How to Handle Interpersonal Conflict Like a Pro

People Skills

How do you handle conflict?

Most jobs require working with other people, and differences in personalities, perspectives and opinions may lead to conflict. Employers want to assess your ability to respond to these situations respectfully and professionally. When answering this question, be honest about how you handle these situations. If you struggle with conflict, admit to it and explain how you are working to improve ways you manage it.

Sample Answer: “In most cases, I handle conflict well. I value diversity and understand that different people have different opinions, which may lead to conflict. When faced with conflict, I work to collaborate with others to resolve the issue in a way that is mutually beneficial for everyone involved. Sometimes, I can become defensive when trying to express my opinion. I am practicing tactics to manage this behavior, such as pausing to take a deep breath and carefully considering my words before responding.”

Describe a situation when you had a conflict at work and how you handled it.

This question provides an example that allows employers to assess your conflict resolution skills based on an actual event in your experience. It helps them assess how you respond to conflict with coworkers and how you work on a team. It also gives you the opportunity to explain how you’ve actually responded to conflict in the past.

Example: “While working on a project for a previous employer, one of my team members regularly challenged every solution I presented. He also had a tendency to interrupt and talk over others without listening to their input. I experienced a challenge in maintaining my patience when he interrupted others without listening. It reached a point where our respective managers counseled both of us on our behavior.

“To resolve this conflict, I had to recognize that I cannot change or control his behavior. I also acknowledged that this behavior, from both of us, was likely a result of stress due to the heavy workload of the project. Therefore, I adjusted my own communication style to increase empathy, avoid triggers and build patience with interruptions. We were able to complete the project and maintain polite correspondence whenever we needed to work together after that.”

Ego conflict

Maybe you, or others involved, link the outcome of conflict to your intelligence. Or perhaps someone uses the disagreement as a platform to make judgmental or derogatory remarks. In either scenario, attempts to resolve the actual conflict might derail as you concentrate on the ego conflict instead.

Managing conflict doesn’t necessarily mean preventing conflict. Different opinions and perspectives can provide opportunities to better understand how other people feel and relate to them on a deeper level.

When conflict inevitably happens, respectful communication is key. You may not always agree with everyone, and that’s just fine. Polite words and an open mind can help you resolve — or come to terms with — differences more effectively.

There are plenty of healthy, productive ways to work through conflict, though some won’t work in every situation. Generally, conflict resolution falls into one of the following categories.

Resources From

  • Assertive Communication
    This worksheet helps clients learn the difference between passive, aggressive, and assertive communication. Assertive communication is essential for expressing our needs and opinions, and defending our rights in a direct and respectful manner.

Trust is a crucial element of team stability and is essential when conflict erupts. In this exercise, one person leads a blindfolded partner using simple statements. As trust builds, the duo can be instructed to speed up, slow down, or attempt to lead with silence.

    Generating Alternative Solutions and Better Decision-Making
    This worksheet provides a map to work through problem-solving by considering three solutions to a specific issue accompanied by a discussion on the efficacy, do-ability, and effectiveness of the identified solution.

A Take-Home Message

Conflict divides. The effects of poorly handled conflict range from disruptive to destructive. It robs individuals and organizations of precious resources, such as energy, productivity, peace, and harmony.

Will we ever be free of conflict? Perhaps we can look at it another way. As we gain skills and experience successes resolving conflict, we can anticipate the next conflict and the next lesson, mindful of the potential wisdom and strengths we’ll gain in the process.

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Dr. Chris Wilson is a conflict resolution specialist who studies and teaches conflict resolution, communication, and emotional intelligence skills. She’s passionate about people and helps them discover their unique strengths and build robust skills resulting in healthy and fulfilling relationships.