Conflicting values

If you keep butting up against the same problem with a colleague – a problem you think you’ve fixed, but that comes up repeatedly in slightly different variations – it could be a sign of conflicting values.

Values conflicts often seem to arise over:

  • Money (fees, salaries and expenses)
  • Time (working hours, punctuality)
  • Effort and focus (work ethic, productivity, accountability)
  • How we treat people (respect, courtesy)

If it is a values conflict (and it’s worth double checking that it’s not a case of your own poor management), you can be pretty sure that it’s going to keep on appearing until you do some deep work to address it.

These conflicts are tricky to handle because they’re often both emotion-laden and subjective. That is, we’re all pretty sure we’re right, and we’re indignant about being wronged – and our feelings of indignation double when realise how the other side of the argument perceives the things we say and do.

Some questions for working on values conflicts:

  • What’s the history here? How has this problem shown up in the past, and what seems to be the root cause?
  • What shortcoming of yours might they think is the root cause?
  • How is everyone feeling about the issue? How will that affect the way they communicate?
  • Assume for a moment that they have the same values as you do on this. What might make them act this way?
  • What information are you missing (or failing to recognise the importance of) that would help you make better decisions here?
  • What information do they have that might help you?
  • What factors are you assigning importance to that they don’t know about or don’t recognise, and how can you close those gaps?
  • Get advice – think particularly about people who might be able to fill in the missing information, or give perspective on how each party feels and why – and point out to you when you’re being unreasonable?
  • Where does the power lie in this conflict? Does this affect how you should behave?
  • If you’re convinced there is a conflict in values – check that you’ve consistently demonstrated the value in question in your treatment of others. What do you need to change?
  • How can you talk about the value, sharing information and telling stories that weave it more deeply into your organisational culture?
  • How will this affect how you choose new colleagues, suppliers or partners?
  • Where are the lines you’re not prepared to cross?
  • Are there people – respected colleagues, board members – that you can involve in the process in a way that takes the heat out of the situation, or reduces the extent to which you are seen as responsible (or are responsible) for the point of conflict?
  • If (when?) you make a mistake in addressing this, how can you make sure that it’s a mistake on the side of kindness, generosity and trust?

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