When Have You Disagreed With A Manager?

Updated: Mar 18

Today I wanted to get into another deep dive of one of the most common interview questions you’re likely to get at your next interview. That question? "Tell me about a time you disagreed with your manager."

We have all disagreed with our manager or supervisor at one point or another. Conflict happens, however it can be especially difficult when that conflict is with somebody in authority over you. Although we might feel like it, calling your manager a moron isn't the optimal first choice when addressing this situation.


The first thing to keep in mind when answering this question is that it's a behavioral question, meaning we're going to answer it a little differently than other interview questions. At it's core, it just means we're trying to tell a good story that puts us and our actions in the best light, but commonly the interviewer will ask you to answer in a specific format. The S.T.A.R format (Situation, Task, Action, Result) is probably the most common way to approach behavioral questions.

With that in mind, let's go ahead and get started with some of the keys to answering this question. First though, let's nail down the main reason they even ask this question! All behavioral questions provide insight into the candidates personality and behavior, but this particular question aims to determine if you're the kind of person who is able to respectfully disagree with management, back up your disagreement with reasoning, but still do what's asked at the end of the day. Sound simple? Probably easier in an interview response than dealing with that type of conflict in real life, but lets start with the interview question and maybe tackle real life work situations later.

Tip #1: Extra Perspective

Instead of getting straight into the response, I have always liked to throw out a quick pre-curser to my actions by simply explaining my overall views on the matter. It’s just an easy way to give them some extra perspective into how you deal with difficult situations and help you stand out amongst the other candidates. In this situation I like to mention how much I value open communication, and that a lack of communication is usually the source of conflict. Instead of talking behind people's backs I prefer to have a direct conversation as quick as possible to figure out where the real issue's lay and fix the problem as soon as possible. This can be anything related to the interview question, it's really just a chance to throw in some extra distinguishing characteristics for your interviewers to remember you by.

Tip #2: Right or Wrong, Doesn't Matter

We're always tempted to put ourselves in the best light when answering these interview questions, and I'm not here to tell you not to do that, although I just want to throw it out there that when you bend over backwards to make it sound like nothing is your fault, it kind of backfires. Honestly though, it's less important than you probably think when answering these questions. Unless using a very similar situation to one you'd be expected to face at your new job (which I don't recommend), the point of this question is really to see how you fixed the situation, whose fault it is doesn't matter much.


Similarly, when it comes to any conflict, whether or not you’re were right in the situation honestly has little relevance, especially when discussing a story about you and your manager. In most cases, your boss is the responsible party at the end of the day, therefore the final decision rests with your boss (whether or not it's a dumb decision). When you’re the boss you can listen or ignore your direct reports.

Tip #3: Bringing Up Your Concerns

It is up to you to make sure that you bring up your concerns with your manager when you disagree. Now I'm not saying you need to speak up every time you disagree with anybody, that could just be asking for problems, but if you have a good reason for thinking there is a better solution to a problem, it is your responsibility to bring up that concern to your manager in a respectful way. The key here is not simply letting your manager know that you disagree with them, but bringing up the reasoning behind that disagreement (ideally backing that up with data... managers love statistics). This is one of the key tenants of this question, being able to vocalize your disagreement in a respectful and effective manner. The absolute worse thing you can do is stay quiet and go behind your managers back!


Tip #4: Don't Badmouth Anybody

When answering this interview question, do not disparage your boss or badmouth anybody involved in the situation. The purpose of this question is to see how you handled a stressful situation with your manager, not judge whether or not your manager's ideas were right or wrong. Put your pride away here and simply show them that you're a problem solver (regardless who created the problem) because that's what they're really interested in. Along the same lines, nobody cares if a situation from one of your interview responses was your fault or not. It doesn't really matter whose fault it was as long as you're showing how you managed to make the situation better. Complaining or being defensive doesn't make you come across any better, and actually probably makes you look petty and childish.

Now that we've covered some of the key details to pay attention to while forming your response, lets take a look at a sample answer to the interview question "Tell me about a time you disagreed with your manager."

Sample Answer:

"I find that most conflicts in the workplace are communication based. Either something was miscommunicated or simply wasn't communicated at all. It’s for this reason that I like to handle most conflicts by simply having a quick conversation with the person to understand their perspective and see where the disconnect is. For example, a few years ago I was working at an IT help desk

I was on the phone with a customer who had been passed around between different departments and was very frustrated by the time she got on the line with me. After listening to her I understood that I couldn't directly solve her problem, but instead of transferring her call to a different department again, I reached out to a colleague who I knew could help solve her problem, and together we were able to fix the issue.

I was later confronted by my manager who scolded me for taking so long on the call. He said that I had been taking too long on most of my calls and that I needed to spend less time on each call in order to get through more customers.

I disagreed with that point of view, and felt that I needed to explain why it was important that I spent the extra time on the call. I let him know the situation and that by spending the little bit of extra time on my end, I was able to save the customer much more time and frustration than she would have experienced if I had just transferred her call. Frustration that she would have directly associated to our department. Even after my explanation, my manager still disagreed with my actions and stressed the importance of getting through callers more quickly so that we didn't have such a high wait time.

While I still didn't agree that we should sacrifice good customer service just to get through calls quicker, I did understand his point that we often had people waiting on hold, and that made for a negative experience for those customers.

As a result of that conversation, I made a conscious effort to improve the efficiency of my calls where possible in order to ensure other customers didn't have to wait as long to talk to somebody."

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