Workplace Conflict and the Gap between Values and Behavior

Workplace Conflict and the Gap between Values and Behavior

Most people would say that “fear” makes people upset, anxious, abrasive or aggressive. And that is true, but the cause of their fear is most often “The Gap” between Values and Behavior. This gap could be the cause of much of your workplace conflict.

What is the Gap?
Let us say you have a low value around accuracy and thoroughness. You make mistakes but you do not pull your hair out when you do.  And let us say you have a boss who has a high value around accuracy and thoroughness and cannot stand it when you make a mistake. It is quite possible your boss will “go ballistic” and say all sorts of terrible things to you.

Workplace Conflict: What happened?

The boss is relying upon you to be accurate and you failed. You have created the Gap – that is, the gap between his or her values and your behavior.

Your Boss’ Predictable Abrasive and Aggressive Responses to the Gap:

  • Take the work from you and do it
  • Not trust you anymore and double/triple check your work.
  • Yell at you in the hopes that you will stop making mistakes.
  • Demand that you stop making mistakes
  • Call you names and demand to know how you could be so “stupid”

Your Boss’ Possible Productive responses to the Gap:

  • Discuss the values gap and elicit a commitment from you to work on closing the Gap.
  • Hold you accountable for that commitment by measuring productivity.
  • Teach you whatever you need to know to close the Gap.
  • Help you to move on if you cannot make or honor that commitment to close the Gap.

What You Can Do to Avoid the Gap:
If you caused the Gap, remember that they are probably yelling at you because they are feeling the Gap. The Gap makes them anxious and maybe even a little afraid.  They may be unable to explain the Gap to you but if you understand the concept, then you can take action to close the Gap, restore trust, and reduce the abrasive and aggressive behavior and other workplace conflict.

  • Lynne Diligent

    Kathleen, I think this is one of the best posts I’ve ever seen you make. I never thought of this problem before as a values gap (especially looking at it from the perspective of the boss).

    I am a foreign expat who lives in a country where workers cannot be fired easily, where many refuse to improve or accept training, and where even the threat of losing a job is not that severe for women workers who are not married because they live at home with their families and are not really responsible for supporting themselves! Some of them are just putting in time to earn pocket money until they “get married.” (and yes, I am a woman myself) Married women with children often care more about their jobs and are willing to improve. Also, most men seem to be better workers and seem to care about advancing their career (and with saving money for the future), even if still living at home with their parents.

    Looking back at the women I did have problems with, I see it really was a values gap. No matter HOW much training I gave them, the result was no better because they did not place any value on the things they were being hired to do (in ANY work a good result comes only from paying attention to the DETAILS). A lot of people here (some men, too) just want to work “mindlessly” without thinking. They don’t want to be bothered with details. Here is the result: cooks making food that is inedible because they don’t taste it and adjust seasonings; people who clean not bothering to wash the dishes CLEAN, not scrubbing the bathroom tile or mirrors or toilets CLEAN; in travel agencies, not showing up for tours and then not being available for contact by telephone; in schools, being hired to grade papers and then not even bothering to learn the material they are grading on; in schools, being hired to walk children from class-to-class or supervise them at recess, yet letting them run wild and commit all sorts of atrocities. And no, we can’t fire any of these people as management doesn’t want to pay the HUGE indemnites in this country that are required to fire someone……is it any wonder that the bosses go crazy???

    It’s like being in a no-win situation……it’s not one company like this, it’s MOST companies and government agencies.

  • Dear Lynne,
    Thank you for your comment regarding my perspective on Values Gaps. Indeed this is a serious problem and is often overlooked to the detriment of all concerned.

    It looks like you may not have a great deal of control over firing and hiring but, if you did, then my guidance would be to add values/behavior/goals into the interviews so you could develop a clear sense of where the gaps might be.

    The questions you might ask to tease out the values challenge from training challenges include those that focus on the values you are seeking.

    So, in the cooking case: How do you feel about tasting the food as you work? Or, What is your cooking strategy? Or, I wonder how you go about ensuring the quality and flavors of your food? (which is the best question thus far because then you’re really talking about values and not behavior).

    It seems clear that your frustration with the processes you experience in your country of choice. I appreciate the structural dilemmas you have with government policies. However, if you can work with the mindset of values gaps and then create questions for new hires and your current employees, perhaps you can move the conversation from “Here is what you do” to “I understand why you do what you do but in this office I expect (insert you expectations). Can you do it? What would it take for you to achieve it?” Just a thought based on this tiny piece of info on your challenges. I could be missing the point. It wouldn’t the the first time.

    Best regards,

  • Lynne Diligent

    Kathleen, I really like your suggestions for questions in interviews! I will use these as examples and make up a list of questions to have on hand for the next time we interview someone.

    I also wanted to mention I’ve been reading a very interesting book called Motivation Management, by Thad Green. He breaks motivation down into four quadrants, and I see that the problem I am having here is that effort is not usually rewarded in terms of salary, while lack of effort is not punished in terms of firing or tying salary to performance. Not much I can do about it, but it was quite helpful in understanding what is going on!

    Best regards,