Answering the Interview Question: How Have You Built Bridges with a Difficult Co-Worker?



In this Going Deeper: Good, Better, Best series, we are featuring a set of articles designed to help you dig a little deeper into your interview answers. In this article, we’ll explore a question that reveals your ability to work well with others and collaborate.


Tell me about a time when you had to build bridges with someone you didn’t get along with?


Companies want people who can work together despite their differences and passionate opinions. At the end of the day, the Company is the one who signs your paycheck, so getting along and having a good attitude is essential. Yes, you might have some people around that don’t see eye to eye, but you need to let bygones be bygones and check your ego at the door.


Do you have the ability to build bridges? Can you appreciate another person’s viewpoint? Can you listen before casting judgment when dealing with others?


Sometimes Veterans get used to not questioning authority due to the rank structure involved in military service. Sometimes, people within specific rank categories (i.e. Officers, Warrant Officers, NCOs, Enlisted) can respectfully disagree. We also sometimes ask for permission to speak candidly and express our thoughts without fear of retribution. We all know the importance of chain of command and how to navigate this structure.


In interviews, you’ll need to demonstrate your ability to work with people of different levels within an organization regardless of what position they hold and how you respectfully embrace diverse viewpoints. Potential employers want to see that you can speak candidly and effectively when handling a difficult situation.


How well you can communicate your ability to get along with others for a common goal is essential. You need to provide specific examples of that difficult person who didn’t wish to cooperate. How did you manage to get the job done? How did you choose your words and open your ears? How did you improve your listening habits, earn trust and support them so that you could fully understand their point of view?


If you think about things you’ve done in the past, you can probably find one or two examples that would make for an outstanding response to this important interview question.


Be ready to explain what made this particular situation so challenging. What “people skills” did you need to rely on in order to accomplish the goal? Where did you find “common ground” and a “Win-Win”?


When explaining how you built bridges with someone you didn’t get along with, keep it positive! Walk the person through the story and explain the details carefully. Show the most emotion when you get to the end result of mission accomplishment. This is not a question about throwing a person under the bus; it’s all about how you convinced them to work with you to prevent the bus you’re both riding in from crashing.


Please feel free to share any examples you have demonstrating Collaboration.



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Frequent Contributor

This has been the hardest thing to adjust to. I often have to try and think like the other person from their point of view to see it differently so I can help resolve a situation. Sometimes if we look at how another person sees the job or project we can adjust and change our tact for that particular problem or issue to help resolve it.


I still think it is key to learn to express yourself appropriately though so you can make yourself understood too.

Community Manager
Community Manager

MsSpam: You bring up some great points here! How to resolve it and being aware of other's perspectives, as well as yours, can help for sure. Wise words you've shared here, Thanks! 


Chazz:  I'm wondering if you have some suggestions for me for the two situations below?  First, a bit of background about me:  I am the daughter of a career air force officer and then later worked as a civilian on a naval base, so I have a fair bit of familiarity with military protocol.  Now as a college counselor, I have attended multiple workshops about veterans transitioning to college/civilian life, but still I am stuck in the following two situations.


Situation #1:  As a college counselor, I occasionally assist veterans who are struggling with what you have mentioned here - building bridges with co-workers (except in this case, it's with other college students) - more specifically, difficulty with team projects without a stated hierarchy - such as happens with classwork team assignments.  The issue seems to be the lack of a clear chain-of-command as to who and how decisions are made. Utlimately, the veteran student usually prefers to work alone, but most professors do not accept this alternative.  I've understood the veteran's challenge, but have not had tools how to assist them over this difficult "hump".


Situation #2:  Recently, our office hired a co-worker who is a retired veteran officer.  Unfortunately, we are all having difficulty with this individual in our office.  Prior to her arrival, we always worked as a team with office problem-solving without "leadership" per se.  However, with the veteran's arrival, she insists either she is in charge of solving any office problems and we "obey" her, or she doesn't want to be involved when we problem-solve in our usual way.  "Just tell me what you want me to do after you decide" (which she may or may not agree with and then is disgruntled).  She does not seem to have a concept of working with a team of peers.  This situation is causing a lot of tension in our office.


