3 Ways to Handle Values Conflicts

June 5th, 2020

For most of us, talking about values is difficult. When we believe that a person or organization we're working with is doing something wrong, it can be uncomfortable to say something. We fear that people will react defensively to even the slightest hint of an accusation that they're behaving unethically, even if the "accusation" is intended as an innocent question. Even if we do say something, we worry that it may not result in any meaningful changes or it could be taken the wrong way, so it often may feel as if it is not worth the risk.

These concerns can lead us, or our employees, to two basic responses to values conflicts: silence or exit. But there is another choice: saying something. Let’s unpack each of the options in the below piece from our Voice, Values, and HR Program:

Silence: The response that often seems easiest is to keep our heads down and say nothing. After all, if we remain silent, we do not risk getting drawn into an uncomfortable situation or being misunderstood. Over time, however, silence has very real costs. From a personal perspective, we feel like we are not able to be ourselves, which causes us to lose interest and motivation. From our organization's perspective, behavior that is questionable or even unethical goes unchallenged. That means things never change and there could be serious consequences later.

Exit: Another option is to simply leave the situation. For minor conflicts, this might mean leaving a meeting or a project team. For more serious dilemmas, we may have to transfer to a new part of an organization or quit our jobs entirely. While exiting may seem like our only option, it is almost never the best first choice.

Voice: The third option is neither to stay silent nor exit, but to give voice to our values. This doesn’t just mean "speaking out." There are other methods we can use, like asking questions, reframing choices, and strategizing carefully thought-out actions. We can gather data and examples, identify the right audience, anticipate objections, and build a coalition. Choosing voice—whatever form it takes—is never easy, but when done thoughtfully, it has the best chance of making a real difference.

To learn more about voicing your values, and empowering your employees and organization to do the same, don’t miss the Voice, Values, and HR Program in the Josh Bersin Academy. Based on Professor Mary Gentile’s Giving Voice to Values (GVV) methodology, this Program offers a new approach to voicing, acting on, and listening to values. The next session starts on June 10. To participate, join the Josh Bersin Academy today.