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I recently posted this question: How to handle hostility in interviews? which was marked duplicate and closed. I had also posted a similar question some time ago: Breaking the accent barrier in a telephone interview The questions are similar to an extent and even though I answer in the comments and specify that the second question is centered on how I can be better prepared for hostility in interviews (in my scenario arising out of communication-al challenges), I wasn't clear enough for members of workplace. How could I have been more clear in expressing the differences between both these questions?

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    When I read the question, my sense was it was more about the hostility aspect, than about the accent barrier. Perhaps I was wrong? It's hard to tell. – Joe Strazzere Nov 15 '13 at 14:12
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    @JoeStrazzere Just the both of us who read it that way, I guess :) Based on the answers here, I have made some changes for greater general use of that question. – happybuddha Nov 15 '13 at 17:42
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Executive Summary

If you want to make your questions clearer and more distinct:

  1. Explain the situation objectively
  2. Stop focusing on irrelevant details
  3. Listen to constructive feedback

Explain the Situation Objectively

Your question was filled with your own bias:

It was a coding test and the person on the other end interviewing me was a person with a very heavy accent (The accent was middle Eastern/Asian but his enunciation of words was more in line with how Cantonese/Mandarin), and, in hindsight, subtle hatred towards the US in general.

When after 5 minutes of back and forth on 'Did you mean X/Y/Z' when I finally understood what he wanted, I said 'I see, you want an empty array created ?' to which he angrily replied "Is that how Americans call MTRI, huh ?". Some more subtle chiding and a few other sarcastic remarks were also passed during the rest of the interview.

As expected, very unfortunately, I did not make it through and lost an opportunity with a supposedly great Australian firm. However unjust I may think my technical evaluation was, what are some of the ways one can handle these types of situations in the future ?

The bold phrases show your personal bias toward the situation. It is natural to feel this way, but when you put it in the question, it taints the potential answers and implies that you are looking for people to agree with you, rather than inviting people to look at the situation objectively, and determine for themselves what types of strategies may work.

Stop Focusing on Irrelevant Details

You say the question is, "How to handle hostility in interviews?" so focus on that rather than trying to explain the details of why the hostility happened. You explain many details that are irrelevant to the actual hostility:

  • The accent was middle Eastern/Asian but his enunciation of words was more in line with how Cantonese/Mandarin
  • During the interview he wanted me to create an empty array of Strings in java. He said, "I want create MTRI (Em-tee arr-eye, literally pronouncing individual letters)"
  • Ironically, MTRI also is used commonly to point Mother Tongue/Regional Influence issues in accent/English correction classes
  • Some more subtle chiding and a few other sarcastic remarks were also passed during the rest of the interview.

These details are irrelevant. There was a miscommunication which caused friction in the interview. How can you overcome the friction in an interview after a misunderstanding?

Listen to constructive feedback

You have a habit of dismissing the feedback of people who comment on your questions. You try to convince them why your question is fine as it is, rather than accepting the constructive criticism as an opportunity to improve it.

Shockingly, this rubs a lot of people in the wrong way.

If you aren't writing objectively, and put in a lot of irrelevant detail, people have to parse through those parts and interpret them to get to the question. The more they have to wade through, the less likely they will come to the same conclusion you did in your question. So when they do wade through it and come away with a different message, this is great feedback on how to improve your message.

If someone comes away from your question with, "So you had trouble understanding an interviewer, this seems like the same problem as this other question" it means that you are probably focusing too much on the accent portion, and not enough on the hostility portion. Take comments as community willingness to help improve your question, not an opportunity to be defensive.

Revised Question

So following these comments, I would edit your question to read as follows:

How can I clear the air after a misunderstanding in an interview?

I was having a technical interview by phone when I had a misunderstanding with the interviewer causing friction that hadn't been there at the start. The interview went downhill and I didn't get the job.

Misunderstandings happen, and can't be entirely avoided. How can I clear the air after a misunderstanding in an interview to prevent it from turning the tone of the entire interview negative?

Note that this revised question:

  1. Does not place blame (it is objective)
  2. Does not focus on the details of the misunderstanding
  3. Does not sound anything like the prior question about accents

I am not going to make this edit myself, but if it were to read something like the above, I would happily reopen, upvote, and answer it.

  • IMO, this is your first positive and a really constructive answer to my question which has made me see the mistakes I made. Thank you. – happybuddha Nov 15 '13 at 17:40
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You could have removed the specific references that made everyone but you realize that the problem was that you were misunderstanding the interviewer due to his accent. And just focused on how you were perceiving his words rather than the specifics.

When you focus on the specifics it can be perceived as a rant by the people reading the question, and those people start to focus on the specifics and trying to solve the actual problem instead of the question you asked.

Here is a way you could have phrased your question:

I had attended a Skype interview recently with a pretty known firm in a foreign country. Part of the interview involved a fairly easy task but the interviewer used a term I did not understand. While trying to clarify the interviewer seemed to become hostile and made sarcastic remarks about people from my country. Eventually I was able to understand what he wanted and the interview progressed. But by this time the mood had soured and in the end the firm decided not to make me an offer.

What can I do to salvage an interview if it has turned based on a misunderstanding?

This becomes an answerable question... but I think you can probably also see that the new question is a duplicate of the question that your original version was closed for.


The other important thing to realize is sometimes you can not salvage a situation. There are points of no return where no standard answer is going to have an effect. There may be something you can do in the moment or very situation specific to save the interview. But in this case chances are by the time you recognized this interview turned it was beyond any standard response. So maybe you would be better of asking how you can better prepare for an interview to avoid it going south in the first place.

  • +1: You could have removed the specific references that made everyone but you realize that the problem was that you were misunderstanding the interviewer due to his accent... Here is a way you could have phrased your question... Great answer. – Jim G. Nov 14 '13 at 21:23
  • Ahh. The shades of ranting! Never ask a question while one is still grouching. Very nice answer. I do think that the question you phrased still talks about how a hostile interview can be saved instead of merely breaking the accent barrier – happybuddha Nov 14 '13 at 21:30
  • @happybuddha - Which leads you to the second half of my answer. If you want edit your original question and see if it gets reopened – IDrinkandIKnowThings Nov 14 '13 at 21:31
  • @happybuddha: If you accepted Chad's proposed revision in kind, I'd happily vote to reopen. – Jim G. Nov 15 '13 at 0:04
  • @Chad, I have used your suggestion and edited my question. Though yours is a fantastic answer, this time jmac's answer really cleared my thought process. – happybuddha Nov 15 '13 at 17:40
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How could I have been more clearer in expressing the differences between both these questions ?

I think the issue was the same in both questions, but you didn't realize it (and actually argued against it).

  • How are the issues same ? One talks purely about dealing with accents and the other talks about hostility in interviews. I so wish to realize it, but I somehow don't see what most members around are seeing so clearly. If providing clarification seems argument to you, well, who can do anything about it. I hope you dont take this comment as an argument, I am merely providing clarification – happybuddha Nov 14 '13 at 20:47
  • +1: Bingo! Winner winner chicken dinner. – Jim G. Nov 14 '13 at 20:57
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    To me, the first question was about accents, the second question was about hostility. I didn't see them as the same. Perhaps it was just me. – Joe Strazzere Nov 15 '13 at 14:14

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