Office of Culture and Experience

Values and Conflict Management

June 22, 2016 • Leadership, OPD, Values

Social psychologist Dr. Edgar Schein in his book Organizational Culture and Leadership defines culture as:

“The culture of a group can now be defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaption and internal integration, which has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.”

The shared assumptions include an organization’s values. Members of the organization learn them from observing leaders and other team members in the organization.

When members of an organization have a conflict with each other, their values are on display. How they treat each other in that moment demonstrates their personal values. Shared values can be the basis for moving conflict forward to solution and can have additional positive benefits for the organization.

In the HBR article The Work of Leadership, the authors make the point that learning and innovation are the products of differences. In organizations that value diversity of thought, these differences can be the catalyst for creativity and new ideas that lead to breakthrough solutions. For example:

Members from different departments working together on an inter-professional team disagree on the approach to move forward. One member is arguing for course of action A and the other B. Since they have shared values and want to move the conflict forward, they might come up with a completely different solution, one that is more creative than A or B. They determine an option “C.” Through Respect and Collaboration, the two team members can be visionary in their approach moving forward.

Values are learned and leaders have an obligation to live Our Values and model them for their teams. Our Values are what we draw strength from in challenging situations and during conflict.  They give us the power to move it forward and achieve a positive outcome for all parties concerned.  Our Values Resources page has several  items including a “Values Action Guide” designed to assist with applying Our Values in difficult situations.


-Jonathan Silk


Schein, E.H. (2010). Leading with questions: How leaders find the right solutions by knowing what to ask (4th ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

If you are an HSC employee or affiliate, you can access the HBR article using the HSC institutional license.

The article is located on Ebsco Host and the article can be found by year (2001), volume (79), and issue (11).

Heifetz, R.A. and Laurie, D. L.. (2001). Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review, 79(1), 131-141.