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“Difficult to Work With Someone” (Smart Answers)

One smart approach to the “difficult to work with someone” interview question is to turn it into an opportunity to showcase your adaptability and interpersonal skills. Share a specific example of a past experience working with a challenging colleague, and emphasize the steps you took to resolve the issue. By remaining solution-oriented, you’ll display a positive attitude, clear communication, and a willingness to overcome obstacles in the workplace.

In crafting your response, focus on the actions you took to improve the situation, while maintaining a respectful and empathetic demeanor towards your colleague. Keep in mind that interviewers are often looking for evidence of your ability to handle conflict and manage professional relationships. By giving an honest, well-thought-out answer, you can prove that you’re not only capable of working with difficult people but also making the best of challenging situations.

Part 1Why Employers Ask This Question

Employers ask this question to see how you deal with challenging situations and how you can collaborate with various types of people in a work environment. They want to know if you can navigate through interpersonal conflicts and still contribute to the team’s success. By asking this question, they can get an insight into your problem-solving skills, emotional intelligence, and adaptability.

The interviewer is also interested in evaluating your communication skills and your ability to handle tough conversations. Showcasing your ability to address conflicts and find resolutions will demonstrate that you are an effective communicator.

The key is to demonstrate your problem-solving skills, ability to maintain strong working relationships, and the resilience to overcome challenges.  So instead of saying “I avoid working with difficult people,” focus on presenting a real-life situation where you successfully dealt with a challenging colleague, highlighting your strengths and effective strategies.

Part 2Behavioral Questions and Past Experiences

During job interviews, behavioral questions help interviewers assess your interpersonal and conflict resolution skills. When asked about difficult work experiences, focus on specific situations that challenged you. Describe the circumstances, your approach, and the actions you took to address the issue. This demonstrates that you have encountered and managed such situations before, making you a valuable asset for the team. Related: How to Answer 11 Common Behavioral Interview Questions

For example, you might talk about a time when you and a team member disagreed on a project’s direction. Explain how you listened to their concerns, brainstormed solutions together, and reached a mutually agreeable compromise. This shows that you approach conflicts with empathy and collaboration.

Your past experiences can also highlight skills you have acquired and how you’ve grown as a professional. Don’t hesitate to emphasize any lessons learned, whether from successes or mistakes. Share with the interviewer the steps you took to ensure a better outcome in future situations. For example, if you faced a challenging client, you might describe how you improved your communication style, adapted to their needs, and managed expectations to resolve conflicts more efficiently.

Stay focused on the skills and steps you’ve taken to improve, ensuring that your experiences support your candidacy and demonstrate your value to the company.

Part 3Example Answers

Example 1

“During a previous team project, there was a coworker who had difficulty accepting other opinions. In order to work together effectively, we set up a meeting to openly discuss the issue. We identified the concerns and acknowledged each person’s perspective. By compromising and working collaboratively, we were able to overcome the challenge and complete the project successfully.”

Example 2

“In my previous sales position, I had a colleague with whom I often disagreed on sales strategies. We eventually found common ground and collaborated on adopting effective techniques to achieve our targets.”

Example 3

“I once worked with a teammate who was often short-tempered with customers. I remained patient and encouraged the person to practice empathy, which helped keep the work environment calm and focused on problem-solving.”

Example 4

“During my internship, I had difficulty working with a senior team member. I considered this an opportunity to grow and seek constructive feedback to improve our collaboration.”

Example 5

“In a manager role, I encountered a team member who struggled to meet deadlines. By offering support and understanding, I helped them strategize and streamline their workload, which enhanced their productivity.”

