Understanding Coworkers’ Values When Conflict Arises

By Vivian Scott

When conflict arises among coworkers, understand that everyone has a set of core values — things that are fundamentally important to them. Knowing that values are common motivators for people gives you greater insight into why certain conflicts happen. Identifying the values in a conflict helps you as a manager find resolution to the conflict.

Core values, which are sometimes called interests, are the underlying beliefs and principles that individuals carry around with them every single day. You’ll notice with your co-workers that a particular value is very important to one but not as important to another. You’ll also notice that a co-worker may value several things but not all to the same degree — some things are more important than others.

When the conversation changes from individual positions to what’s most important to everyone, you and your team can expand your options to include solutions that work for everyone.

People don’t have just one core value; they have a whole set of values with varying degrees of importance. These values affect how they act, react, and interact with their environments. For example, if an employee becomes upset when a customer is rude to her, that employee probably values respect, or common courtesy. If your boss gives you a raise because you always get your work done by the deadlines, your boss may value responsibility. If you feel frustrated and angry because a colleague lied to you, you may value honesty.

Values are unique to the individual, so don’t assume you’ve automatically identified the right value for a co-worker, or that you can label someone with just one value. If three staff members get upset because their meeting started 15 minutes late, that doesn’t mean they all value the same thing. One may be upset because starting a meeting late is disrespectful of his time, or because he values order. Another may be upset because family is the most important thing to her, and she’s missing time she could be spending with her family. And the third person may want everyone to show up for the meeting on time because that’s how adults show they’re responsible and accountable. All may additionally value honesty, which they feel has been violated, because previous agreements stressed that meetings should start on time.

When you’re dealing with a conflict at work, a person’s values show up in two ways:

  • A particular issue becomes a problem for an individual based on her values.

  • The people involved in the problem take certain positions because of their values.