Tell Me About a Time When You Had a Conflict With a Subordinate – And How You Handled It


In interviews today- traditional questions are often being overshadowed by behavioral questions. While traditional questions offer concrete facts about your education- skills and jobs- behavioral interview questions allow an interviewer a chance to glean a significant amount of information with just one answer- the most important of which is how you will react in the future if faced with these situations. ‘Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a subordinate – and how you handled it-‘ is one example of a behavioral question you may be asked in your next interview.

Behavioral interview questions can be tricky because you may be unsure just what the interviewer is trying to learn from your answer. Ultimately- when asked this particular question- your interviewer is hoping to determine how you handle the pressures of being in difficult situations- your problem solving skills- how you handle challenges to your authority- and whether or not you have been able to move on and grow from your experience. You may hear this question phrased differently- such as ‘Tell me about a time when you had to overrule an employee’ or ‘Describe how you would handle a disrespectful subordinate.’ Practicing your answers to these and other questions can help set you apart from the competition and give you an edge in receiving a job offer.

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How to Answer the ‘Tell Me About a Time When You Had a Conflict With a Subordinate – And How You Handled It’ Behavioral Interview Question

Adequately Explain the Situation. If you want an interviewer to understand what happened- you need to fully explain the situation when asked behavioral interview questions. The interviewer needs to know what your subordinate was doing- why it was incorrect- and the steps you took to resolve the issue. One of the best ways to do this is using the STAR method. STAR stands for the following:

  • • ST- situation or task, or the problem that you are facing
  • • A- actions you took to resolve the problem
  • • R- results that show how you changed the problem into a positive learning experience

Don’t Be Afraid of Confidence. Being confident is a great leadership skill when it is applied correctly. Be confident in your answer to show that you recognized an issue with a subordinate, took the steps to resolve the issue and learned from the experience. However, there is a difference between confidence and gloating. Do not be sarcastic or unkind in your comments regarding your subordinate, and be sure to keep your expressions neutral. Even if you are passionate about your experience, showing little emotion and sticking to the facts is better than being unprofessional.

Have an Explanation for Your Actions. When an interviewer asks this type of question, they want to know the reasons behind your decisions and actions as much as what those actions were. Don’t just make a blanket statement about your authority as the boss and how you expect to be obeyed. Bosses are fallible, just like other employees, and a small measure of humility goes a long way when dealing with subordinates. Take the time to explain why you felt your decision was the right choice and how you explained your decision to your subordinate.

Be Honest About Your Role in the Conflict. Describe the conflict concisely and honestly without bias because your interviewer is going to use this answer to determine how well you work with others, as well as how you treat those under your management. It may be tempting to make the subordinate in question the bad guy, but it will only make you look bad if you place all of the blame on a person who isn’t even present to defend their actions. It is rare for a conflict to arise with only one party to blame, so embrace your part in the conflict and show that you are willing to be accountable.

Sample ‘Tell Me About a Time When You Had a Conflict With a Subordinate – And How You Handled It’ STAR Interview Answer

One of my subordinates was given a project with a firm deadline for completion. The day prior to the deadline, the man came to me and requested an extension. I was disappointed that he had waited so long to tell me about his difficulties with the project, and I was obviously frustrated that this would affect the client and potentially any future business. However, I acknowledged that I had failed to touch base with him in the interim to ensure that the project was going smoothly. From that time on, I asked that he give me a weekly progress report on all of his projects to ensure it did not happen again. This taught me that as a manager, I am ultimately responsible for the output of my office and must always be aware of what needs to be done.

Research and planning are required for you to effectively answer behavioral interview questions like this. Take the time before every interview to make sure you are ready.