Conflict Resolution: Values

Today we're going to look at our values and how they show up in the process of conflict resolution. Our values are present in nearly every single conflict conversation, but we rarely notice or address them. Conflict is almost never about the situation itself, but is instead about how a situation pointed out our values being in opposition and our rigid belief that our values are the "right" values to hold. Let's unpack this.

To value something is to find it important. Our values are rooted in our upbringing, our community, or beliefs, and our perspective of the world. We can value things like justice, creativity, flexibility, rationalism, etc. We can even value things as a culture, such as collectivist versus individualistic societies. Because we are all people with our own story, background, and personality, we will invariably value different things, with our values rooted in deeply contextual soil. Our dispersedly held values are part of what makes up a rich, textured society and deep, dynamic relationships. At their core, values are wonderful things and part of what makes us unique people, but where they get us in trouble is when we try to force everyone around us to hold the same values we hold. 

For example, let's say you and your partner or roommate keep arguing about how clean to keep your house. Here, you might value tidiness. This value could be rooted in a belief that a tidy home or workspace demonstrates that you are a responsible person. Growing up, you may have been taught that it is "good" to be clean and tidy, and may have experienced punishment for not keeping living spaces clean and organized. Your partner, however, may not hold a tidiness value and instead values living spaces that are more relaxed and "lived in." This could be rooted in the belief that cleaning is to be done only after more important things are finished. Growing up, they may have had homes that were consistently messy and chaotic and this was not stressful or problematic for them or their parents.

These individual values that you both hold are, in themselves, not "right" or "wrong," "better" or "worse," instead they are simply different. When we examine the root system of your values and your partner's values, we find valid sources for both. In the midst of conflict we rarely notice or discuss that we're actually arguing about our values being in conflict. Instead, we get focused on getting our partner or roommate to hold the same value that we do. These conversations rarely move in a productive direction because we haven't taken the time to understand our partner's root system. We become convinced that our way is the "right" way, not recognizing that it's possible for someone prioritize and look at the world differently than we do. We haven't asked enough questions, and we've become rigid in our beliefs. 

Ideally, in these conversations, we would slow way down. We would pause and ask ourselves- why is this important to me? What about my partner's behavior or lack of behavior is making me upset and what does that tell me about my value system? Is it possible that not everyone values this as much as me? What questions can I ask to understand my partner's values better? We'd then explain our values to our partner and ask questions about theirs, being mindful that values are rarely "right" or "wrong" and that it is good to be with someone who looks at the world differently than you. Statements like, "That was hurtful because I value ____." or "I think I value _____ more highly than I thought." "Can you tell me about why you value ____?" are good places to start. It is possible to be in relationship and still hold opposing values, but it requires an attitude of humility, curiosity, and the willingness to dig deep to sort out your own value root system and to understand someone else's.