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EP 1753 Whether you are dealing with conflict management or conflict resolution, this is a key question for senior level professionals to be prepared to answer.

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If you're interviewing and you're being asked this question, “Tell me about a time that you dealt with conflict management,” we’re obviously talking to you as a senior professional, because what they are really asking about is conflict resolution, not necessarily conflict management.

There are a couple of different ways to address this question, depending upon your seniority even at a senior level. For example, conflict management, if you're a visible face of an organization, conflict management deals with a public blowup where your organization has done something that's problematic for the public and, obviously, what you're going to be doing is telling the story of the situation.

Right now as I am recording this, there are certain tech organizations that are very much in the news for mistakes that they made. We don't have to identify who it is. It's not important. I’ll just simply say that conflict management in this case involve testimony in front of Congress and being prepared by PR people, being prepared by professionals to answer questions in the spotlight and presenting oneself powerfully and effectively, with the appearance of being open in order to stem the tide of anger against the firm. That's clearly a conflict management situation.

If we’re looking internal to an organization, where we are dealing with conflict management or conflict resolution, normally there are two individuals who may be having a disagreement. One of them could be you and it could be with a subordinate where someone's talking behind your back relentlessly and they are not working to resolve it. It is a kind of gossiping. Scratch that

I know I have someone I coach now who has had a person like this on their team since they stepped into their role. Now, let's work with the scenario that's two individuals who are and comparable levels are may be in different parts of the organization that are backbiting one and other. Conflict resolution or conflict management involves hearing them. It starts off with that. It involves talking with each person . . . This is the way to answer the question. . . You talk about a situation that you stepped into, what the objective was in doing it, the action that you took and the.

Right now, there's sufficient friction the organization that what you trying to do is to take the temperature the participants and talk them down from the cliff because that's really what's going on. These people going ape-shit and it affects other people.

So you describe it without going using that language, obviously.

“I had two people in my organization that were at one another’s throats. Battle lines were starting to be drawn between your two organizations. It was going to be problematic for the health of my group. So, I sat down with each person individually to understand what their issues were, to ask questions, to make sure they had a valid hearing. One person didn't really want to open up to me which I thought was very interesting and I basically said, “hey, look. I know this is going on. So, let's get clear about this and want to understand. I'm not here to advocate for one side or the other. I'm trying to understand the merits of this and, yes, ask great questions to understand your position. Otherwise, I have to take sides with the other person.” Notice what I'm doing is flushing out a real-life situation.

Then, from there, what's the action that you took? So, in the situation, the problem existed. The objective is to find common ground. The action that you took is sitting down with the participants to understand their case and seek common ground that allows each to feel understood and respected and, then, what the result was, which is the de-escalation and actually a better solution then what was originally proposed and how that impacted the organization.

When you're hearing the phrase “tell me about a time when you,” this is a behavioral interview question and what the trying to do is listen to your history in order to find a situation that relates to the problem or the scenario that's being addressed. This is an invitation for a story that, some people, will use the STAR acronym. I like this one, SOAR, a little bit better.STAR is situation-task-action-result . For me it's SOAR. That stands for situation-objective-action-result of that action, ideally with metrics – – money saved / money earned / percentage improvement here.

The result is a resolution of an issue a better result. Now, we got the two parties talking to one another and you are able to flush out the best of their respective ideas and then de-escalate the friction that existed between the two organizations by being actively involved.

So, these situations, whether it's your conflict management as the public face of an organization or within the organization between groups under your purview, the ideal way is to tell a story.

The last thing is the situations where you have friction with someone, and the invitation is always to bring them into the fold.

“I hear you're having a problem with this decision I made.”

“Who told you that?”

“It doesn't matter. You know I am going to say that. I want to hear your side of it and what you think I could've done better..” Be inclusive in this, not separate. Continue by saying, “Yeah, I took that into account. Here's why I made the choice that I did.” That’s because sometimes the reasons for the choices aren't always communicated to the outside beyond simply the decision. You want to make sure they hear that.

“Does that make sense to you?”


“Do you agree with it?”

“I can go along with it,” or “no.”

“Can you respect my right to make that choice given the inputs that I had?”


Again, notice situation-objective-action-result. That's the formula for answering any question involving stories.


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter | Job CoachJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1800 episodes and “The No BS Coaching Advice Podcast” and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council. “No BS JobSearch Advice Radio” was named a Top 10 podcast for job search. is also a Top 10 YouTube channel for job search.

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