How to Handle a Value Conflict

Published in


July 25, 2022


Milan Kordestani

Entrepreneur, writer, and founder of 3 purpose-driven companies oriented toward giving individuals control over their own discourse and creation. Milan works to produce socially positive externalities through a mindset of social architecture.

Hi! I'm Milan, an LA based founder and writer, architecting impact-first businesses.

Popular articles

Regulating Artificial Intelligence: Preventing Economic Disruption and Ensuring Social Stability

December Monthly Memo

Over the centuries, philosophers, psychologists, and great thinkers have all struggled to answer the question “Who am I?”

Today you can search online for an answer but it is not as easy to find. The real answer lies within yourself.

Our identity stems from our values and morality, which are shaped by what we believe in.

We are what we believe in. Every decision you make, no matter how small, is a reflection of your values.

You can use your moral compass to guide you toward what is right and good and act according to your ethics.

This combination will direct your actions and shape your identity.

What are Values and How They Get Formed?

The values you hold in your heart are based on your upbringing, environment, and experiences.

Honesty, kindness, integrity, truthfulness, curiosity, and helpfulness are the kinds of values everyone tries to inculcate in his or her life.

Although these value systems run deeper than moral guidelines. For example, you can value both success and helpfulness in life.

But would you trade your success to help someone? Maybe, maybe not.

It's all about your priorities, and that's what defines your value system.

Our values are personal to us because we each have our own priorities, and we might value honesty but act dishonestly when some other value takes priority.

 Your values are shaped by the qualities you nurture; as a result, your identity is also shaped by these qualities.

It's common to hear workplace conversations like, “I'd have asked him to come with me, but you know how loyal to work he is.

Or, “You can relax a little. You don't have to be politically correct all the time.”

Statements like these shed light on a person's value system. It shows you if they prioritize loyalty or correctness over other values and vice versa.

This way values may also provoke conflict and misunderstanding with others.

Can Your Values Change?

Values aren't inscribed in our DNA. We develop our value system voluntarily and involuntarily through our upbringing, lifestyle, education, religion, political beliefs, experiences, and crucial turning points in life.

 If you insist on holding to the truth of your own personal beliefs and values, you will fail to broaden your perspective as you familiarize yourself with other people's perspectives.

When you have a difference of opinion, it's crucial to listen to the other person's perspective, understand their value system, and weigh your choices against what you value most.

You must have a high degree of self-awareness in order to recognize your own values, understand the weaknesses of those values, and construct a system based on different values that supports your vision.

When you try to understand the values and beliefs of others, you can find yourself in a tussle with your own and other people's value systems. This is one of multiple value conflict examples.

What are Value Conflicts?

Conflicts are indispensable parts of our lives. Disagreements between team members, families, and friends are common, and sometimes they tend to turn ugly.

Most of these conflicts are avoidable if only we know how to maneuver around them.

The simplest way to provide the value conflict definition is disagreement with someone who doesn't share our viewpoint and has other beliefs and value systems rather than ours.

The causes vary, but they often stem from differences in moral guidelines or lifestyles.

This type of conflicts can occur between two individuals, between small groups, and between larger segments of society.

Most people who share similar cultural influences and family backgrounds tend to develop a common set of beliefs, assumptions, and values.

These become their moral compass and guide their behavior.  

When people with different lifestyles come into contact, they tend to consider their own way superior and the other's path foolish.

Thus, such conflicts occur when they clash over world-views.

Value conflicts do not always originate from radically different thought processes.

Sometimes, they come from internal struggles to identify priorities.

Reasons Behind Value Conflict

Conflicting values can impact social tendencies and can cause us to unknowingly trigger certain conflicts.

Do you dislike someone just because they share their whole life on social media?

Or someone who always tells you how to do things a particular way?

It’s because you believe social media is supposed to be used in a certain way.

Or because you think things can be done in a specific manner.

Even though you don't actively hate this person, your relationship has a problem because of your differing beliefs.

This is the root of every value conflict. Here are some of the most common reasons:

  • Misunderstandings

Different cultures have varying norms of communication and accepted social behavior.

For example, in Japan, pouring your own drink at a dinner party is considered rude.

Rather, you should serve drinks to everyone and leave your glass empty.

When someone notices that, they’ll fill up your glass. Imagine being totally unfamiliar with this norm and sitting with your Japanese colleagues at a table.

There you go, finally enjoying a glass of wine after a long work day and suddenly, you have offended the whole team.

Misunderstandings like these can occur due to inconsistent channels of communication, choice of vocabulary, and habitual interpretation, all leading to a value conflict.

  • Improper communication

Used with care, language can be a powerful tool for expressing disagreement.

But when people aren’t using it constructively, communication patterns become hostile.

During a disagreement, both sides have a strong urge to prove themselves morally superior.

The comebacks can include personal attacks and even curses; after such indecent communication, the other side doesn’t converse intelligibly and engages in an argument.

Both sides believe there's a certain way to talk or express displeasure and others should have handled it better.

  • Mistrust

Differences in values can lead to conflict when there is a lack of trust.

When one party has reasons to mistrust the other, every action taken by each side will seem threatening to the other.

The response to this will also be negative, further intensifying the conflict.

  • Inability to compromise

Some belief systems are not open to compromise or negotiation.

When people adhere to such strict ideologies, it can be difficult to explain a slightly different point of view to them.

These people can even get to the extent of causing harm to prove themselves right, and their unwillingness to cooperate leads to the worst kinds of value conflicts.

