How to answer: “How do you deal with difficult people?”

By Robert Half on 26 August 2022

Dealing with difficult people, whether they be internal staff or external customers, is an experience that most professionals will have to engage with at some point during their career in Hong Kong.

More often than not, you may have done nothing wrong. But someone you are working with or trying to serve their request is either impatient or demanding more from you.

How you deal with difficult people is a question that employers may ask during a job interview, particular in roles where you will be dealing with clients or vendors on a regular basis.

Employers want to know that you have top-notch communication and critical thinking skills and can handle conflict if it arises.

Like any behavioural interview question, it is crucial to clearly (and concisely) articulate how you identify and approach challenging individuals.

Related: Questions to ask in an interview in Hong Kong

Here are three points to remember when explaining how you deal with difficult people in a job interview:

1. Be objective and give context

The first thing you do not want to do in an interview setting after being asked this question is engage in a blame game. It is easy to associate a difficult person with just being difficult – which is why it is important to provide context to the hiring manager.

Explain the situation clearly (but also avoid going down a lengthy rabbit-hole saga). Provide context and empathy (if applicable) to show that you understand differing perspectives and what might motivate others.

What you want to demonstrate to the interviewer is that you can objectively see two-sides of a story, and that you are not an employee who will simply find fault in others’ opinions, because that is not how to deal with difficult people and find a resolution.

Related: How to read body language in an interview

2. Detail how you resolved the situation

Once you have explained what happened when you were faced with a difficult person, explain the steps of how you addressed the challenge. Outline the steps and decisions you took to find a resolution when you and another colleague or customer did not agree completely.

What the interviewer wants to see here is how well you put your communication, negotiation or even persuasion skills in demanding situations to the test.

Was there something that you did that turned the tide? Did you offer to meet a colleague half-way or give the customer the opportunity to explain themselves?

Not all inconvenient situations find a resolution, nonetheless you should obviously share a scenario that ended with a positive outcome. So, choose your examples carefully.

Related: Five interview techniques and skills

3. Explain what you learnt from the experience

Reflection is a key part of challenging times and experiences. Particularly meaningful to one’s career is learning from past experiences to arm yourself with better knowledge for next time.

If you are asked about how you deal with difficult people during a job interview, this is a positive opportunity to share not only how you resolved a challenging situation, but equally essential what you learnt from it.

Perhaps you needed to demonstrate better empathy, or you may have rushed into a decision faster than you should have. Within the context of a successful resolution, showing the hiring manager what you learnt from this experience is a positive reflection of your humility and leadership in tough times.

Not always necessary, but you could also share how you may approach the same situation differently based on what you have learnt.

Related: Common job interview questions in Hong Kong

How to deal with difficult people – an influential interview question

Employers want every opportunity to find out more about how you think and operate in the workplace – how you manage pressure and how you respond to different situations.

The reality of the modern Hong Kong workplace is that while there are moments of happiness and celebration, there will also be moments that push and challenge you outside your comfort zone.

Managing tricky situations or people can highlight the many soft skills you have and show a future employer that you would be a valuable team member to rely on.

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