Job Interview Question

How did you deal with the situation the last time your boss chastised you or strongly disagreed with a statement, a plan or a decision you made?

How To Answer Interview Questions Series

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There are a lot of potential landmines lurking in this behavioral interview question.

Maybe your knee-jerk reaction would be to say, “Why, I don’t recall that ever happening and I can’t imagine that it would.” Why? Are you a yes-man? That’s not a good thing. It could say that you can’t contribute in a way that means anything.

Maybe it did happen and you’re still angry about it because it was unfair and your boss obviously missed his medication that day. Be careful what you say or you’ll end up badmouthing your ex-boss…a no-no in the interview.

Maybe it happened and you’re not upset at all because it happens all the time. To you, you’re a strong, independent go-getter. To them, you look like a loose cannon who can’t be trusted to make decisions on his or her own.

So what do you do? Can you win with your answer to this question? Of course.

First of all, if that ever happens to you at work, you want to make sure that whatever they’re chastising you about or disagreeing with you over isn’t a simple communication issue.

A lot of times, that’s all it is…a communication issue.

Then you want to seek to understand their position on this issue. What’s their point of view? How are they coming at this and why?

And then you want to see if there is in fact something that you could have done differently. If there is, you want to own that: “I should have done this differently.” And in the future, you won’t make that mistake again.

The biggest thing is seeking to understand, seeing it from the other person’s perspective and ‘fessing up when you make a mistake.

So if your answer is in fact, “I don’t really have a good example of a time that my boss strongly disagreed with something I did,” you can say so. Maybe you haven’t worked that long, or in more than one or two jobs. But that answer doesn’t tell the interviewer much about you, and she really does want to know how you handle conflict.

So follow up your answer with a bit of your philosophy on communication: “I try to keep the lines of communication very open so that doesn’t happen. But misunderstandings happen, so I would try to see if that was the case first. If I make a mistake, I correct it and take steps to not make the same mistake twice.” Or whatever. Now they know that you have a reasonable response to difficult situations.

If you did have a conflict, don’t lie and say you didn’t. Very few people can lie without triggering a “hmm…” response in the other person’s brain. They might not even know why they don’t trust you, they’ll only know that they don’t.

Address the past conflict by walking them through your process: you hit it head on. You spoke directly to your boss about the issue, tried to see where he was coming from, and learned X lesson from the conflict. Keep the end result positive. And if you do tell a story about making a mistake, make sure it’s clearly a one-time mistake.

“I realized I’d made a mistake because I didn’t have all the information. Now I ask a lot more questions before I start a project to make sure that doesn’t happen again. I’m a much better communicator now.”


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