Top 10 Interview Questions & Answers on Conflict Resolution for Project Managers


conflict resolution interview questions

One of the most frequently discussed topics during an interview for the post of a Project Manager is conflict resolution. These work towards not only assessing your skills at resolving conflicts and disagreements but also factors in your behavioral assessment during the interview.

Now, keep in mind that these are make or break questions pretty often. If you don’t answer them tactfully, it might ruin your prospects of being hired.

We have listed some of the most popular conflict resolution questions asked and have provided each with a sample answer or guideline to give you a hint about how to handle them.

1. If You And Your Coworker Have Different Ideas For A Project, How Would You Express Your Opposition? Give An Instance Of Such A Situation And What Was The Outcome?

When faced with this question, remember, the answer is not just what you say but also how you say. It has been asked to assess how good you are at handling a clash of opinions or ideas.

Tip 1: Stress on strong communication skills that got the two of you from the point of clash to the point of mutual compromise and agreement. It’s not just about what you said and he agreed but also what he said and you agreed to.

Tip 2: Your body language and tone are speaking as much as your words. Don’t inadvertently show any bad feeling you might have harbored from the situation.

For example: “While branding a start-up, there was a disagreement between the Marketing Head of the project and I. During the briefing, the client was very adamant over a few ideas he had. But the brief that my co worker sent to the designer was very different from that. So, we had a small disagreement there. My point was that we should stick to the client’s expectation while the marketing head wished to incorporate a different style. We sat down and spoke and I was informed that the scheme that the client wanted was already in use by a different company in the industry. It was a fact he discovered while doing the research. So, we decided to get in touch with the client again and I explained to him the financial and marketing repercussions of following with his original ideas. Subsequently, the designer, the client and the marketing head sat down together to come up an idea that was acceptable to all.”

2. How Would You React To Receiving A Negative Feedback From Your Supervisor On Your Approach To A Problem?

The interviewer here wants to see how you handle a conflict with a supervisor. They neither want a sycophant nor do they want a rebel. Find a middle ground here.

Tip 1: In this situation, politeness is everything. Show that you were respectful in your approach.

Tip 2: Once again, communicate your point while also being a good listener.

“To begin with, I had to understand that in a workplace not everyone thinks along the same lines. What seems to be the right way for me might not seem like the best option for someone else. As professionals with significant experience in the field, we both would certainly have many reasons or examples at hand on why a particular approach may or may not work.

The best way to sort this out is to discuss this with the manager. A polite request to explain the flaws in the approach might shed a lot of light on any issues that I might have overlooked. Conversely, a short explanation about the different aspects of the approach and maybe a few follow up questions and answers could convince him on why it might work after all.”

3. How Would You Handle A Team That Witnesses Many Internal Conflicts?

The panel wants to know more about your role as a mediator and your impartialness.

Tip 1: Explain that listening and understanding both the perspective are important.

Tip 2: Both the parties are supposed to meet halfway and they both should agree to do what is best for the project at hand.

“Conflicts of interest or approach are an inevitable part of any project progress. If more than one person works on a project, there will be disagreement. As a project Manager, it is my job to ensure that this conflict is resolved in the smoothest possible way. So, to sort such issues out, I will ask both the parties involved to sit together and discuss the points where the issues are arising. Now, both the people in front of me are sitting in that chair, holding that job because they are good at their work. This means their conflict is backed by strong reasoning. It will be my work to hear them both out and help them come to a term where neither is benefitting at the loss of other and the overall interest of the project is ensured.

However, that is not the end of my “handling” the conflict strategy. I believe these clashes are not resolved when a superior gives directions on what to do. It’s solved when both the parties agree that the solution they have come to is good and they leave the room satisfied with the outcome. That’s when the conflict is actually resolved.”

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4. If You Are Faced With A Very Angry Customer Who Is Unhappy With Your Product Or Service, How Would You Handle Them?

If your job description involves dealing with a customer, it means at many occasions you will be the company’s face in front of the consumer. They are testing how much you value and are good at customer service.

Tip 1: Angry customers require tact. Show them that you have it.

Tip 2: Show that you can differentiate a genuinely unhappy customer with a scammer.

“In these cases, it is important to hear out the customer fully and understand exactly what aspect of the issue or the product they have faced problem with. Once that area is pin pointed, I’d try to placate the customer by assuring them that the relevant team will start the work on it right away and the issue will be taken care of at the earliest. If they are especially angry with a genuine reason, a few discount coupons or vouchers can ensure their continued loyalty to the company while the concerned team is notified and the issue resolved.”

5. How Would You Manage A Team Member Who Kept Raising Objections On Projects? Do You Have An Example Of Such An Interaction?

Not every co worker is a delight to work with. With this question the interviewers want to know how you’d handle a confrontational coworker.

Tip 1: Do not disregard the co worker as confrontational (even though he maybe) and his points as invalid.

Tip 2: Healthy communication is still the key.

“In a workplace, disagreements are inevitable and everyone working there is good at their jobs. This means managing such a person starts with understanding that if they are raising objection then they have a reason to do so. To start with, talking to them would be a good idea. This will enable all parties concerned to see where they believe a problem might arise. The person in question may present the points where he believes the problem lies and what exactly could go wrong by following that particular plan. 

Subsequently, other people involved can either discover a view they never considered or if it is something they did go over, then they can present their case on how that issue can be tackled for the overall betterment of the project.

