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Values Conflict

Management Blog
by Cinnie Noble

It is common to attribute the term ‘values conflict’ as the reason for dissension between us and another person and we may say such conflicts are not resolvable. That’s true for some disputes, but I don’t believe all, and this week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog is about the sorts of differences that may seem irreconcilable.

In some research I did over 15 years ago, study group members identified that when they are provoked by something another person says or does they perceive a value, need or aspect of their identity is being undermined or threatened. The participants didn’t use those words per se but it was evident by the language they used that they felt that one or more of these aspects of their being was being challenged, and they reacted accordingly. As part of the research and ultimately, the development of the CINERGY® conflict management coaching model, the study group members also explored what aspects of the other person’s being they themselves might be challenging. Checking out the possible attributions – and assumptions being made – helped them (and continues to help my coaching clients) gain increased understanding of the conflict dynamic between the disputants.

The above research and its results indicated that having different values does not mean we cannot reconcile our differences. That is, if we perceive the other person is undermining our value of fairness, it doesn’t mean that our ideas of fairness have to be the same or of the same degree to be able to resolve our differences. Similarly, it doesn’t mean the other person is necessarily unfair or intends to be, but that we hold different perspectives on fairness.

Though having disparate values may not be reconcilable, it helps to explore what our respective beliefs are in relation to the issues in dispute and discuss how and in what way(s) they feel undermined. Doing so can result in an understanding that honours our differences – rather than operating on the basis that different values (apparently) necessarily make our conflicts irreconcilable.

If you are referring (or have referred) to a dispute you are having (or had) as a ‘values conflict’, consider the following questions:

  • What are you and the other person disputing about?
  • Which value (or values) of yours do you feel is (are) being challenged?
  • What specifically is the other person saying that leads you to your answer to the previous question?
  • Which value(s) of her or his do you see as disparate from yours?
  • How do you know that is the other person’s value or values (referring to your answer to the previous question)?
  • What value or values, if any, may the two of you share?
  • What do you not understand or accept about the other person’s value(s) as it (they) pertains to your dispute?
  • What might she or he not accept or understand about your value(s) in the dispute?
  • If it isn’t necessarily a ‘values conflict’, how else may you frame it?
  • What difference, if any, does that frame make (your answer to the above question)?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?

Cinnie Noble

Cinnie Noble is a certified coach (PCC) and mediator and a former lawyer specializing in conflict management coaching. She is the author of two coaching books: Conflict Management Coaching: The CINERGY™ Model and Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You. MORE >

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