This is the second entry 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. As we learn to live in alignment with our core values, we naturally want to help others do the same.

When we find ourselves in conflict with others, often the root cause of the conflict is a difference in values. My value of hard work drives me to dig in and immerse myself when tackling a big problem; often that means staying at it until the problem is solved — for the pure satisfaction of a job well done.

As you may imagine, this can create a conflict with others for whom hard work is not as important as a different value, like family. While they may be willing to give up family time when an urgent problem needs to be addressed, they view it as a sacrifice rather than something that fulfills their own needs. When that occurs, it’s quite easy for me to become judgmental and view their behavior as a lack of commitment to the work we are doing together.

“Don’t be in a hurry to condemn because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think.” 

– Malcolm X

What if we could use these times of conflict to foster our compassion for each other, and strengthen our ability to help others live into their core values? Here are two questions that I ask myself to bring compassion into focus when I’m lost in the blur of conflict:

What do I really want to achieve in this situation? In the heat of conflict, it’s so easy to get narrowly focused on who is right and who is wrong.  It can be a great time to pause, and take a broader perspective. What are we trying to create together? In the end, what would it look like for us to be achieving that outcome in healthy relationship with each other? It’s a quick reminder that while the hard work is important and fulfilling to me, I need and want to do it in collaboration with others. Focusing on the bigger picture outcome helps me to foster a sense of compassion – for myself, for the other person involved, and for our relationship.

When we are trapped in seeing the other person as wrong, it’s difficult to view what they value positively. Ellen Langer, a professor of Psychology at Harvard University who has made significant contributions in the field of positive psychology and mindfulness, explained in her interview with Harvard Business Review,

“We all have a tendency to mindlessly pigeonhole people: He’s rigid. She’s impulsive. But when you freeze someone in that way, you don’t get the chance to enjoy a relationship with them or use their talents. Mindfulness helps you to appreciate why people behave the way they do. It makes sense to them at the time, or else they wouldn’t do it.”

Once again, hitting pause and being mindful about the situation allows us to take a more compassionate perspective. Langer concludes that “chances are that when you see me from this proper perspective—spontaneous rather than impulsive—you won’t want to change me.”

When I take a moment to be mindful about a colleague who doesn’t share my desire to hunker down and work out that new business plan objective, my frustration at their lack of commitment can transform into admiration for their dedication to their family.

How have you been able to use conflict to foster your sense of 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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