Being asked “tell me about a time you disagreed with your boss” in a job interview feels like a trap. What’s the right answer? What do they have to gain by asking you this question?
Why Hiring Managers Ask “Tell Me About a Time You Disagreed With Your Boss”
Behavioral interview questions are designed to get you talking about your past experiences so that you reveal what it’s like to work with you. In this case, the hiring manager wants to know how you communicate. It’s often believed that “past performance indicates future performance”. This question is designed to figure out how you would deal with any disagreements in the future with your potential boss.
Varieties of This Question
- How do you handle conflict?
- Have you disagreed with someone in your group?
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with a company policy
- Can you tell me about a time you made a mistake?
- Tell me about a time you failed
- Tell me about a time that you had a conflict at work
- Have you ever had a conflict with a coworker and resolved it?
- How would you resolve a conflict with a customer/client?
Admit That Conflict Happens
While this question can feel awkward to answer, it’s essential that you admit that conflict exists. When a potential employee says that they never argue with anyone, it comes across as disingenuous and phony. Doing this can throw your honesty into question, including your other answers to other questions. Your answers need to be authentic, so it’s important that you have a real answer for this question. Transparency and authenticity are crucial for building trust.
Make It Clear That This Isn’t Common
It’s also important to stress that you don’t often have issues with your boss! When asked “tell me about a time that you disagreed with your boss” no one wants to hear the answer “Oh, which time? There were so many!”. You can even take a minute before answering by saying, “Let me think for a minute.” before responding. While no one is expecting that you magically always agreed with your supervisor, they also don’t want to hear that you never agreed with them. This would be an immediate red flag for the hiring manager that you’re difficult to work with.
The key to answering this is to keep it professional and make sure the story ends with you resolving the issue. This is not the time to list complaints about coworkers, your boss, or previous workplace. You need to stay calm and professional, so no personal grievances. Staying away from personal issues is essential, since it comes across as petty. Focus on a work scenario and a time when you and your boss didn’t see eye-to-eye.
Talk about the situation and what led to a disagreement with your boss, whether it was miscommunication or a difference of opinions. Be sure to share both sides of the story, including from your boss’s point of view. If you can present this story with both sides of the story, you will come across as professional and logical.
Explain What Your Responsibility Was
After laying out the situation, explain what you were required to do and why there was an issue. Once the hiring manager understands the situation, they will understand what you were up against. Whether it was finishing a project with an unreasonable timeline or attempting to achieve unreasonable results, it’s important that the hiring manager understand why there was a conflict in the first place.
So what action did you do? Did you approach your boss for a one-on-one conversation? How did you solve the problem? You can show that you’re willing to take ownership of the issue and then solve it. This is exactly what the hiring manager wants to hear. Do not play down your part in diffusing the situation.
An ideal answer would have you in the role of resolving the conflict using at least one of the following:
- communication- did you need to listen to the other side, discuss what you did agree on, or clarify any past communication?
- compromise- did you need to find a middle ground?
- empathy- could you see where the other person was coming from?
- creative problem solving
The crucial part of your answer is your story’s ending. The ideal situation would be a positive result for everyone. Discussing what good came from the conflict shows that you are a great person to work with, even when there is an issue. Provide information about what you learned, what your boss might have learned, and how things progressed in the future.
Make Sure You Don’t:
- Give too much detail. Your whole answer should be under 5 minutes long.
- Give a negative opinion about your boss, the company, or any personal complaints
- Try to “prove” that you “won” this argument. This isn’t about whether or not you were right; it’s about how you handle conflict.
- Don’t bring up unrelated details or other coworkers. It’s about you and your boss.
What If I’ve Never Had A Conflict With My Boss?
If you’re just starting out in your career, it’s possible that you haven’t had enough experience to have a conflict with your boss. If you don’t have an example, don’t just say “that’s never happened to me!” and nothing else. Instead of saying nothing, explain how you would handle a hypothetical situation. Don’t overly practice your answer, but make sure you have something to say instead of how you have never had that issue. You don’t want to sound like it’s rehearsed, but you don’t want to be stuck without anything to say either.
To Sum Up How To Answer “Tell Me About a Time You Disagreed With Your Boss”
- Pick a time you really had an issue at work with your boss over a work-related issue
- Lay out the situation
- Explain what you were being asked to do and the problem itself
- How did you resolve it?
- Going forward, what happened differently?
Example Answer to Tell Me About a Time You Disagreed With Your Boss
“My boss wanted one of my reports to meet an earlier deadline than usual so he could present it at the next meeting with the client. I tried to explain that I couldn’t possibly complete the entire report to it’s fullest by that timeline, even with working longer hours. He insisted that he had to have it by that day.
I asked if my other responsibilities could wait or if someone else could take over temporarily. He wasn’t willing to do that, either. We then went over what goes into each part of the report. We then discussed how many parts the report had to have and how long each section takes me to put together. Neither of us were willing to compromise on the report’s quality, but he understood how long it took.
In the end, he was willing to postpone all of my other work and got another employee to help me out until the report was finished. I had to work some overtime, but he was able to present the report at the next meeting with the client. We both walked away with more understanding of how the other person works and what’s required to get the job done.”
Worried about other job interview questions? Check out our guides here: