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How to answer "talk about a time you faced conflict"

Anonymous A asked on Aug 03, 2019 - 2 answers

hi all,

was wondering how i could approach answer "talk about a time you faced conflict" in an interview.

Would love to know your thoughts.


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replied on Aug 04, 2019
Professional Leadership & Career Coach | ex-McKinsey Manager & Interviewer | ex-Morgan Stanley VP
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As a former McKinsey interviewer and someone who has prepped 200+ MBB candidates here' my take:

At a high-level: Your interviewer expects that you provide a very concrete and clear example of a time you faced conflict. Interviewers are trained at sussing out whether stories are made-up so be sure that it something you've experienced first-hand.

More specifically, here's how you should approach this question:

  1. Think of an example that truly demonstrates how you resolved a conflict. An example where you were not just in a conflict, but were instrumental in resolving it. The interviewer does not want to hear that you've been in a conflict (we've all been in one at some time), but instead that you have evidence of being an effective conflict-resolver. For example, explaining that you had to work with someone else who was more senior who you didn't see eye-to-eye with and you were able to resolve tension/issues with this person to result in a successful result is awesome!
  2. First, start by summarising the situation at a high-level:
    1. who did you have a conflict with
    2. why was there a conflict
    3. what was difficult about it
    4. what you did to be successful
    5. Bonus: what about you specifically made it successful (e.g. calm nature, your ability to connect with others, your conviction, etc.)
  3. And then be prepared to go into detail with your interviewer:
    1. Explain what you did, said, thought. Remember, this is not about other people, it is about you so get comfortable using words like "I did...", "I said...", "I figured out that...", etc.
    2. Describe specific difficult moments and how you overcame them (again, it's all about what you did)
    3. Explain any planning you did beforehand and why (e.g. you knew it would be a tense meeting so you spoke to another colleague before to test your plan)
    4. Share and celebrate the outcome (which should be positive) and maybe any learnings or things you would do better.

All the best! Give me a shout if you'd like to practice any of this.

replied on Aug 04, 2019
McKinsey Business Analyst | 3+ years Experience | Extensive experience in case preparation
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Let's start saying that your answer doesn't have to be strictly true :)

When I was asked to give an answer on that topic, I would talk about a situation in my academic experience where I was a leader of a group in project work. In that situation, I noticed that two members of my group were not working together and not talking at all. The project workload and overall quality were suffering from it.

I decided to bring them together for a coffee, discussed with them and discovered they were in disagreement on xxxx. I listened to both of them and suggested the xxx solution, middle ground from both their ideas since both of them seems to be right on different perspectives.

They accepted and together we went to the whole team to discuss the idea and next steps. They were enthusiast about the decision and the project went on without any other problem, leading us to win/best position/best mark

That's my example, of course. Hope you'll find it useful!

"Let's start saying that your answer doesn't have to be strictly true :) " Ok, what is the spectrum defined by "not strictly true"? I've been in several teams during my Master's studies, I must say that the situation you just described would never happen if two members were in a conflict, especially in teams >4 ppl. Most of the time the rest just did the extra work and ignored the conflict... — Anonymous B on Aug 04, 2019

Hi Anonymous, I'm sorry to read that. My answer was actually genuine of a real situation I faced. However, it was just an example, written to give the idea of the concept I wanted to pass. Hope you'll find better teams :) — Giulia on Aug 04, 2019