Part 4Sample Answers with Explanations

  • “I find it easy to work with diverse personalities, as long as everyone is communicative and respectful. In my experience, understanding different working styles and open communication can resolve most issues that arise in a team.”
  • Explanation: This answer demonstrates your adaptability and willingness to work with various personality types. It shows both your ability to work effectively within a team and your focus on communication, which are desirable qualities for a hiring manager.
  • “Although I’ve encountered situations where it was challenging to work with specific individuals, I’ve always made an effort to find common ground and create a positive working environment. For instance, I once had a colleague with a very different approach to managing projects. We found that by focusing on the shared goals, we could work together more amicably and achieve better outcomes.”
  • Explanation: This honest and solution-focused answer shows your ability to navigate difficult relationships with colleagues while maintaining professionalism. By highlighting your commitment to teamwork and a positive outcome, you convey a strong work ethic to the hiring manager.
  • “In rare cases, I’ve met people with whom it was more challenging to collaborate. For example, I once worked with a team member who frequently missed deadlines. Instead of badmouthing them, I encouraged them to communicate their difficulties and helped them manage their time more effectively.”
  • Explanation: This response illustrates your ability to identify a problem and take appropriate action to address it. By mentioning that you didn’t badmouth the struggling colleague, you demonstrate a respectful approach to conflict resolution, which is an important quality to convey to a potential employer.
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Keep in mind that when answering this question, it’s vital to come across as authentic and honest, while putting a positive spin on your ability to work with others. Showcasing your openness to collaboration, strong communication skills, and professional attitude will lead to a more favorable impression and help you stand out as a strong candidate for the job.

Part 5Demonstrating Desired Traits in Your Answer

When answering the “difficult to work with someone” interview question, it’s essential to demonstrate key traits employers are seeking.

Some ideas to demonstrate your positive qualities:

Focus on how your ability to learn from others helped you overcome obstacles when collaborating with a difficult colleague. For example:

“I encountered a team member with a different communication style, which initially led to some misunderstandings. Instead of getting frustrated, I took the time to understand their perspective and adjusted my approach accordingly. As a result, we were able to work together more effectively and complete the project.”

Emphasize your willingness to take on responsibilities and contribute to the team’s success, despite potential challenges. You could share instances when you stepped up to mediate conflicts or resolve issues:

“In a previous role, I noticed tensions building between two team members during a crucial project. To maintain a positive work environment and avoid delays, I took the initiative to mediate a discussion between them, helping identify common ground and address the underlying issues.”

Acknowledge that setbacks and conflict can be catalysts for self-improvement. Describe how your experiences with difficult coworkers have contributed to your professional growth:

“Working with a challenging team member helped me develop my active listening skills and discover new methods of collaboration. I now feel better equipped to manage diverse personalities and foster strong working relationships.”

Related: Active Listening (Techniques, Examples, Tips)

How to Manage Conflict in the Workplace [with Examples]

Part 6How to Use the STAR Method to Answer This Question

When faced with a question about dealing with a difficult coworker, the STAR method can be your go-to strategy for crafting a concise and effective response. The STAR method stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. It’s a formula for answering behavioral interview questions by providing a real-life example that demonstrates your skills and experiences. Let’s walk through how you can use this method to answer the question.

  • Situation: Start by describing a specific situation or challenge that you encountered when working with a difficult coworker. Be honest and clear, but avoid speaking negatively about the person involved. For instance, you could say,
  • “At my previous job, there was a team member who frequently missed deadlines, which affected our project’s progress.”
  • Task: Next, explain the task or responsibility you had in dealing with the situation. What was your role, and what did you need to accomplish? Make sure to highlight the challenges and constraints. For example,
  • “As the project manager, it was my responsibility to ensure that we completed the project on time and within budget, so I had to address the issue with this coworker.”
  • Action: Now, go into detail about the actions you took to address the situation. Describe the specific steps you followed to resolve the problem. Be as concrete and precise as possible. For example,
  • “I arranged a one-on-one meeting with the coworker, where we discussed the missed deadlines and the impact they had on the project. We then worked together to develop a plan to stay on target and improve communication.”
  • Result: Finally, share the outcome or results that came from your actions. Emphasize the positive impact, whether it’s the resolution of the issue, personal growth, or improved team dynamics. For example,
  • “As a result of our conversation and collaboration, the coworker improved their time management skills and met subsequent deadlines. Our team’s communication and efficiency also improved significantly.”

Part 7How to Navigate Difficult Scenarios in the Workplace

At some point in your career, it’s likely that you’ll encounter difficult people or challenging situations at work.