  • Negative stereotyping

As a first-generation Iranian-American, I too have experienced cultural otherization and generalization.

People who assume their culture or values to be of the highest order tend to dismiss diversity based on negative stereotypes.

Some have looked beyond my potential and personality to find disagreements with my ethnicity.

This can cause a conflict that's difficult to resolve.

Value Conflict in the Workplace

Identifying our values and priorities can help us to be more consistent in our commitments and work ethics.

For me, the top values include honesty, inclusivity, curiosity, civil discourse, and understanding.

A conflict may arise if a team member doesn’t align with my lifestyle and value system.

In a professional setting, value conflicts between coworkers can occur for several reasons:

  • Work-life balance

In order to work in a team, you must be willing to compromise and be considerate of others' feelings.

For example, let's say a big project is due soon.

One of the employees wants to stay back after work hours and finish working, while another has to leave early to attend their child's dance recital.

They can have a value conflict as one team member holds work to great priority and the other values their family time more.

In this situation, it’s crucial to acknowledge that goals and value systems come from a healthy space.

While finishing the project is important, being there for your child is also significant.

Both sides have to reach a middle ground and discuss how to achieve their goals without further misunderstandings.

  • Working patterns

Let's return to the example of the team with a project due soon. While both members want to perform well and deliver a successful project, they have diverse ideas about how to achieve their goals.

One teammate may even object to the suggested ways on ethical grounds.

This disagreement in working style will again lead to a value conflict, further escalated by the pressure of achieving targets.

When coworkers approach these conflicts with respect and maintain civil discourse, they come to understand their internal differences.

By active listening and mindfully and not engaging in heated discussions, employees open the scope of effective communication without any tension.

  • Political ideology

In the age of social media, people are more open about their political views. They like and share content that reflects their own beliefs.

This can lead to conflict in the workplace when coworkers have different political ideologies. Small arguments can escalate quickly into name-calling and assumptions based on an evident political ideology.

Such complications require patience and efficient communication to avoid becoming large HR complications.

Unless it causes a direct threat to another employee, every worker deserves respectful treatment irrespective of their political stance.

Why We Get Stuck in Value Conflict

We are all bound to have our own ideas of what is right and what is wrong. We are all naturally set in our ways.

These value conflicts can cause a lot of problems in the workplace, but they can also be beneficial because they force us to take a closer look at ourselves and understand why we constantly get stuck in problematic situations.

This allows us to break out of this chain and choose better.

  • Continuous misunderstandings

When people from different cultures and places come together, it takes time to get used to each other's accepted norms.

We can control misunderstandings by being vocal about teaching and helping each other.

In the absence of civil discourse, confusion arises, and value conflicts grow.

  • Inability to empathize

To avoid conflicts, one must be able to see things from the other person's perspective.

Pause, rethink, assess the situation, and then pursue it from different angles.

In the absence of such sensitivity, value conflicts can take uglier shapes.

  • Unwillingness to negotiate

Holding on to a belief system can help you get through the ups and downs of life.

But sometimes, it's necessary to negotiate or find common ground when values conflict.

If two people or teams aren’t willing to sit together and have a civil discourse about their beliefs and values, it can get difficult to resolve the value conflict.

  • Strong urge to prove yourself right

Conflicts can be tricky because we think of them as games or wars.

We think there are winners and losers in every conflict, but that's not always the case.

If you're adamant about winning an argument and have the urge to always prove yourself right, you miss out on opportunities for greater learning about other people's situations.

  • Creating a domino effect

One conflict with values can lead to another, bringing down your team's morale quickly.

Disregarding someone's beliefs can trigger other unrelated conflicts and create a big mess.

If you let other people's actions impact you too deeply or let things get to you, you'll find yourself stuck in conflicts.

It's up to you whether or not you want your foundational values shaken. It's important to process the situation and form an informed judgment about it before taking action.

  • Everything apart from your beliefs is negative

Many people consider every belief system beyond their own to be false or invalid.

The culture of the hustle is glorified in many instances, but employees now value personal lives over professional ones.

They finish all tasks with diligence and know when to stop working.

Those who’ve always believed in the hustle may consider this balanced lifestyle laziness or something negative.

This constant affirmation of your thought process and vilification of others can lead to severe value conflicts.

Final Words: How to Resolve a Value Conflict

The deep-rooted origin and connection with every individual's identity make value conflict concerning.

Resolving it requires unlearning past beliefs and rebuilding the foundation of thought processes, which is truly important to move out of your comfort zone and evolve as a person.

Some effective tactics to handle such unpleasant situations can be:

  • Change your approach to analyzing situations

To resolve a value conflict, create a detailed narrative of your viewpoints and then understand the influences of the other side.

Being more receptive to diverse world-views and having a “value-neutral” decision-making capacity can make conflict resolution smoother.

  • Consider the nature of the conflict

Sometimes it is more effective to reframe a conflict by focusing on attainable interests instead of relying on age-old negative stereotypes.

Reframing your conflict topic can resolve value conflicts without attacking any person's moral framework.

  • Start with Civil Discourse

Civil Discourse is the art of communication assisted by mindful listening. It can add perspective to every conversation.

You don't have to accept every uncomfortable idea through Civil Discourse.

You only need to be receptive and understanding.

This approach can also resolve value conflicts between individuals or groups who may not share a common worldview but can certainly agree to disagree respectfully.

That's the art of minimizing conflicts constructively.