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Why you should test candidates’ conflict management skills

Employees with conflict management skills work through arguments, complaints and differences of opinion constructively. These employees are able to:

  • Resolve issues that arise among team members quickly
  • Handle complaints from customers
  • Foster healthy work relationships
  • Raise objections in a professional manner

It’s essential to test candidates’ conflict-resolution skills, particularly for:

  • senior-level positions, where your future hires will manage teams
  • sales positions, where your future hires will contact customers on a daily basis

Here are some sample conflict management interview questions to ask candidates during your hiring process:

Examples of conflict management interview questions

  • Tell me about a time you disagreed with a coworker’s idea on a project you were both working on together. How did you express your opposition and what happened?
  • What would you do if your manager gave you negative feedback on the way you approached a problem?
  • How do you handle conflicts within your team?
  • How do you deal with angry customers who complain about your products/services?
  • Have you ever had a team member who kept raising objections on projects? How did you (or would you) manage them?
  • How would you advise a team member who complained about a coworker’s behavior?
  • Have you ever faced a conflict of interest during a cross-departmental project? What did you do?
  • You’ve noticed that a team member is aggressive or arrogant toward the rest of the team. How would you approach this person?
  • How would you react if a coworker blamed you for something that wasn’t entirely your fault (eg. missing a deadline) during a meeting?

Tips to assess candidates’ conflict management skills in interviews

  • Ask candidates to explain in detail how they’ve dealt with disagreements in the past. Hire people who think conflicts through before confronting a coworker.
  • Empathy and listening skills are indicators of an individual who handles conflicts professionally. These people are valuable team members, as they manage to keep their coworkers calm.
  • Good conflict management skills go hand-in-hand with solid communication abilities. Candidates who clearly express themselves and keep a pleasant discussion during interviews are more likely to resolve issues that arise at work.
  • Use behavioral questions that demonstrate how candidates interact in team environments. Opt for people who prioritize collaboration and maintain the team’s balance.
  • If the role requires communication with clients, consider adding a role-playing activity to your interview process. You’ll be able to simulate job duties and test candidates’ abilities to resolve issues.
  • Even if candidates describe negative experiences, it’s important to see what lessons they’ve learned. Look for people who don’t take things personally and understand the importance of being patient.

Red flags

  • They focus on minor disagreements. If your candidates reveal that they turn each disagreement into a conflict, they might struggle listening to different opinions.
  • They cause conflicts. If the reason behind conflicts is your candidates’ poor communication or collaboration skills, that’s a sign they’re not good team players.
  • They seem uncomfortable. Certain roles, like salespeople, will often come across conflicts at work. Candidates who get stressed while describing such situations mightn’t be suitable for these positions.
  • They give generic answers. Generic answers that don’t describe specific situations won’t tell you much about candidates’ conflict management skills (e.g. “I face conflicts all the time at work, but I manage to stay calm and resolve the issue.”)
  • They are unprofessional. Candidates who blame others and bad-mouth coworkers, managers and clients lack professionalism and may not be the most empathetic future hires.
  • They avoid conflicts altogether. Problems escalate when conflicts are swept under the rug. Candidates should be confident enough to tactfully disagree with coworkers or managers, when necessary.
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