In mid-April I began a series on the topic of conflict resolution. As a starting point, I labelled those who are willing to face and resolve conflict as “Peace-Makers;” whereas those who side-step the difficulty of working through the conflict as “peace-keepers” - because the latter group prefers to keep the “virtual peace” rather than addressing and resolving the underlying issues that created the conflict in the first place.
So far I have defined three types of conflict: conflicts of emotion, conflicts of ideas, and conflicts of values - and briefly explored conflicts of emotion and conflicts of ideas. For each of these I listed several strategies to initiate a path toward resolution. This week I examine “conflict of values” and provide a perspective regarding such differences.
In order to understand what we are facing, it is important to define what we mean by “values.” Values are deeply held beliefs - moral principles and beliefs or accepted standards - often rooted in cultural tradition, historic family and religious traditions, and enduring memories of ones own experiences.
As a result of the nature of these embedded value-sources, people's values seldom change - even when their interests evolve over time. In short, asking a person to alter their values is similar to asking them to revise their sense of reality. While this can occur, it is very rare; it simply doesn’t happen very often. As a result, values usually cannot be negotiated, nor can they be changed through simply addressing ideas or emotions (both of which have been previously discussed).
Because values and morals tend to be quite stable, people are often unwilling to negotiate or compromise with respect to these topics. Indeed, if the basic substantive issues of the conflict are deeply embedded in the participants' moral orders, these issues are likely to be quite intractable.
As a result of the above, when dealing with a conflict of values, resolution to the point of mutual agreement is unlikely. Instead, the most one can hope for, and seek to accomplish, is mutual respect and – sometimes – mutual understanding. In the end, the conflicted parties can hope, at best, to "agree to disagree" for the good of the relationship between them - unless doing so feels like a violation of integrity and/or the parties’ individual self-respect. At this juncture the goal becomes, as far as possible, to be at peace with all parties involved.
Whereas conflicts of emotions and ideas have effective resolution strategies, a values conflict may very well end up in a parting of ways between those involved.
The important lesson for those in leadership to take away from this reflection is to realize that not every conflict can be resolved. The wise leader will therefore seek to diagnose the nature of the conflict (emotion, ideas, or values) and know when to work towards resolution, and when, wisely, to simply walk away.
What does your experience teach you regarding conflict resolution? Are there insights that have been helpful to you? As the design is to continue to learn and grow in leadership effectiveness, let us know your thoughts using the comment section, below.
 W. Barnett Pearce and Stephen W. Littlejohn, Moral Conflict: When Social Worlds Collide, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Inc.: 1997), page 50.