“What makes you uncomfortable?”
This is an opinion question that isn’t asked too frequently. It requires you to balance honesty with putting your best foot forward, which can be tricky with this type of question.
Read on for a simple three-step process for crafting the best possible response.
Variations of This Question
There are different ways an interviewer might phrase this question:
- What takes you out of your comfort zone?
- What do you do in uncomfortable situations?
- Tell me about a situation when you were uncomfortable at work.
- What causes you discomfort?
- What kinds of situations make you uneasy?
- What is your greatest weakness?
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
This question is really about your limitations.
They’re looking to see if you have the resilience and mental toughness required for the workplace, and, in particular, the job you’re interviewing for.
Regardless of how well suited the role is, every job presents challenges that employees need to overcome. They want someone who will strive to solve problems and not just throw in the towel at the slightest inconvenience.
They’re also listening for specifics in your answer in terms of what tasks and responsibilities make you uncomfortable.
If you dislike the kinds of tasks or responsibilities most often called for in the job, you’re unlikely to thrive in that position or stick around long-term regardless of how determined you are about getting them done.
How to Answer: “What Makes You Uncomfortable?”
Below is our 3-part process for answering this question:
1. Tell Them What Makes You Uncomfortable
Start your answer by describing one thing that makes you uncomfortable, and why you find it difficult.
What you say here will shape the rest of your answer and reveal a lot about your character to the interviewer, so it’s important to get this right.
Think back to previous jobs you’ve held. What were the worst parts about working there? What aspects of the job caused you stress?
These might include:
- Working in large teams
- Coworkers doing something unethical
- Being in unorganized work environment
- Having to work independently
- Speaking or presenting to others
Be careful not to mention anything that will conflict with the job you’re interviewing for. If the position involves working with money, don’t say you’re uneasy about operating a cash register.
Finally, once you’ve told them what makes you uncomfortable, be sure to explain why this particular thing has that effect on you.
For instance, if you’re uncomfortable is working in large teams, you might say you have a difficult time putting ideas forward when everyone is trying to talk over each other.
Here’s an example:
“Conflicts with coworkers make me uncomfortable. I value communication and collaboration in the workplace, and tensions between colleagues only make that more difficult.”
2. Give a Real-Life Example
Next, build on your answer by describing a scenario that actually happened.
This not only adds credibility to what you said above, but it also sets you up to demonstrate that you can overcome this negative emotion (which you’ll do in the final step).
Don’t overcomplicat this, just keep it congruent with what you said makes you uncomfortable.
If you said you’re uncomfortable working in large teams, talk about a time you had to work in a large team. And if you said you’re uncomfortable working independently, talk about a time you had to work independently.
Aside from that, it helps to drive home how you felt in that moment using adjectives like stressed, guilty, anxious, and fearful.
Here’s an example:
“At my current job, one of my coworkers wanted to check my work before submitting it to our boss. She wasn’t my superior and this made me feel like she didn’t trust me. It caused me a lot of stress so I knew I had to address it.”
3. Talk About How You Overcame It
Finally, explain how you dealt with the situation.
This brings your answer full circle and shows the interviewer you had the self-awareness and maturity to tackle the issue head-on.
Talk about the steps you took, be it things you did internally or externally, on your own, or with another person.
These steps might include:
- Taking deep breaths and collecting yourself
- Brainstorming possible solutions
- Discussing your feelings with a trusted friend
- Using grounding techniques
- Approaching your supervisor for suggestions
- Increasing your skill level to gain more confidence
Remember, the resolution isn’t as important as how you got there, and ultimately what you learned from it.
Here’s an example:
“When I brought it up, it turns out she just felt responsible for helping me since she’d trained me from the start. I assured her it wasn’t necessary, and she was actually relieved. It just shows how simple misunderstandings can cause a lot of unnecessary emotion in the workplace.”
Putting It All Together (Example Answers)
Let’s look at some full sample answers following this structure:
Sample Answer #1: Disorganization in the Workplace
“I’m naturally a neat and tidy person, so when things are disorganized, I often feel uncomfortable. I prefer to know where items are and to access them easily.
In my last job, the front desk area was often messy and disorganized because others would leave items on it to be put away later. It made me feel uneasy and I found it hard to focus on my work with unfinished projects left out.
I took some time to brainstorm solutions. I also talked to my boss and asked if I could set up a desk organizer. He agreed, so I ordered one and asked each person to place their items in their own cubby. I felt much less stressed once the clutter was contained and the desk stayed neater.”
Sample Answer #2: Presenting to a Group
“I can be reserved, so public speaking has always made me uncomfortable. It makes me feel as though everyone is staring at me, and I can feel myself getting worked up when I need to speak in public.
In my current job, I often have to present research to the group. When I first started, my voice would shake and my heart would pound at the thought of it, and I’d dread my part of our weekly meetings, even though my presentation would take five minutes at most.
I decided to join Toastmasters, which is a group that encourages public speaking. Over time, I gained confidence and became less and less nervous. My new skills made me feel competent and unafraid of my presentations.”
Sample Answer #3: Working Alone
“I’m an extroverted and social person, so working alone makes me uncomfortable. It’s okay for a short period of time, but when I need to be alone at work for several hours, I feel uneasy and unsettled.
At one job I had at a store, I had to open by myself several days per week. The opening procedure took an hour, and we rarely had customers the first hour or two we were open, so I was all alone for that time. I didn’t like the anxious feeling I had during those hours.
I learned some meditation techniques and asked the manager if I could play instrumental music. She agreed, so I listened to relaxing tunes and if I felt anxious, I would take a few minutes to meditate. It really helped, and I even began to enjoy the solitude once I got used to it.”
How NOT to Answer
Finally, these are most common mistakes to watch out for when answering this specific job interview question:
Don’t Say Nothing Makes You Uncomfortable
While it’s temping to sidestep the question, saying you’ve never been uncomfortable at work is a bad idea.
Not only is this almost certainly untrue, but it shows a complete lack of respect for the question being asked. What’s more, it prevents you from developing an answer that demonstrates real self-awarness.
Being uncomfortable encompasses a wide range emotions, such as anger, guilt, anxiety, and nervousness. Unless you’re made of stone, you should be able to recall something in your work life that made you feel one of these emotions.
Don’t Say You’re Uncomfortable With Some Aspect of This Job
Avoid focusing on a situation you’re likely to encounter regularly in this job, should you be hired.
Employers want people who will be comfortable in the position; this indicates their competence as well as their ability to get the job done without spending time feeling stressed or not being able to concentrate.
Instead, focus on something that isn’t likely to surface in the job you’re applying for.
Don’t Describe Something That Still Triggers You
While honesty is usually the best policy, you should avoid talking about a situation that still invokes an emotional reaction.
You need to remain calm and professional during your interview; this is not an appropriate time to show fear or other strong emotions.
Stick to stories that aren’t too recent, and that you can talk about easily.
- Explain what makes you uncomfortable
- Share an example of a time you were uneasy
- Describe how you overcame your feelings
- Don’t say you never feel uncomfortable
- Don’t indicate you’ll be uneasy at the new job
- Don’t mention something that still bothers you