Defining teamwork

How do you deal with interpersonal conflict?

Alternative and related questions:

How did you cope with the most difficult colleague you’ve ever had?
Have you ever had problems getting on with anyone?

The meaning behind the question:

The interviewer is seeking to get a handle on how you are likely to react when faced with interpersonal conflict, in particular whether you know the ‘right’ way to react and what your relationship-building skills are like.

Your answer:

This question is similar in nature to the ‘tough’ question I covered back in Chapter 4, “How did you cope with the most difficult colleague you’ve ever had?”  The key difference, of course, is that this question asks how you cope with difficult people and difficult interpersonal situations in general, whether with a colleague or with anyone else.

You want to show the interviewer that you won’t clash head-on with people, nor will you run away and hide.  You’ll simply take the professional option of finding ways to deal with them, to put your relationship on a more positive footing.

And I’d suggest you start your answer off on the right foot by pointing out that you generally manage to avoid conflict most of the time.

Example:

I’m not the kind of person who lets herself get readily drawn into interpersonal conflict but, sometimes, it’s obviously unavoidable.  In such cases, I’m not afraid of making my opinion politely but firmly known and I believe that communication – especially in situations involving conflicting points of view – is essential.  I certainly don’t believe in reacting aggressively, nor do I believe in ducking out of any confrontation.  It’s much more productive to try to understand people, to reason with them and to find common ground and ways of working through any difficulties there may be.  Communication is key, so is seizing the initiative to tackle the problem.

Word of warning:

Be prepared for the interviewer to follow up this question by asking what you would do if, despite your best efforts, you remained in conflict with someone.


 

What does tact and diplomacy mean to you?

Alternative and related questions:

Can you describe a situation where you’ve been tactful?
Can you describe a situation where you’re been diplomatic?

The meaning behind the question:

No hidden meanings here.  Tact and diplomacy are invaluable life skills and the interviewer wants to assess your capacities in this respect.

Your answer:

Tact: Skill and sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues.
Diplomacy: Skill and tact in dealing with people.
(Source: Oxford English dictionary)

As you can see, tact and diplomacy are inextricably linked.  It’s all about how well you deal with other people, particularly with respect to difficult people and difficult issues.  It follows hot on the heels of the previous question.

While it’s frequently important to be assertive, at other times you have to know when to bite your lip.  Empathy is vital for effective relationships.  There’s a time and a place to assert yourself and a time and a place to be a little more mindful of what you say.  Show the interviewer that you understand this important distinction.

Example:

Tact and diplomacy are all about skill and sensitivity in dealing with others, particularly when dealing with difficult people and tricky situations.  I’m certainly capable of asserting myself when necessary but I’m equally capable of carefully controlling what I say if there’s a risk of hurting someone else’s feelings or causing some other negative and counter-productive reaction.  It’s a fine line one has to tread and it clearly requires a great deal of empathy.  Understanding other people and empathiszing with the way they think and feel is essential to effective relationships.  It’s also a question of context.  You may find that you can say something to someone in private which it would be a very bad idea to say in the presence of others.

Word of warning:

If you’re asked to describe a specific situation then clearly you must choose one which portrays you in a positive light without being undiplomatically critical of former bosses, colleagues, etc.  It’s a good idea to pick a situation involving a difficult client or customer, although, again, try to be tactful when describing them!

 

What makes for a successful team?

Alternative and related questions:

What would be your ideal team?

The meaning behind the question:

Your perception of what makes for a successful team will be a factor of what you see as being a successful working manner and also how you perceive your ideal team to be. Your answer will therefore give the interviewer a lot of useful information as to both your capabilities and your compatibility.  It’ll give them insight into what kind of a team player you are.

Your answer:

This isn’t the easiest of questions to answer by any means.  But, given that you can prepare a neat little answer well in advance, it shouldn’t be one of the most difficult either.

Teamwork is essential in the vast majority of working environments.  It requires four core abilities:

  • The ability to communicate effectively with others
  • The ability to recognize and understand the viewpoints of others
  • The ability to appreciate the contribution you are expected to make
  • The ability to build strong interpersonal relationships

 

A successful team player will possess all of these qualities and a successful team is clearly comprised of successful team players.

Show the interviewer that you understand these key teamwork factors.

Example:

For me, what really makes for a successful team is clearly the people within that team.  Communication is obviously key.  Teamwork requires you to communicate effectively with others, recognizing and understanding their viewpoints and appreciating the contribution you are expected to make.  Communication is essential to good working relationships where each individual is working towards the achievement of shared aims and objectives.  Trust is also a key factor to ensuring the success of working relationships, as is respect.  If the team members trust and respect each other then they’ll inevitably work well together towards their common goals.