Firstly, acknowledge that dealing with difficult personalities is a common challenge. Recognize that it’s not just you who has to face these situations. When interacting with a difficult colleague, it’s important to remain calm and composed. Keep your emotions in check and focus on finding practical solutions.

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Be proactive about clarifying your own expectations and needs, and encourage open discussions. Constructive feedback can help pave the way for improvement and clearer understanding on both sides; however, make sure to deliver it respectfully and focus on the issue rather than attacking the person.

Sometimes, you may need to set boundaries with complex personalities. Evaluate what is within your control and assert yourself when necessary.

Try to identify any patterns or triggers in the behavior of difficult colleagues. Anticipating potential conflicts can help you be better prepared to respond in a constructive and effective manner. This proactive approach can save valuable time and energy in the long run.

Remember, conflicts and difficult personalities are inevitable, but how you handle these situations will determine your success and ability to maintain harmonious working relationships.

Part 8Handling Conflict in the Workplace

Conflicts are inevitable in any workplace, but how you handle them makes all the difference.

  • First, try to see things from your coworker’s perspective. This can help you better understand their motivations or actions. Listen actively when they express their concerns or opinions. Show empathy by acknowledging their feelings without passing judgment.
  • Next, practice open and honest communication. Address the issue directly and calmly, avoiding any passive-aggressive behavior. Be specific about what’s bothering you and offer constructive feedback. This shows not only your communication skills but also your integrity and commitment to finding a solution.
  • One possible approach to address conflicts is using the “I” statements technique. Instead of starting with “You did…” or “You are…”, express your thoughts and feelings by saying “I feel…” or “I think…”. This way, you take ownership of your emotions and avoid sounding accusatory or confrontational.
  • Finally, know when to involve a third party. If you’ve tried resolving the conflict and it’s not improving, it may be time to seek guidance from a supervisor or HR representative. They can provide support and mediation to help both parties reach a resolution. Related: How to Manage Conflict in the Workplace [with Examples]

Part 9Best Practices

Focus on problem-solving: When facing a challenging colleague, instead of getting caught up in the emotions, try concentrating on finding solutions to the issues at hand. Adopt a problem-solving mindset so that you can address the situation effectively. By doing so, you demonstrate your capability to work constructively under pressure.

Build your listening skills: Understand the perspective of the difficult person by actively listening to their concerns. This way, you’ll learn about their motivations and challenges, which can help you better navigate your interactions with them. Also, empathetically listening often makes the other person feel heard and valued, which can ease tensions in your working relationship.

Exercise patience: Patience is crucial when dealing with difficult people, as it allows you to remain calm and composed in tense situations. By staying patient, you can think more clearly and respond with the most appropriate actions that benefit the situation.

Maintain optimism: Having a positive attitude makes a significant difference in your ability to handle difficult personalities. An optimistic outlook can help you stay motivated and resilient in challenging situations. Keep focusing on the successful outcome you’re pursuing, and stay confident in your ability to overcome the obstacles in your path.

Take initiative: Be proactive in addressing issues with the difficult person. Take steps to build rapport and find common ground. This might involve directly discussing the situation with them or seeking support from team members or supervisors. Show your willingness to resolve any conflicts and work towards a harmonious and collaborative environment.

Part 10Storytelling Techniques

When answering this interview question, the key is to utilize adjustable examples and storytelling techniques. Your stories should demonstrate your ability to resolve conflicts and adapt to challenging situations.

First, choose the best type of example or story that showcases your skills in internal collaboration. Think of a specific scenario where you dealt with a group project or a team member who was challenging to work with. Make sure your example is relevant to the position you’re applying for, as this will make it more impactful.

For example, you could tell how you took the lead in a group project with diverse team members, which led to miscommunication or disagreements. Explain how you stepped in, listened to everyone’s perspectives, and facilitated a solution that benefited the entire team.

Be specific when describing the situation, your actions, and the outcome. This will help paint a clear picture of your problem-solving abilities. For example, detail the steps you took to resolve the issue, like identifying the root cause of the conflict, suggesting a compromise, or bringing in a neutral third party to mediate.

Avoid casting blame on others or making exaggerated claims about your contributions.

