Team development

How to resolve conflicts with finesse: harmonising values in the workplace

“I can’t change who I am”,  yet success lies in how we deal with conflicting values at work 

How many of us can describe the deep-rooted values and beliefs that determine how we think? Are we even aware of how these values influence the way we treat and get treated at work?  

Value conflicts go right to the core of an individual's sense of belonging. When our values are ignored, we feel threatened, defensive and off-balance. They are the non-negotiable, deeply held principles that guide our choices. They might relate to loyalty, communication and feedback, accuracy, goal-setting or whatever motivates you most to do a really great job.

So what happens in a team when ‘but this is who I am’ feels compromised by someone? It’s a fact of working life that we sometimes have to act outside our own norms. It’s not always a great feeling. 

Other people’s styles can feel uncomfortable, left-field or just downright wrong.  It’s even less fun when colleagues with opposing values are more senior or have a ‘louder’ voice than us.

It's also quietly exhausting to forever be over-flexing to fit someone else’s working style, with little empathy from their end.  And there’s often one person flexing more than the rest - and they’re compromising their values more than anyone else. It doesn’t make for great teamwork!

Sound familiar? Perhaps you have ‘difficult’ colleagues and feel frustrated by the friction, or you manage a team where certain individuals can never agree on how to move a project forward.  

An ‘over-flexer’ on your team may speak up and make gallant efforts to voice a different way of operating, but chances are their colleague won’t listen, doesn’t see why they should or, worse, just doesn’t care. Their way is the only way…
So how can we strike a ‘values balance’, understand what good flexing looks like and get the team working again?

Understanding the 'why' 

It helps to curb our assumption that there’s a best way (our way!) to approach a problem, conflict or complex project, even if it feels counter-intuitive. We can flex our in-built communication styles and our approach to work in a positive way. But only if we allow space to hear why others want to do things differently.

Dialling up our empathy takes time and headspace. It needs a mental shift. But it’s better than having quietly seething or increasingly disengaged colleagues, right?

The good news is, there’s a way to hang onto our values and work effectively with people whose style seems to go against our grain.

To overcome the blocks, we need to understand more about the why. Why are our colleagues so different, and more to the point, what’s their why?

Unlock the key to stress reduction for your team Learn more about Insights Discovery

Learning who needs what when it comes to communicating

It pays to explore and understand our differences and different motivations before a crisis or conflict looms. Right at the outset, as a manager, we have to be prepared to ask, “what’s important to you and how do you prefer to work?”, and to act on the answer.

One solution is to adopt a common language for describing communication and problem-solving styles and approaches to conflict. This way, a team leader has more chance of ensuring that each colleague can speak to their values, and that their values are respected by all types of colleague.

The memorable Insights language of colour energies is a proven way to do this. Understanding that we each lead with one (or more) of four distinctly different approaches, using colours as a descriptor, opens the door for better team harmony and more graceful acceptance of others’ conflicting behaviour, with less judgement and conflict.

Below we see the colour energies wheel, starting with how the colour energies may reveal themselves when someone is having a good day, and how they may show up when that same person is having a bad day: 

Insights colour energies

Let’s zone in. Some colleagues prefer brevity, valuing speed and decisions above all else in the name of reaching goals and keeping momentum. These colleagues lead with Fiery Red energy.

Other colleagues may value a pragmatic, analytical approach (Cool Blue) in the name of efficiency, allowing them to squash issues before they arise with a few thoughtful questions or gentle challenges. In Insights language, both of these colour energies lead with a Thinking approach to decision-making.

Those who lead with Feeling, on the other hand, (leading with Earth Green and Sunshine Yellow energies), typically value an egalitarian approach, prioritising human connections and always involving others in decisions or changes, possibly at the expense of speed or efficiency. 

It’s no surprise that without teamwork to uncover who values what - and why - ,we create a vacuum where people might well get labelled on a bad day as rude, pedestrian, sensitive or unfocused. It might be hard to fathom why, to or know what to do about it. 

Dig deeper though, and we find that a personal quest for, say, (to use more positive language!) momentum and fast results, or accuracy and control, or kindness and fairness, or spontaneity and light-touch, is steeped in values and is heavily influenced by childhood experiences, upbringing and even fears.

So it follows that understanding our colleagues’ values and beliefs, even if we don’t agree with them, can help to communicate and solve challenges in a way that’s meaningful to the other person. It helps them feel validated and seen and heard, rather than judged or disrespected for the values they hold dear and feel unable to change. 

This enhanced understanding can also give us hope when we feel overwhelmed by reoccurring team or interpersonal friction - a light at the end of the tunnel can be the difference between motivation and productivity, or someone zoning out altogether. 


Colour energy language in practice

Let’s examine some common workplace team scenarios through a values lens:

Your colleague who leads with Cool Blue (Thinking, Introverted) energy seems incapable of making a quick decision. You have a deadline, and you need an answer! (Fiery Red – Thinking, Extraverted)
a.    Build in time for them to review the facts
b.    Allow them to ask questions and be prepared to answer them precisely, in turn
c.    Provide a reason for the deadline

Your colleague who leads with Fiery Red wants to move forward with a decision. You’re worried they haven’t considered the impact of this on all team members (Earth Green – Feeling, Introverted)
a.    Outline people-related issues and risks, and recommend actions
b.    Suggest walk and talk meetings
c.    Summarise any new info that requires a change in direction 

Your colleague who leads with Earth Green refuses to pivot to the new direction the company is taking on a certain issue, or seems disengaged (Sunshine Yellow – Feeling, Extraverted)
a.    Inspire them with the human angle - the reason for the shift
b.    Provide human-focused case studies (or examples) to make the case more meaningfully
c.    Create a space to listen to their perspective or hesitance

Your colleague who leads with Sunshine Yellow keeps jumping between projects and ideas. It’s frustrating and distracting (says their Cool Blue counterpart)
a.    Schedule a coffee with them to review their calendar
b.    Check in with them informally and be aware of life-events affecting their focus
c.    Help them delegate and collaborate with more structure 


What if it all feels one-sided?

A one-sided improvement is still an improvement!

We might sometimes feel that we’re more self-aware or empathetic than a particular colleague. We’ll inevitably be teamed at some point with people who don’t adapt to our preferences or who have different levels of emotional intelligence, but if we at least adapt and communicate in a way that acknowledges their preferences, it invites a more positive outcome. 

The nub of it is that the more self-aware and others-aware we are and the better we can pinpoint our own values and driving force (and appreciate other people’s!), the better we can adapt to reach business goals. The best performing teams are those who know themselves well, who treat colleagues’ differences with an open mind and most of all, know how and when to flex.

Empower your team with the langauge of colour energies Learn more about Insights Discovery here