This is the first in a three part series, “When Values Conflict”
Using Conflict to Build Awareness
Using Conflict to Foster Compassion
Using Conflict to Strengthen Inner Will

Our values create a powerful force in our lives. Understanding those deeply held values and living a life in alignment with them is the foundation of Values Based Leadership, a practice that we see transform individuals, families, and organizations. We believe that practicing Values Based Leadership is one of the ways we can create a wiser world.

But if a wiser world is made up of more people living in tune with their personal core values, what happens when our values are different from the values of others we interact with? If I am living in alignment with my core value of collaboration, is there also room for a friend or colleague who deeply values independence?

Most of us don’t have to think too hard to recall a situation where someone in our lives “just didn’t get us” and we felt frustrated that we couldn’t work together effectively. Often, we end up just avoiding people who produce this type of reaction in us. But what if tackling these conflicts could actually help us better understand our own core values and how to put them into action?

The next time you find yourself crashing into the brick wall of a seemingly intractable conflict, use the moment to reflect on what the situation is provoking in you with these two questions:

Describe the situation you’re facing using only facts – things you absolutely know to be true. For example, “my co-worker spoke to me in a harsh tone of voice” or “my manager didn’t accept my recommendation.” In their book, Difficult Conversations, authors Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen call this practice “beginning from the third story.” They describe it as attempting to take on the role of a keen observer with no stake in the conflict. The power of the third story comes from the fact that it forces us to step outside of the story we have told ourselves about the situation.

Once you pause to assess the facts of the situation, you may be able to quickly identify which of your values is getting plucked. If you value harmony, and your co-worker often speaks harshly to you, the situation may simply confirm what you already know about yourself.

But often a specific situation can draw on a value that you are less conscious of, and offer the opportunity to build new awareness. Take a look at the facts of your situation, and consider what is at risk for you – what is the unpleasant outcome or consequence that forms your story about those facts? If your manager doesn’t accept your proposal, does it mean you’ll be seen as less competent? Less successful? Does your co-worker’s tone of voice raise concern of disharmony, or does it convey a lack of respect? Pay attention to the specific words you use – these are the clues to what you value.

Sometimes I find that this simple act of pausing to see the “third story” and then noticing what values are in play is enough to shift my thinking, and allow me to consider a different approach or reaction to the conflict. And sometimes, it’s just the beginning!

Next in the series, learn how you can use the conflict to foster compassion.



Sharon Amoss

Sharon Amoss

Sharon’s approach to leadership is centered on encouraging others to discover and connect with their most true, authentic selves. She is guided by personal core values of justice, compassion, and growth, and motivated by a vision of a better and wiser world where each of us are free to express and contribute our unique gifts. She seeks to build inclusive communities across all facets of her work and life.

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