you didn’t agree with a management decision? How did you approach the subject?
- Have you ever experienced conflict in a previous role?
The recruiter wants to see firstly how you define the conflict. Then they want to evaluate how you handled the conflict, ideally in a rational and professional manner.
1. Give Real Work Examples
Have one or two real-life examples prepared in advance. Be truthful and honest in your answer. The interviewer may inquire about specific details of the conflict and if you have used a false example this will be obvious in your answer.
Begin by setting the scene and describing briefly the context of the conflict. For example, “When I was the project manager on a new marketing campaign with a small team, one team member was continuously late for meetings, arrived unprepared and refused to agree on the project deliverables.”
This introduction establishes who was involved and clearly defines what was the issue. You don’t need to go into any further background to the story. There is no need to name the people involved or even the company.
2. Demonstrate Your Rational Response
Next, you need to show how you responded to the conflict in an effort to resolve it. Explain your thought process. Describe how you assessed the situation and sought to find out all the facts. The interviewer wants to see a rational thought process here. They are looking for a cool, calm and professional response.
Continuing on from the previous example;
“We were under a lot of pressure as a team to produce results in a short space of time, so I needed this person’s cooperation. I knew nothing would be achieved by confronting the person in front of the team so I asked to speak to them privately. After clarifying that they were a valued member of the team and that I appreciated all the work they had completed to date. I explained that as we were a small team with a deadline, I needed everyone to come to meetings on time, with the designated work completed and prepared to openly discuss everyone’s ideas. I asked them if there were any issues they wanted to discuss the project.
Describe your actions
I then allowed the person to express their feelings and state any reasons as to why they had been behaving in this way. I gave them the time they needed to vent, actively listening to them and not interrupting them throughout.
The person appreciated that I had taken the time to meet with them individually and explained that they were required to work on a number of big projects, all of which demanded their full attention. He accepted how his behaviour had impacted the team and the overall project and wanted to work together to resolve it.
Then, I accepted responsibility to speak to senior management on behalf of the team and explained that I needed the team member to be fully available to work on the project over the coming months, with no distractions. They agreed and allowed the team member to exclusively work for me for the reaminder of the project. As a result, the campaign was launched on time and proved to be very successful, resulting in 25% increase in online sales in the first six months. ”
3. Did It Teach You Anything
Finally, always use a happy ending to conclude the example. Show how the resolution had an important impact on the project or team and describe the bottom line results where possible.
It is also worth mentioning briefly what you learned from the conflict or alternatively how it helped you develop professionally.
An example could be:
“As a result of this, I ensured all team members had clear schedules before committing to a future project.”