An extract from the Interview Question and Answer Book
AUTHOR: James Innes
How did you cope with the most difficult colleague youíve ever had?
Alternative and related questions
Have you ever had problems getting on with a colleague?
Is there anyone you currently work with that you find really difficult to relate to?
What sort of person do you find difficult to work with?
Have you ever had to work with someone really difficult?
The meaning behind the question
The way in which you answer this question will tell the interviewer pretty much everything they need to know about your interpersonal skills.
When it comes to dealing with interpersonal conflict, there are three main ways in which you might react:
- Do you clash head-on with difficult people?
- Do you find ways to deal with them?
- Do you run away and hide?
The interviewer wants to ascertain which of these categories you fall into.
Itís a probing question that will not only tell them how you are likely to interrelate with your colleagues but will also speak volumes about your character in general.
Whilst it might seem blatantly obvious what makes someone difficult to work with, the interviewer will also be interested in your perception of what makes a colleague difficult.
The correct answer is, of course, to convey to the interviewer that you firmly fall into the second category. You want to demonstrate that you are someone who, when faced with a difficult colleague (or customer, for that matter) will find ways to deal with them Ė and to put your relationship on a more positive footing. Itís a great opportunity to portray yourself as management material.
The interviewer wonít want to hire a hothead who is just going to clash with their colleagues, nor do they want to hire someone who is going to be prone to being bullied. Most working environments contain at least one Ďdifficultí person Ė itís the school bully syndrome. Itís a fact of life and THE TOP 25 TOUGH QUESTIONS: TAKING THE HEAT youíve got to show that you can cope with it Ė not only that you can cope with it but that you can, in spite of the difficulties, successfully work with such individuals. Empathy is very important but itís vital to be assertive with it or youíre not going to get very far.
Like everybody, Iíve certainly had to deal with difficult colleagues on occasion Ė colleagues who have failed to pull their weight, who have been too ready to blame others for their errors or who simply have an unpleasant and unprofessional attitude. Iím not afraid of making my opinion known and I believe that communication Ė especially in difficult or high-pressure situations Ė is essential in developing effective working relationships. Whilst some interpersonal conflict is inevitable, I donít believe in clashing head-on with a difficult colleague. Itís much more productive to try to understand them, to reason with them and to find ways of working through any difficulties you may have. Communication is the key. You often find that someone with whom you initially had difficulties can, once youíve reached an understanding, become a valued co-worker.