Addressing Conflict in Labor-Management and Other Settings – Part Two

In my last blog, I wrote about conflict. Some people fear conflict, believing it can destroy relationships. Others encourage it, and some go out of their way to foment it. Neither of these behaviors are healthy.

We must recognize disagreements will eventually occur in any process. As we deal with issues that impact us directly or which we feel strongly about conflict is more likely. Remember it does not have to be negative. When we know how to deal with differences, it can help us find creative solutions to difficult problems and build our ability to deal with increasingly complex situations.

In my last post, I considered two types of conflict and effective ways of de4aling with them. Task conflict, which involves disagreements about what has to be done or how to do it, and relationship conflict resulting from differences in individuals, their personalities, or their backgrounds. This time, we will take a look at the third type of conflict, values conflict.

The last of our three types of conflict, value conflict, can arise from fundamental differences in experiences, politics, ethics, religion, and other beliefs. The role we play can also contribute to this type of conflict, such as labor or management representatives. Even if we try to avoid direct discussions of topics like politics and religion, our beliefs in these areas impact the other decisions we will make and the approaches we will use.

The dangers inherent when dealing with values conflict are highlighted by MIT professor Lawrence Susskind. He writes that “when values and identities are at stake, parties are less willing to soften their demands, even if doing so could lead to trades that would satisfy other interests they might have. Such situations tend to heighten defensiveness, distrust, and alienation. Feelings of anger or hurt may intensify, prompting parties to be more judgmental and certain that the other party acted inappropriately. Such situations may lead to personal attacks as well.”

This can cause the parties, as they feel so strongly about their beliefs they will “harden their commitment to particular principles or to worry that any agreement they reach might set a bad precedent.”

Values conflict is very common when working with labor and management, but can occur between individuals and groups in any setting. These factors make values conflict the most difficult type with which to deal. It can make issues seem impossible to resolve, or cause members to stop seeking solutions.

There are strategies we can use in dealing with values conflict. Each of them tries to steer away from traditional, adversarial processes and towards a more preinciple4d approach.

Avoid taking positions. As soon as we take positions, problem solving comes to a stop. We spend our time defending our positions and attempting to destroy the positions of the other parties. Victory becomes our goal, and solving the problem becomes secondary.

Consider interests and values separately. Professor Susskind suggest we “begin by trying to separate the values- or identity-based elements of a dispute from more traditional interest-based components, then address the interest-based portion of the dispute.” We can ask their parties to list their interests, which are the reasons why we believe the problem is significant or worth or time to resolve. By avoiding the items based solely on values, we can focus on these interests. We generally find many of the interests the parties have are held by both parties. He notes this approach helps the parties begin “moving beyond demonization toward mutual understanding and respect through dialogue.”

Focus on the mutual interests. We next explore as many options as we can to solve the problem by finding options that satisfy our mutual interests. Recognizing common interests can begin communications, build trust, and improve relations. When facilitating this type of discussion, we must be alert to keep the focus on interests. Doing so could make it possible for the parties to confront the values-based portion of their disagreement at a later time. Professor Susskind suggests “including universal beliefs such as equal rights or nonviolence, rather than focusing on the differences in beliefs that precipitated the dispute.”

Select possible solutions. We want to consider options that meet our mutual interests while not requiring the parties to compromise their significant values. As a facilitator, seek to find or build consensus on a solution all parties can support. This can transcend the values held by the parties without actively contradicting them.


Disputes involving values are the most difficult to resolve, and require trained facilitators who can help the parties focus on their mutual interests and build solutions by consensus. This can minimize the defensiveness, distrust, and alienation that can ordinarily result.

About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at
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