Everyone wants us to embrace diversity in the workplace. And it is indeed present in each and every corporation. Diversity of cultural and religious backgrounds, but also diversity of opinions, attitudes to work, and expectations. And while we can learn a lot from each other, we may also find it hard to cooperate with certain colleagues, simply because we aren’t on the same page with them, when it comes to important questions and issues, either related to work or to life in general. Hiring managers try to understand whether you can deal with such situations, and how you deal with them.
Before I analyze the question, and tell you what you should focus on while answering it, let’s have a look at 7 sample answers. You will find in my selection both conventional and philosophical choices, and hopefully at least one of the answers will resonate with you, and with the impression you try to make on the hiring managers. I also want to point out that hiring managers may phrase this question differently, for example “Tell me about a time you worked with a difficult person“, or “Have you ever worked with a difficult peer or teammate?” Different wording but the same meaning, hence the sample answers below should help you, regardless of the exact wording of the question.
7 sample answers to “Give me an example of a time when you had to work with someone who was difficult to get along with” interview question
- I found it extremely difficult to work with a financial analyst in my last job. It was pivotal that they delivered their reports on time, and as early as possible, so we in the sales department could make the right decisions on each given day. But the analyst was a laid back guy. They were precise, they rarely made mistakes, just they did not do the job quick enough. After calmly explaining them a couple of times why we needed their analyses in the shortest possible time, and not being heard out, I got angry and sad some bad words in their direction, which I something I regret up to this point. Eventually I raised the issue with their superior, which was a more sensible solution, and the situation improved somehow. I still found it difficult to get along with this teammate, but at least I managed to keep it professional, and did not start any other conflicts.
- Working as a barista, I shared close quarters with three or four colleagues on the shift. As you can imagine, in such a workplace it is easy to see who works hard and who’s laid back, playing with their smartphone most of the time, letting their colleagues do the hard work. And that was the case with one of the baristas. I really found it hard to get along with them, because excellent customer service was my first priority. I didn’t want to see customers waiting longer than necessary, just because they had one more message to reply to on Facebook… And raising the issue with the shift manager didn’t help, because they were the best of friends with the barista in question. Eventually I decided to leave the place, and that’s one of the reasons why I am here today, interviewing for a job with you…
- This is my first job application, so I cannot speak about an example from work. However, I am aware that you have a diverse team of people in place, and that I won’t find it easy to get along with everyone. In my opinion, however, it is completely all right. Our colleagues aren’t our partners, or our family. Sure enough, you become friends with some and won’t have much to talk about with others. As long as you keep it professional, however, and do not start pointless conflicts just because they believe in another God, or vote for another candidate in the elections, you should be fine. That’s exactly what I want to do–I want to focus on work, the goals we try to reach as a team, and not on things that separate up. This has worked well for me in school, and I am sure it will work fine in the job.
- I found it difficult to work with my superior in my last job, because they had unrealistic demands on me. I was a new force in the company, the training I got was extremely limited, and they expected me to work with SAP and other information systems I had no previous experience with. Having said that, I enjoy learning new things, and I wanted to get into it, and get the job done. But they expected too much from me, right from the start. I stayed two hours overtime every day during the first two weeks, and still it wasn’t enough–they still demanded more. Eventually I decided to leave the company after a month. In my opinion, it makes no sense fighting the windmills. I explained to them many times why I needed more time, but to no avail. The only option really was to leave, and so I did it.
* May also interest you: 15 most common interview questions & answers
- Growing up in a strongly catholic family, I found it difficult to get along with my Muslim colleagues from the team. I just struggled to get over my prejudice, and they apparently had the same problem. Eventually I decided to avoid sensitive topics altogether, and also stopped wearing a necklace with a cross to work. I simply focused on the work, and didn’t react in any way to their religious remarks. It helped a lot, we found things we had in common–for example love for football, and eventually made a good team. I also believe that the experience helped me to mature, and I should not have problems with people from different backgrounds anymore.
- I found it really hard to work with one of our major clients. They were ordering huge quantities from us, but they were always bargaining, sending samples back, asking for additional warranties. They had many unrealistic demands. But I realized how big they were for us, and that we could not afford to lose them. Hence I tried to keep my temper under control, and diplomatically solved every issue they raised, trying to keep them happy, and at the same time stay sane and make sure that our company was still profitable in the deals. It was a tricky situation to negotiate, because I often felt like shouting on the phone, or simply hanging up. But I managed to keep my emotions under control, and keep the client onboard, though I found it extremely hard to get along with them.
- I remember a good example from school, one when I had to deal with someone difficult. The teacher divided us to small groups of three people and assigned each group of project to work on during the semester. I must admit that I wasn’t happy with their selection, because my ideas about the work were very different than the ideas of the other two team members. At the beginning we got nothing done, because we were just having conflicts about the methodology of research and similar issues. I eventually decided to back off, and let them lead the project, because I realized that if I stubbornly kept my line, we’d move nowhere. I actually learned an important lesson–sometimes you have to let go of your ego, and let others to lead, however difficult you may find it. In some cases it is the only way how to move forward, and how to get the job done even when you work with colleagues or classmates who are difficult to get along with.
Situation with a positive outcome is your best bet
It is completely normal to have conflicts in the workplace, to struggle to get along with someone. You do not have to be friends with everyone, however. As long as you demonstrate (with the help of the situation you narrate in the interviews) that you can get over your ego, and progress with your work, even though you may struggle to get along with one of your colleagues, hiring managers will be satisfied with your answer.
Show them that you respect your colleagues, and try to look for things you have in common, instead of things that separate you. That’s what they want to hear from you in the interviews…
* Special Tip: This isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, dealing with ambiguity, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!
Leaving is also an option once you work with a difficult person and cannot handle it anymore
It is important to show them that you tried what you could. You tried to be a good colleague, you were attentive to the needs and feelings of other people in the workplace, you did what you could to have a meaningful cooperation.
Sometimes, however, it isn’t enough. And in such a case, you often have no other option than leaving the company. It makes no sense staying in the job which drains you emotionally, just because it pays well or because you do not want to look for a new one again.
As long as you showed them that you tried your best to get along with your colleagues, they won’t consider it a minus that you didn’t manage to solve the conflicts, and had to leave. No reason to dwell on the past. You’ve learned your lesson, and now you try to get a job with them, hoping for a better atmosphere in the workplace.
* Do not forget to check: 7 tough diversity interview questions
Ensure them that you can get over your ego
Most conflicts in the workplace (or anywhere else for the matter) are just pointless egoistic battles that cannot really have a winner. It can be a powerful answer talking about a situation when you actually backed off, and agreed to certain methodology of work or processes, though you did not consider it the best option.
But you realized that it is better to follow the second best road than not doing any work at all, just because you cannot agree with your colleagues on the methodology of work or on some details. Show the hiring managers that you prioritize the goals of the business to the desires of your ego…
Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also the following articles to get ready for your interview:
- Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult customer.
- What does diversity mean to you? 7 sample answers to this tricky interview question about diversity in the workplace.
- Why should we hire you, and not one of the other job applicants? Learn how to deal with one of the most dreaded interview questions.