In any such case, the bottom line is to know that there is a reason behind every action a team member is taking and more often than not, it is, according to them, for the benefit of the project.”

6. How Would Deal With A Team Member Complaining About A Co Worker’s Behavior?

Companies don’t want to listen to every little issue an employee is facing with another employee. As grown-ups, most of these are to be resolved between the people themselves. So, with this question they are not only looking for your take on when to approach a supervisor but also how would you discourage unnecessary complaining.

Tip 1: Show your skills of mediating between two parties.

Tip 2: Show an understanding of severity of a situation.

“Before advising the team member anything it is important to know what exactly their complaint is. It could be any of the 3:

  1. A conflict of personality
  2. A persistent fault of the other person that hampers the interest of the project
  3. A case of outright bullying or harassment.

Now, if it is Case 1 it is the complainant who needs to be advised. An office is made up of many different kind of people and not all of them get along. However, as long as one party’s behavior is not a hindrance in the ability of the other party to do their job, it is an issue that can be resolved amicably. I’d advise the complainant to perhaps talk to the person directly and see if they can come to terms between themselves without getting the other party in trouble with the management. In such a case, the talk is usually enough. If not, then changing up the schedule or location of either of them can ensure that the two valuable co-workers can give their best to the project without clashing with each other.

In the second case, I’d start by thanking them for bringing the issue to attention. Next step would be asking them what made them bring the problem to us instead of talking to the person. If it is as a follow up of a futile talk, then I’d assure them that the issue will be tackled keeping the best interest of the project and every member working on it in mind.

In the third case, it is imperative to ensure the person that the management strives to develop a safe workplace for every employee and the issue will be investigated thoroughly following which actions will be taken according to the company policy and the existing law.

The important bit in any of the 3 situations is to understand whether the complainant has come with a genuine problem they are facing or a conflict of personality.”

7. How Would You Handle A Conflict Of Interest During A Cross-Departmental Project?

It is a test of your managerial and resource allocation skills as much as conflict resolution abilities.

Tip 1: Understand the function and contribution of both the departments in the project.

Tip 2: Stress on the precedence of project interest over department interest.

“Most major project involves the work of members from more than one department. In such a case, conflict of interest is inevitable. Hence, the first thing I’d do is align each department’s goal with the company’s goal. However, if a conflict of interest does arise, a meeting with the representatives of all the departments is good thing. During this interview, both the parties can discuss why their requests or interest is important for the project’s success in presence of a mediator and in a comfortable environment.

Both the parties should understand the overall precedence of the project or company over individual department and the assurance that the management has their best interest at heart. These discussions should be held with a motive of compromise so that both the parties are satisfied sufficiently and no one particular department has been favored in terms of time or resources.”

8. How Would You Approach A Team Member Who Is Aggressive Or Arrogant Toward The Rest Of The Team?

This question once again tests your ability to handle confrontational co workers and as always, communication is important.

Tip 1: Show you have tact.

Tip 2: Show that you have empathy.

“Such a situation should be handled with tact. They should be approached politely with an intention to resolve the issue and not point fingers.

The best approach for them is an ‘I’ approach instead of a ‘you’ approach.  Instead of saying you are creating this, this and this problem, I’d try to start with an ‘I’. For example: “Hey! I noticed you are not very comfortable with a lot of people on the team. Is there some problem that you are facing?”

This generally prompts them to divulge any issue they are facing or why they are being so aggressive. They might have a genuine reason for doing this. In that case, a small talk with the rest of the team can sort things out. If their reason is not satisfactory, the MO here would be explaining to the person that I do know it is not easy to work with everyone but a team project requires some compromise from everyone. So, while they might not be very fond of their co workers or their methods but these people are professionals who know their work well and a friendly work environment is important for them to give their best to the project. If it is difficult for them to work amicably with the others, they can try to keep non-work related socialization limited and stick to their particular task. I’d let them know that if a shift in the cubicle or schedule will help them do their work better, I am willing to work things out with them.”

9. How Would You React To Being Blamed For Something That Wasn’t Entirely Your Fault (Eg. Missing A Deadline) During A Meeting?

Pointing fingers for faults is very common in an office and supervisors don’t want to deal with that. This is a test to see how good you are at presenting facts and how likely are you to accept or push the blame.

Tip 1: Do not push the blame on to others.

Tip 2: Show your ability of presenting the facts as they are.

“I’d respond calmly to the accusation. In such a situation, I would summarize my role in the project along with other factors that directly affect my role like revisions and approvals. I’d present the facts with figures of how much was my contribution and why or how it was delayed. I’d accept as much blame as was genuinely my fault. Other than that, I’d make it evident that a lot of factors not in my control were at play here and I did best with what I had.”

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10. How Would You Rate Your Problem Solving Skills?

They are assessing your skills and your confidence in those skills at the same time.

Tip 1: Be generous but not overconfident.

Tip 2: Back your number with genuine reasons and talents.

“I’d give myself an 8 because I believe that I have understanding of not only solving problems but also ensuring that small conflicts don’t turn into big issues. I can look at a situation objectively, understand the different perspective and using my strong communication skills come to a resolution agreeable to different parties involved.”

Do note that these are general guidelines you can use while providing an answer that is more relevant to your experience. Wherever possible be specific and avoid generic answers. Be conversational but stick to the point.

The key to answering these questions is knowing that even though conflicting personalities exist, peaceful co-existence is possible. Strive for that during your regular job and when the time comes for such an interview, you will have answers at the ready from your past experience.

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