Conflict is inevitable. 

It happens. 

However at the core of all conflict is a difference.  A difference in opinion, belief and values. It is our values that drive our behaviours and reactions so knowing which ones are important to us and our colleagues in the workplace can go a long way to prevent issues from erupting into some more serious.

It may be useful for you to know that values are intrinsic to who we are, they are what makes us tick and dictate how we behave and respond.  When they feel challenged, dismissed or threatened, we see red, we react, play up, lash out, shut down.

All of these responses can contribute to a toxic environment which is neither healthy or productive in the workplace.

Sometimes we don’t know what’s triggered us, we just react!

When we react, we may not be aware at the time what triggered us, but we do know that something pushed our button and created a knee jerk reaction.  Our behaviours are an expression of how we feel about a situation.  They show our world view and what is important to us.

Understanding the role values play can be the key to unlocking a myriad of conflict scenarios and the first step to prevent them reoccurring.

There are many psychometric testing and personality diagnostic tools available to understand the ‘type’ of people we are and these are used very successfully in the recruitment process and onboarding.  However they do not determine for example, why someone might over-react in a situation that to the rest of us may appear petty or irrelevant.  This is because the value that was triggered for this person, may not be at all important to the rest of us.

It is neither age, experience nor position that will dictate the scale of a reaction.

A confrontation is just as likely to happen in the Boardroom as it is in on the Shop Floor. In fact, the higher the stakes, the more there is to lose which often results in a more volatile outburst or entrenched standpoint.

I was called in recently to assist in a ‘situation’ between two Directors  (I will call them Peter and Simon), whose relationship had become quite volatile. It came to a head when one of them had his feathers ruffled one too many times and stormed out of a Management Meeting. 

It appeared to any observer that the straw that broke the camel’s back was a comment that one of them made about ‘a ridiculous idea’.  However after some gentle probing and questioning it became clear it wasn’t about this at all. (It usually never is!)  It related to a  meeting that took place a few weeks earlier where Peter had not been included. He had felt undermined and humiliated that other colleagues had been invited and not him.  

One of his highest values was inclusion.

And this had stuck with him bubbling under the surface until the meeting which is where he lost control of his emotions.

Fortunately with greater insight into what values they both prioritised as important, their relationship was restored to one of respect, professionalism and collaboration.

So to really anticipate how a colleague or partner might react, it’s a useful exercise to understand their values, what’s really inherent to who they are and what drives their behaviours. This will be a vital component to preventing a conflict free environment as well as creating greater harmony and productivity in the workplace and beyond.