The two situations above actually are similar.  I am having to address in my own office environment the very same issue I discuss with college students who are veterans - the concept of shared responsibility in decision-making without using a defined hierarchy.  It really is a challenge for all concerned.  Do you have any suggestions how I as a counselor can help advise veteran students?  Do you have any suggestions how we as co-workers in the office can address our challenge with the new veteran employee?


Thank you for any assistance or resources you might be able to offer.

Community Manager
Community Manager

LadyDi21: Thank You for visiting GOING CIVILIAN!


You bring up some great points and highlight some key challenges! A couple of thoughts:


Scenario #1: I think it might be helpful to somehow discuss the shared experiences we all had at our version of "Basic Training". No matter which rank, every Veteran went through some sort of scenario where they went back & forth from Leader to Follower. Everyone got a chance to do both. Someone - and in most cases it was a Drill Sergeant - pointed to somebody and declared them the Leader.


But, in civilian circles, that probably wouldn't go over well!


Since Veterans know the importance of understanding the chain-of-command, an initial or early discussion about establishing a hierarchy provides the College Student an opportunity to "say it without saying it". What I mean by this is that it could be presented as "Hey, I've got an idea! Let's figure out who's in charge of what!", rather than, "Hey! I'm Ex-Military! We need a Leader!".


Maybe it would be wise to ask for Volunteers to lead the Team. 


While some may attempt to work alone as "An Army of One", the reality is that College Students need to understand how to work well with others and recognize the fact that they're graded. This "graded exercise" involves how well you work together and your grade will reflect just that, is something that may need some emphasis as well. Same goes for life in the civilian world and learning this now would avoid issues later.


All in all, if there's no "stated heirarchy", he/she needs to step up and establish one. And, establish them early. It may also might be a good idea to evaluate role selection along the way to make sure everyone is on the same sheet of music, so to speak. Every Veteran knows the importance of Situation Reports (SITREPS) or After Action Reviews (AARs) from military service. Doing a spot check during the team project to see how things are going and the idea of leaving nothing to chance are familiar concepts to Veterans. They can relate to this idea easily, but I can't emphasize enough the importance of "Civilianizing it". You have to communicate this in terms non-Veterans can understand while demonstrating your ability to fit in. (Easy on the Military Bearing, if you will.) The Veteran/College Student understands these concepts, however, consideration for helping others understand this concept is essentially another form of leadership.


Scenario #2: This is an interesting situation as well. One of the things most Veterans need to adjust to is the local definition of leadership and teamwork. Our normal "default" setting is whatever military branch we served under, and that might not fit in a civilian work situation. We tend to go with what we know.


Since it looks like you have lots of peer-to-peer synergy happening with everyone treated as equal contributors to the overall team, you may wish to sit down with the new Employee and get to know her better - all with the mutual goal of better understanding of each other once you're done.


You can share the history and success of your current teamwork model. You can show how it works, not only by your words, but by other proof sources such as your Manager, any documented sources of your team's work, or your track record. At the same time, it will be important to hear her out so you can hopefully gain some insight as to how she can contribute to an already successful team - a team that works well together without regard to "rank", per se.


You mentioned your military experience as well. Maybe you can relate to her on that level and share some wisdom in a way that resonates with her. You might also consider reaching out to other former Officers in and around your team who can talk "peer-to-peer" based on shared experiences.


As you mentioned, I think these are in fact related in many ways. I think it is a tough challenge for any Veteran to "assimilate" fully into civilian work culture. I believe the concept of working together is something a Veteran can "wrap their brain around" if they can recall the culture they experienced during training - not that non-training experiences wouldn't provide this. But as a Veteran, training classes (Basic, AIT, OBC, Command & General Staff College, etc.) provided plenty of opportunities to work as a group. Pointing to those somehow may provide a point of reference to either the College Student or Former Officer Veteran. 


Hopefully this will result in less tension at college and the workplace. To this day, and I've been a civilian for 27 years, I still have to take a step back sometimes and remind myself where I've been while paying close attention to the work journey of others. At best, one can adjust their "default setting" early enough to avoid hindering the group so that maximum progress and teamwork can be achieved.


Let me know what you think.


Best Regards,