How Do You Handle a Difficult Situation?

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April 30, 2020
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min read

Every company you interview with will ask at least one interview question on how you deal with difficult situations. The type of job you are interviewing for will determine how important your answer is. Below, we'll break down the reason these interview questions are asked and the best way to answer them.

Why interviewers ask about handling a difficult situation at work

Your future employer is gathering information on how you would handle the job when things get difficult. In most places you will work, you will be faced with a difficult situation at some point. The interviewer wants to know if you can handle it, and essentially if you would be a good fit in their work environment.

Asking these questions will help them determine if you are the right one for the job. A few examples of interview questions you may be asked are.

  • Do you work well under pressure?
  • Can you handle conflict without losing your cool?
  • Do you have a way to help diffuse situations?
  • Share story of a time you handled conflict in the workplace.
  • Have you handled a difficult colleague or client in the past?
  • Do you have a technique to deal with a certain difficult situation that may arise?
  • How do you handle inappropriate comments in the workplace?

How to answer an interview question on handling a difficult situation

Candidates should prepare to discuss in detail how they would handle a difficult situation at work. You will want to have one or two examples of times you dealt with conflict at work in the past. Make sure you have an example where you were able to help diffuse a difficult situation.

Avoid sharing a story that didn't have a positive result. Think of a time where things got hard and talk about the approach you took to help the situation. It's also a good idea to practice your answers.

Take some time before your interview to prepare. You might write down a few notes to remind you of the difficult situation you want to discuss.

Here are a few examples of difficult situations that can help you think of one or two examples from your past that you can use to answer a job interview question.

  • A project with an impossible deadline
  • A coworker making inappropriate comments
  • A difficult team member that does not work well with others
  • An experience where someone who works for you behaves inappropriately
  • Your manager asked you to let someone on your team go
  • An unhappy client who has filed a complaint

Listen to the question the hiring manager asks and reply with an answer that ties back to the role you are interviewing for. One way to answer a question about a difficult situation is to use the STAR method.

It can help you better show how you respond under pressure. Make sure you hit each letter (situation, task, actions, and results) as you tell your story.

Final thoughts on handling difficult situations at work

Every professional will face at least one difficult situation in their career--likely many. Be prepared to answer a question or two on what you will do to get the job done when faced with adversity.

If you don't have a good answer to a question about dealing with conflict, find a way to guide the conversation. You can mention that you are working to handle conflict at work in new ways, or that it's a weakness of yours that you are working to turn into a strength. Remember, honesty is key, but the comments you make during your interview will affect whether or not you land your next job.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the STAR method for answering questions about handling difficult situations?

The STAR method is a structured approach for responding to behavioral interview questions by discussing the Situation, Task, Action, and Result. When asked about a difficult situation, you would describe the context (Situation), explain your responsibility (Task), detail the steps you took to address the challenge (Action), and share the outcome of your efforts (Result). This method helps you give a clear and concise answer that showcases your problem-solving skills.

Can you give an example of a good response to a question about a difficult situation?

A good response to a question about a difficult situation would be: "In my previous role, I encountered a situation where a project deadline was at risk due to an unexpected team member's absence (Situation). My task was to ensure the project stayed on track (Task). I re-assigned workloads among the team and adjusted the project timeline to accommodate the change without compromising on quality (Action). As a result, we met the deadline and received positive feedback from the client for our timely delivery (Result)."

How can I show emotional intelligence when describing how I handle a difficult situation?

To show emotional intelligence when discussing how you handle a difficult situation, focus on your ability to understand and manage your emotions, as well as those of others. For example, you might say, "I recognized that the team was stressed about the tight deadline, so I organized a brief meeting to address concerns and provide encouragement. By actively listening and showing empathy, I was able to boost morale and improve our collective focus, which contributed to successfully overcoming the challenge." This response demonstrates self-awareness, empathy, and the ability to navigate emotionally-charged situations effectively.

Dave Fano

Founder and CEO of Teal, Dave is a serial entrepreneur with 20+ years of experience building products & services to help people leverage technology and achieve more with less.

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