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How to answer the ‘Have you ever worked with colleagues you didn’t get along with?’ Interview question

Written by: Charlotte Rogers
Published on: 17 May 2023

How do you answer

Much like any other interview question, this one can leave us nervous and not knowing how to answer it. Being able to prepare in advance for questions can really help interview nerves. Especially for questions like this, which you don’t really expect. This can be asked in a number of different ways, but they all want the same answer. They want you to give an example and discuss what you did in that situation. This article will talk you through how to prepare for, structure an answer and answer this question in an interview.

What are they asking you?

Much like any employer, they probably want to know how you would fit into their current team dynamic. Being able to understand how you get on with people and deal with conflict in the workplace can give them a good indication on whether you would be able to fit well into their team. Thankfully, workplaces have become a more diverse place. With people bringing different ideas and concepts from around the country and world. With them, they bring new ideas and ways of working. This is an amazing change but with new opinions and ideal types of working, there can be conflict. Everyone is different and employers value that, but it can bring difficult situations into play. 

When employers ask you this question, they typically want to find out if:

  • You can handle conflict and different personalities.
  • How you handle people with a different opinion.
  • How you communicate with your colleagues.

They may also think it’s important to understand your approach to conflict. How you handle potentially negative situations and turn it into something positive. Not everything will work out in your favour but being able to move past it and work on the problem with your colleagues is what they’re looking for. 

Why is this question important?

When you’re being interviewed for a job, you’re trying to persuade the employer that you’re not only the right person for the role, but the right person for their team. It’s likely that they already have a team of talented individuals and being able to mesh well with them can be a key objective of the interviewer. As you probably know, not everything is going to go smoothly in the workplace. There are going to be disagreements, different ideas and the way people like to work will be different. No one person is the same and with this, can come conflict. 

Understanding how you would handle this is key to an employer. Are you going to lash out and act inappropriately (which some people may do without even realising) or are you going to be someone that is able to talk through issues and work with the team? This is what their goal is - this is what employers want to know. 

So how do you answer the question?

It can be really good practice to lead with the STAR method. You can read more about the STAR method on our career and advice page but here are the key details:

Situation – Focus on a moment or situation that you may have had a disagreement with a colleague or a team of people at work.

Task - Explain what you did to resolve this issue? How did you go about it and what steps had to be taken to resolve the issue?

Action - Go into detail about the challenges you faced when dealing with this confrontation. 

Result - What was the end result? Was it a positive outcome? What did you put in place to ensure that conflict like this could be avoided or resolved faster in the future?

It’s likely that throughout your career, you’ll have moments where you and your colleagues don’t always agree. It’s inevitable and employers know this. Which is exactly why they ask this question. They know there will be problems but it’s how you deal with it that matters. 

What not to do

It’s important that you’re honest with the interviewer. You shouldn’t answer this question with ‘I don’t get into conflicts at work’ or ‘I tend to get on with everyone in the workplace’ because you’re not being honest with them or yourself and it won’t work in your favour. You may not have had a specific situation you can refer to, but the likelihood is, you’ve experienced or witnessed conflict in the workplace. Even if it didn’t directly include yourself. Talk from experience, it will make it easier to answer.

Answer example

“In my last role, I was working with a colleague who I found difficult to collaborate with. We were working on a team project and I felt like they weren’t open to other ideas or even feedback on their own. It didn’t feel like a really collaborative environment to be in and we really struggled with team morale. 

I took the time to talk to this person individually. I didn’t want to address this with the group or in front of them as it may have made this person uncomfortable. They may not have even understood how we were feeling. So I had a chat, let them know how I was feeling and tried to understand their point of view first. Talking to this colleague really made them understand my thoughts and feelings and how they were contributing to the negative energy. They were really passionate about the project we were working on, so it was hard for them to see flaws in their own ideas. But we did come to the mutual understanding that we’re working towards the same goal. 

They were still a bit defensive when it came to feedback after our chat but I feel the communication was a lot better throughout the rest of the project.”

The above answer can be tailored to your own situation. But it includes the 4 steps of the STAR method. 

Employers are usually looking for you to demonstrate:

  • Professionalism in the workplace
  • Strong interpersonal skills and the ability to listen to your colleagues
  • Patience
  • Being able to have a positive outlook even when you don’t feel positive 
  • An ability to learn from these difficult situations

If you are able to demonstrate the above and formulate an answer that uses the STAR method, then you’re on the right road to success. The key to answering any interview questions is to be prepared and ensure you are leading with examples.