[Career in Data Analytics] 3 Real Stories Help You Answer Conflict Management Interview Questions

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Preparing a Good Story for Behavioral Interview Questions

Edited by Lin; Xuankun June 10, 2020


“Tell me about a time when…”

When you hear a similar phrase in an interview, you know that it is time for some behavioral questions. You are expected to tell a story about how you reacted in past situations.

Conflict Management

It could be a conflict with a coworker, a senior manager, a client, or a teammate from a school project.

What makes a good story to show your conflict management skills in an interview?

🔸 A simple background — you can explain it in a sentence or two

🔸 A clear explanation — explain the problem in a way that is easy for the audience to understand

🔸 A practical solution — how you make other people feel good and the situation becomes better

At FocusKPI Analytics Community, we had a mock interview session on June 9, and some of the attendees shared their stories. Let’s hear the stories first and see how we can learn from them.


The following advice is provided by Joseph Ogrodowczyk.

Joseph Ogrodowczyk is the Director of Analytic Solutions at FocusKPI, Inc. With more than 18 years of experience in data analytics and management, Joseph is an expert at providing analytical solutions and using actionable data to produce quality predictive models.

You can contact Joseph at joseph@focuskpi.com.


NO.1 — “I had a conflict with my new manager.”

Attendee 1: I had a conflict with a new supervisor. I don’t think he’s qualified for the job.

The leadership hired this person who has an IT background, and my background is more in data analytics. You know, an IT person cannot take over the data analytics job.

He was in that position but he did not listen to my advice. So that makes it worse.

Joseph: The situation is that you got a new manager who allocates work towards you. You don’t feel that he is qualified for that job or even understand your work. Then the question becomes how you managed that and how you interacted with that?

Attendee 1: In that situation, he made a mess, and there were complaints against me, which I never had before. I then talked to the higher-level managers, like the direction level.

Joseph: If you were to present this situation as a conflict management situation in an interview, I would say shorten everything that you just said. Because what you just said is the background of the conflict. Instead of that, you can discuss more how you deal with managers whose expertise is not in data science. I wouldn’t say he doesn’t qualify for the job.

Back to your situation, if a data scientist has an IT manager, how do you respond in that situation? That is what I would recommend you talk about.

Our first step is to negotiate how to get the job done. Your way to handle that conflict was to discuss the priorities with the IT manager. Then, unfortunately, you felt as though you needed to escalate the situation. So you checked in with the upper-level management because you wanted to clarify the priorities of the IT manager.

Again, it’s got to be on the actions of what you did. The data scientist works with the IT manager as much as you can. There was still some confusion after that about what the priorities were. So I went to the senior manager’s boss, and I requested clarification on those priorities from a higher level. That’s how I would phrase that.

NO.2 — “I had a conflict with my teammates in an academic project.”

Attendee 2: My conflict is about an academic project, one of the experiences that I had when I worked as a data science student consultant.

There is a startup company located in Dallas. One of the conflicts that I faced was that the company wanted to employ some artificial intelligence or data science capabilities in the auto machine learning platform. They wanted to stick with the traditional methods. For example, one hot encoding or something like text encoders, but I told them to shift from the traditional methods to something else, to reduce the dimensionality. For example, when they have a text column with high dimensionality or large number of categories, I asked them to reduce the dimensionality by introducing some new modern methods.

Joseph: As I stated in the above case, some of the critical questions are how you handled that. What you did. In this case, how did you mitigate the situation and made it better? That’s what the interviewer wants to know.

Attendee 2: I had worked on some other data science projects wherein I had gained some experience. Instead of these traditional methods, I researched more on some new modern methods that are on data cleaning or on text encoding, and learned more about label encoders and new binary encoders, minimum hash and etc.

Joseph: In this paragraph, you included too much detail. The reason I’m saying this is because you can always drill down. If you can summarize what your problem is at a higher level, when you’re not with someone who’s a data scientist, they’ll be able to understand that skill set of you.

There’s this conflict, and you did some research to find out new methods. Now, what did you do with that research? How did you convince them one way or another to do what you wanted?

Attendee 2: This new method had been implemented in one of my projects, so I just had to show them that and they were satisfied.

Joseph: You’re on this team. You suggested a solution, and you got pushed back, and they said they don’t think these were good enough. Then your approach was to get some evidence to show them this is an appropriate methodology. You went, and you got that. You discuss that methodology with them. And they agreed that this is a good use to include in the project.

Hearing it from a different viewpoint, you can kind of summarize it differently.

NO.3 — ” I had a conflict with my clients.”

Attendee 3: That was my last internship. There was a stock board opened, and most of my clients thought it would be a lucrative opportunity to step in and gain a lot of money. However, as a personal financial manager assistant, I also knew there were great risks involved which many of my clients didn’t see. So there was a huge conflict between me and my clients when I wanted to persuade them to not put a huge amount of money into the stock market because of the risks.

Joseph: When the company asks you a question about conflict management, you need to condense that. The recommendation is to shorten that explanation of what the conflict was and say more about how you solve it. What I want to hear from you is how did you manage that?

For example, How did you deal with your clients, they’re pushing you to put this money in? What kind of response did you get?

Attendee 3: The first thing I did was to conduct a risk quiz to see what kind of investors they were. Because some of them were rather cautious and the others were more adventurous. It was important to determine their investment ideology.

And for the second thing, I asked them about some specific details about the stocks they were interested in. For example, there’s a startup that was about to be in the market. I asked them how much they knew about the company and to see if they had taken a look at the start-up’s financial statement. If I figured that they did not know much about that information, I would persuade them to buy funds instead.

Next, for some particular clients, who had a history of being too risky that they had lost a lot of money. I would tell them even though the new board would be lucrative, it might not be the best choice for them to invest in.

Joseph: Do you have clients who didn’t like your answer? When you know that it is going to be an uncomfortable conversation, how do you approach that?

How do you manage that? How do you show with what you did that you understand other people, and you won’t get people mad at you? That’s essentially what they’re trying to ask.

Attendee 3: I stepped into their shoes. First, I came up with a very easy example: If you have $10, how much dollars you bear to lose? Some of them say maybe two or three.Then I tell them, from my experience, and based on the fact, it is possible for you to lose at least 40% of your investment on the first day. I asked them if they can take that.

So I made the example clear and simple. Most of them were persuaded by me. It was true that on the first day, the change in stock price was pretty drastic.

Joseph: This example does show how Attendee 3 understands what his client’s needs were. Putting yourself in their shoes is a great phrase by simplifying an explanation for them.

If this question were to come up for you, you can shorten the intro and just say that I worked in the financial sector, shortly before there was some IPOs or some crash, like economic change. It was risky. And especially for those clients who pushed back on and wanted to do something that was outside of their risk zone, I evaluated them using a test and then simplified the example for them. In the end, they understood my point. And they felt confident in not doing what they had said they would do before. That’s how I would phrase that.

Conflict Resolution

Put things in a way that other people can understand them. Focus on someone else and their perspective. That’s really what the conflict resolution is about.

If you can put yourself in someone else’s perspective, you can explain things to them in their way. You help them to understand that they are valuable, and they matter. A lot of times when we talk over people, they don’t feel like their reality is validated.

Conflict resolution and conflict management are all about validating the other person’s reality.

So when Attendee 3 went and got a little bit of research, what he was doing was validating the reality of his coworkers that this wasn’t a good thing. He didn’t get defensive. He said that he understands where people are coming from. That’s your point. “Let me get something to counter that so that we will all agree.”


If you are interested in this topic or have any related questions about our event and service, please reach out to NEWS@FOCUSKPI.COM.