Estimated reading time: 7 mins
Conflict of values at workplace is a common thing. In fact, if you are working in a dynamic company, you will find many instances where what you do or not do will conflict with your company’s values. In this blog post, let’s understand conflicts between personal and company values and see what can be done when you find yourself stuck in such a situation.
Ranking Your Values
Put it this way: assume that one of the main values at your workplace is “Accountability”. Every time your decisions and judgments exhibit this value, you will feel satisfied and at peace. You will be able to go straight into your boss’s room and tell him/her with pride that the project was completed as discussed and within the committed timeline. However, what if things don’t go according to plan? What if you have to tell your boss that the project will get late? You will probably feel uneasy and uncomfortable, thinking that you are to be blamed for the outcome. You are likely to experience values conflict as your decisions and behaviour did go against a top value of your company.
Now let us look at another scenario: your top values at workplace are “Excellence” and “Accountability” in that order. In this case, if you face quality issues that have affected the timely completion of the product, there might be no conflict of values because you considered the quality to be the most important factor, as it is your company’s top value and if this caused delay then you are not accountable. This is what you call “values trade-off” and it shows ranking your top values according to their importance. Do keep in mind that when working for an organisation, it doesn’t matter what the core values are or even what their priority order is, there will always be some conflict.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Conflict
Most of the big organisations promote a culture where employees are allowed to have a healthy conflict. This means there is willingness to disagree among employees around important issues, ensuring that all decisions are made with transparency and after listening to all stakeholders. These organisations are in a constant pursuit of truth and search for best answers possible. According to leadership consultants and behavioural experts, this is a healthy conflict and it promotes a higher degree of trust between employees and the management. Such cases also require core values that are clearly defined, allowing the employees to work through healthy conflict with the core values as the conflict resolution tool.
The problem is that in reality, most employees face a lot of unhealthy conflict at their workplace. You can tell that there is an unhealthy conflict when the argument is people-centric instead of problem-centric. Such arguments then lead to employees and management getting personal and sometimes even nasty with each other. If you ask me, I feel that most of these unhealthy conflicts are because of one thing and one thing alone: people blaming each other for own problems and weaknesses. The consequences of such unhealthy conflicts can be quite severe, from lack of commitment to work to complete dis-engagement of the employees. Being faced with an environment of unhealthy conflicts can also lead to increased turnover of employees because of dissatisfaction with the way issues are handled.
4 Tried and Tested Ways to Resolve Conflicts
Okay, so I have discussed healthy how unhealthy conflicts can be damaging your organisation. Now let us look at 4 possible ways for you to resolve these conflict of values:
- Ignore the Entire Matter. First off, look at the magnitude of the conflict. At times, the conflict is so small that it is almost irrelevant or has no serious impact on you or your company’s productivity. If you try to address such issues, you will only be creating a mountain out of a mere molehill. For example, a shipment is delayed by 20 minutes but no one is concerned about it. If faced with a benign conflict like this, the best thing would be to ignore it.
- Address it Directly. Many conflicts can be resolved if you address them directly. Conflict of values in an organisation can arise if decisions are made and actions taken that in turn result in a stated value being compromised. In such a situation, it is best to have a respectful and meaningful discussion with all people who contributed to the conflict or got affected by it. Sincerely apologising for missing a committed deadline and explaining constructive action points to prevent it from happening again might help deescalate the entire matter.
- Negotiate on the Matter. In some instances, a conflict can turn out to be much more complicated than initially anticipated. It can get even more complicated when there are more parties involved than originally considered. If this is a healthy conflict then you are just trying to find the best solution to help resolve a gnarly problem, even if it means having some heated discussion with others. It is imperative that you keep your focus on the problem and not the people involved. For example, the customers requested a new product feature that requires sacrificing a long standing value of simplicity and ease-of-use, which has been the differentiating factor for the company for years. You will have to discuss if this customer request should be ignored straight away or if it is the right time for the company to move the priority of its differentiating values. While there are no easy answers here, you will have to involve all stakeholders and work together in creating a viable solution that can be agreed on by all parties involved.
- Be the Mediator. In the unfavourable event of a conflict turning ugly and serious, it is important to take much more drastic actions. There might be significant financial implications or bruised egos getting in the way of resolving the matter. It can be that the management is always undermining his/her team. To be able to resolve such conflicts, you will have to act as a strong mediator. You will have to listen well, be able to influence other, ask thoughtful questions and then find a solution that works best for everyone. For example, if the project output is poor, there is low morale in the team, the customers are unhappy or deadlines are being missed all the time then there are greater issues at stake. It is important to bring in someone from outside to identify the real issues as egos might be clouding judgments from inside the teams. An outsider will be able to resolve the matter, as he will judge everything neutrally.
What Should You NEVER Do
The following are two very popular ways to deal with any conflict of personal and company values, both guaranteed to have disastrous results:
- Be in Denial. Many people have a fear of conflict and they do everything they can to avoid dealing with the issue at all. They live in this hope that maybe the entire conflict will go away if they continue to deny it. Unfortunately, such an attitude is never helpful as it only makes matters worse; giving it enough room to become an even bigger problem than what it was originally.
- Get in a Fight. Just like denial, some people think that if they get on the offensive, the entire problem will subside. However, the problem with this approach is that it just ends up making you a bully. You will not be able to stamp out a conflict by fighting others. Even if we dampen the issue for some time by our bad mouth, much severe consequences will rise from it.
- Make it Totally Personal. It won’t help resolve the conflict if you too turn it into a purely personal battle. Rise above it. I don’t mean this to be flippant – and I know it’s not always easy. Sure, you’re in this situation because of a painful impingement on your personal values, but any attempt to resolve it by making it just about you will cause you to fail.
The Bottom Line
You might be discouraged by an event at your workplace, questioning yourself if there is a conflict between your personal values and the values of your company. Usually, the conflict is not with the company as a whole, but rather with the management or fellow colleagues. The best way to manage any conflict is to analyse the situation. You should ignore the matter if it is a petty issue. The conflict should be addressed directly if you think you can get a solution by raising the matter. You must negotiate the matter if your own ego or that of a fellow colleague has been hurt. You can be the mediator if you believe you can help the organisation resolve the conflict by being the neutral eye. What you should never do is stay in a state of denial or escalate the argument by fighting your team or management. Keep your cool and focus on the problem, not the people.
Have you ever suffered from a conflict of values at your current or previous workplace? Share your stories in the comments below. Also, do check out the blog post on The Most Common Stresses in the Workplace and How to Deal with them and this blog post on knowing if you live your organisation’s values