Dealing with conflict requires a values-based approach

Dealing with conflict requires a values-based approach. Here’s why

Conflict within the workplace can be frustrating to handle if you don’t have the right tools. Not only can workplace conflict decrease productivity, but if not addressed correctly, workplace conflict leads to bitterness and resentment among coworkers, creating an unhealthy environment at best- and a toxic environment at worst. 

Transforming conflict to be productive means dealing with workplace friction. How can you make sure your team stays focused on their values and priorities? 

Imagine your workplace is a rowboat. When the going gets tough, do you want to be the only one rowing? Or do you want to build a team where everyone rows together and in the same direction? 

The greatest sources of conflict are growth and change, and if you don’t tackle the change from the right perspective , you could easily find yourself in a boat full of people who either passively row in a different direction or even simply refuse to row along with you.

Adapting to change is critical – in both our professional and private lives – and dealing effectively with conflict separates those who excel from those who simply go in circles.

Let’s talk about an approach to change and conflict that advances your goals, as well as those of the people around you!

Defining conflict objectively rather than subjectively

When we think of conflict, we might envision intense fighting and arguing. However, for the sake of argument – if you’ll pardon the pun – I’m going to define “conflict” as:

Any situation in which you and another person’s or organization’s desires, goals, and concerns differ from each other’s.

When we define conflict this way, we can see that conflict is a much more common occurrence than we may think!

When you consider a sporting event, it’s a given that a competitive conflict exists: one team is trying to outscore the other, that’s the point.

But what if the players aren’t following the same rules or upholding the same standards? What if, even among teammates, there’s a disagreement about what the coach has taught the players and the most effective way to execute it?

There would be negative, unproductive conflict.

Viewing conflict through this lens allows us to realize that conflict does not have to be as negative as we perceive it to be. With this perspective, we can view conflict less as something to be won or avoided, but instead as a puzzle to be solved by all parties involved. 

The two continuums of conflict

From my years of experience as a workforce wellness expert, I’ve found that when seeking conflict resolution, it’s essential to consider the following two questions:

1. What is the value or importance of the goal?

2. What is the value or importance of the relationship?

Almost all conflict occurs for two reasons: differences in values and differences in Natures.

A person’s nature, which can also be referred to as personality, determines the way people approach situations involving change or conflict. Some individuals make decisions based solely on objective criteria, such as policies, procedures, rules, and standards, regardless of personal feelings. 

For these people, choices are binary – black or white.

Others, however, rely heavily on subjective criteria when making decisions. They are more inclined to consider extenuating circumstances, give someone the benefit of the doubt, offer second chances, and view conflict more relationally. 

For them, the world is not always black and white; there are shades of gray.

Neither approach is inherently right or wrong. The key to effective conflict resolution is finding a balance between these two decision-making styles in the workplace, especially when dealing with change. 

Additionally, differences in values cause conflict when two or more parties disagree on the importance of certain held beliefs and their effect on a situation’s outcome. When one feels that their values are being threatened, it can sometimes feel like an attack on the self. 

Effectively managing the tension between goal-driven and relationship-driven approaches can lead to more effective conflict resolution.

All values have short-term costs

To balance the tension between goals and relationships in solving conflict, you must determine on a case-by-case basis which has more value to you. 

For example, certain situations require you to place your personal goals above your relationship with someone. If this is someone whose values do not align with yours or who you are not close to, the health of the relationship might be the price you have to pay in order to advance.

On the other hand, if the value of the relationship is more important, there’s a good chance that some goals will be sacrificed…and possibly never accomplished.

All values have short-term costs. Depending on the situation, prioritizing one value might mean sacrificing another. 

It is up to you to decide which values are the most important to you in a given situation. 

We can sacrifice our values – which impacts our thriving – for the sake of either the goal or the relationship, but you’ll be faced with one of following five scenarios: 

1. Win/Lose: Like a sporting competition, someone comes out on top.

2. Lose/Lose: Both parties avoid conflict, and nobody’s objectives are achieved.

3. Lose/Win: One party will lose so the other can win.

4. Win/Win: Both parties collaborate, the relationship is maintained, and goals are achieved.

5. Nobody loses: Otherwise known as a compromise and possibly the least constructive option when dealing with conflict.

You can dive into more detail on these concepts – the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode – here.

Think about the battles you choose, and how you value the relationships and goals… and the potential impact on thriving when you’re facing change.

Is there a right way to make the bed?

My wife and I were reminiscing the other day about when our children were younger. In that time of life, she had a way she expected  them to make their beds in the morning. 

And they frequently failed to meet her expectations. 

My wife had a choice to make: should she insist on remaking their beds according to her standards, or accept their best effort? What was the cost to her relationship with her children, and what was her goal?

In the end, she chose to accept their best effort rather than force her expectations onto them, which could have potentially strained their relationship. 

I’m a natural conflict-avoider. With my kids, I had to find a way to deal with our differences that weren’t just creating Win/Lose scenarios… or allowing myself to be taken advantage of because I would avoid conflict rather than hash it out.

How did we learn to balance the tension between our relationships and our goals in conflict? A values-anchored approach. 

We had to learn how to see and interpret the facts

A values-anchored approach is a third-party perspective – the view from 30,000 feet.

Effective, values-based conflict resolution requires you to clarify your mindset and know how to interpret the evidence or facts in front of you.

Begin this process by taking notes.

After an inciting incident, it’s vital that you put your thoughts down on paper, so you’re not relying on the imaginings in your mind. Write down what you’ve observed, as well as what you believe the other person has observed.

Then, meet the person you are in conflict with face-to-face and say, “Here’s what I thought we had agreed to.”

This process allows you to separate your personal biases from a situation and look at them from an objective standpoint. Whether your values are transparency, clarifying goals and expectations, communication… you’ve taken the “behavior” out of the equation.

If you hadn’t clarified your expectations beforehand, established your values, and collaborated on your goals and relationship, this will probably be difficult… but illuminating.

Now you can manage the change, resolve the conflict without the cloud of misperceptions, hurt feelings, and judgment.

Be wary of a “winning” attitude

Another important thing to note: conflict is not always about winning!

If the goal is always to win, you display the need to always have control in a situation. If you need to win every disagreement, difference, and debate, I guarantee one of two things will happen:

  • You will win all things because people will not debate or argue with you.
  • You will be surrounded with “yes people”.

Remember the rowboat analogy? When you view conflict as something you always need to win, you create more work for yourself as you are now the only one rowing.

If your priorities are winning arguments rather than finding meaningful solutions to conflict, it might be time to e-value-ate your values. If you take a value-based approach to change and conflict resolution, you’re more likely to get everyone rowing in the same direction and with equal effort.

Conflict occurs frequently in the workplace due to the constantly changing nature of the workplace.  Instead of floundering in the midst of change, help your team get ahead of the potential disruption and engage your team in solid change management strategies.

Would you like to learn more about change management and conflict resolution?

I can help. Let’s talk.

Enjoyed this article? Here are three more to help you:​​

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Organizations across North America have been benefiting from FORTLOG’s Interpersonal Crisis Management, Coaching & Consulting services for over 30 years, counting on John to help shepherd them through their most challenging storms. Today, a growing number of workplaces benefit from John’s proven strategies, systems and speeches that focus on integrating core-value practices “not just policies and procedures''.

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