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  • Tamar Balkin

Are Values Always Helpful?

“Everybody thinks we're wrong

Oh, but who are they to judge us

Simply 'cause our hair is long

Oh, you know we've got to find a way

To bring some understanding here today”. 

What’s Going On Song by Marvin Gaye (Click here for the song)

Compass with the words "Venture Onward"

Photo by Heidi Fin on Unsplash

“ I see such hypocrisy in this organisation, customers are treated with utmost respect and professionalism, and colleagues are treated abhorrently.”

Coaching client. 


What are values?

"Values describe the personal qualities I want to embody in my actions; the sort of person I want to be; the manner in which I want to treat myself, others, and the world around me.”

Russ Harris

Despite being an extremely useful road map for life, researchers have found that the application of values in life and at the workplace can often be fraught.


Values at work: what goes wrong?

"This suggests that leader hypocrisy, which refers to an inconsistency between a leader’s words and behavior, might serve as an “intangible closed door” that hampers employees’ willingness to speak up.”

Han, C., Wang, X., Zhang, W., Liu, M. and Xia

Researchers describe two types of trust:  

Cognition-based trust comes from the individual’s evaluation of the ability and reliability of others.

Affect-based trust comes from the social interaction between the individual and others.

When a leader's actions don't align with their words, researchers have found that trust is eroded because it suggests a lack of personal moral integrity, thereby breaching the moral standards of honesty and integrity.

Specifically, employees who see their leader as hypocritical will be less likely to proactively express their thoughts and suggestions to improve things in the organisation. There is a flow of negative impacts on employees’ work engagement, job satisfaction, creativity, and work performance. In addition, there is a reduction in the efficiency and accuracy of organisational decisions, creativity, innovation and overall performance.

This phenomenon is exacerbated when the organisation's stated values don't manifest in the behaviour of its leaders.


"Some of the hardest disputes to resolve are disputes over values. Values are the decision rules we apply to decide what is good/bad, right/wrong, fair/unfair, rational/irrational. Values choices are not always conscious choices. But they do drive most of the decisions we make.”



Why does value conflict emerge in the workplace?

  • Values are often implied in speech or behaviour rather than explicitly stated.

  • Conflicts over values are hard to resolve because they can’t be traded or given away.

  • Both sides see the other as locked into preconceptions that can’t be justified.

  • people are more committed to their positions and less willing to give in when values are at stake.

Why is it so hard to resolve?

Researchers have found that value conflicts lead to more competitive and forceful behaviours and less constructive problem-solving. These conflicts are marked by a higher sense of personal involvement and reduced common ground with the other party. When one's opinions are challenged, and the other party suggests they are supporting bad or wrong ideas, it can feel threatening. On a physiological level, value conflicts trigger cardiovascular and hormonal threat responses. These conflicts pose a significant threat because they challenge deeply held beliefs, making the conflict personal and causing people to react defensively.

What happens on an individual level that serves to exacerbate the conflict? 

Researchers have found that value conflicts, which bring our norms, beliefs, and identities to the forefront, can be exceptionally challenging to resolve. Regular readers would be aware that internal value conflicts are common and often quite distressing. Real-life situations frequently present us with unwelcome choices, pulling our values in different directions. Resolving these conflicts requires recognising that value choices are not simply black-and-white decisions. This necessitates a deep understanding and clear articulation of what each value, such as honesty or openness, truly means.  It involves striking the right balance by honouring both values to some extent while prioritising one value in specific circumstances.

Sadly, sometimes what people believe is truly sacred actually isn’t. Resolution often comes when there is the realisation that one can abide by the spirit of their values while making concessions on the specifics.

What can be done? 

Regular readers would know that I do not conduct any form of mediation, never the less through writing this blog I am beginning to gain an understanding of how a shift in perspective enables me to better guide my clients in navigating values conflict. 

Recent research has found that the following two approaches are helpful, as they both encourage a prosocial perspective on the conflict.

Other affirmation emphasises the positive qualities of the other party by explicitly asking disputants to reflect on these qualities. These can include impressions or behaviours of the other party, as well as characteristics not directly related to the conflict. Researchers have found that other-affirmation intervention will be beneficial for negotiations because it fosters a prosocial orientation. By focusing on the positive qualities of the other person, they seem less threatening and more sympathetic, and there begins to be an increase in willingness to understand the other’s outcome preferences and values. By thinking about the positive qualities of the other party there is an increase in problem-solving or compromising, and a reduction in forceful behaviour leading to more beneficial agreements. Affirming the other’s qualities seems to benefit negotiations intended to solve value conflicts.

Shared Identity involves creating a common group identity by emphasising similarities between the parties. The similarities may include a variety of professional and personal interests as well as other values not at stake in the negotiation. The difference is that the other affirmation specifically aims to increase positive feelings about the other party. The shared-identity intervention is aimed at promoting feelings of “we-ness.” by focusing on what they have in common, a shared identity may reduce the feelings of identity threat that occur especially when parties negotiate over their value differences.

What about my client?

As the coaching session was coming to a close my client had the realisation that it was his values that would guide him to navigate the complex, hypocritical behaviour within his organisation. One of his core values was respect, part of his conceptualisation of this value involves looking for the good in others and understanding their perspectives.  He decided to prioritise this in all his conversations, meetings, and interactions at work. He recognised that it was his responsibility to influence the culture positively, role model respectful behaviour, and support and thank those who acted in alignment with these principles.



Wade-Benzoni K. A., Hoffman A. J., Thompson L. L., Moore D. A., Gillespie J. J., Bazerman M. H. 2002. “Barriers to Resolution in Ideologically Based Negotiations: The Role of Values and Institutions.” Academy of Management Review 27:41–57.

 Han, C., Wang, X., Zhang, W., Liu, M. and Xia, Y. (2024). I Treated the Way You Treated Me: The Effect of Leader Hypocrisy on Employees’ Voice Behavior. Psychology research and behavior management, Volume 17, pp.1339–1353. doi:

 Harinck, F. and Druckman, D. (2016). Do Negotiation Interventions Matter? Resolving Conflicting Interests and Values. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 61(1), pp.29–55. doi:

 Harinck, F. and Druckman, D. (2019). Values and Interests: Impacts of Affirming the Other and Mediation on Settlements. Group Decision and Negotiation, 28(3), pp.453–474. doi:

 How To Deal With ‘Values Conflicts’ -By Russ Harris. (n.d.). Available at:

Staff, P.O.N. (2022). Value Conflict: What It Is and How to Resolve It. [online] PON - Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School. Available at:

Guillemin M, Nicholas R. Core Values at Work-Essential Elements of a Healthy Workplace. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Sep 30;19(19):12505. doi: 10.3390/ijerph191912505. PMID: 36231819; PMCID: PMC9564913. Ep 155: Pitfalls to avoid when it comes to values March 7, 2024 Richard MacKinnon. Lucie Ilbury

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