Part 11Mistakes to Avoid When Answering This Question

When facing the tricky question of handling difficult coworkers in an interview, there are specific pitfalls you should avoid. Keep these in mind to help you craft a smart, confident, and well-presented answer.

First, avoid blaming or speaking poorly of others. While it’s natural to explain the challenges you faced with a coworker, keep it professional and focus on the actions and behaviors rather than the person themselves. Emphasize that you understand that different people have unique work styles, and your goal is to collaborate effectively.

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Next, don’t overemphasize your own role in handling the situation. While it’s important to discuss what you did, remember to show that you are a team player who values input from others. Demonstrate that you are open to feedback and willing to communicate with your colleagues to address any issues that arise.

For example, instead of saying you were solely responsible for resolving a problem, mention that you worked closely with other team members or sought advice from your supervisor.

Also, it’s crucial not to be vague when answering this question. The hiring manager wants to see that you have a clear understanding of the situation and what steps you took to address the issue. So, show them by providing specific examples of your actions and emphasizing problem-solving skills.

For instance, instead of just saying that you spoke with a challenging coworker, provide some context like how you arranged a meeting to discuss a project disagreement and were able to reach a common ground through open dialogue.

Lastly, avoid portraying a negative attitude throughout your answer. Maintaining a positive and professional tone shows that you can handle tough situations without allowing emotions to cloud your judgment. Approach the question as an opportunity to showcase your ability to navigate complex work scenarios and remain an effective, collaborative member of a team.

Part 12Focus on Self-Improvement Opportunities

When faced with a tough interview question about working with a difficult person, focus on your self-improvement opportunities. Instead of dwelling on the negative aspects of the situation, showcase your growth and adaptation skills. This will demonstrate both your confidence and ability to remain neutral in challenging situations.

So, instead of getting stuck in the negative details, calmly share an experience, emphasizing the results and valuable lesson you learned. Make sure to include how you managed your emotions and applied what you learned to solve problems and improve productivity.

For example, In my previous role, there was a team member with a different communication style than mine. At first, we had some misunderstandings, but I took the initiative to understand their perspective and adapt my approach. As a result, we were able to work seamlessly together and increased our project’s efficiency.

Another example, I once worked with a colleague who had a tendency to be overly critical. Instead of letting their criticism affect my emotions, I calmly listened, and when appropriate, offered constructive feedback for improvement. In doing so, we both improved our skills and produced better results for the project.

When answering such questions, your main focus should be on how the experience helped you grow professionally, whether it was by honing your conflict resolution skills or enhancing your ability to navigate varying work styles effectively.

Sample Answers to Additional Questions

Part 13“How do you handle working with someone who has a challenging personality?”

“When working with someone who has a challenging personality, I try to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. I take the time to get to know their perspective and try to find common ground. If necessary, I will also set boundaries and communicate my needs clearly to ensure a productive working relationship.”

Part 14“How have you resolved conflicts in a professional setting in the past?”

“In the past, I have resolved conflicts in a professional setting by actively listening to the other person’s perspective and working together to find a solution that meets both of our needs. I also try to maintain a calm and professional demeanor, even in heated situations, to ensure that the conversation remains productive.”

Part 15“What strategies do you use to adapt to working with a colleague you find difficult?”

“When working with a colleague I find difficult, I try to adapt my communication style to better suit their needs. For example, if they prefer direct and concise communication, I will try to be more succinct in my messages. I also make an effort to build rapport with them and find common ground to help build a positive working relationship.”

Part 16“How do you ensure smooth communication with a team member who is hard to work with?”

“To ensure smooth communication with a team member who is hard to work with, I make an effort to be clear and concise in my messages and to actively listen to their perspective. I also try to avoid making assumptions and ask clarifying questions to ensure that we are on the same page. If necessary, I will also set clear expectations and boundaries to ensure a productive working relationship.”

Part 17“Reflecting on a past experience, how did you ensure project success despite differences with a coworker?”

“In a past project, I worked with a coworker who had a different approach to task management. To ensure success, we openly discussed our differences and outlined each person’s responsibilities. By regularly updating each other on our progress, we were able to maintain a clear understanding of our joint efforts and achieve project success.”

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