Workplace conflict and bringing voice to your values

Six guidelines for tackling inappropriate behavior in the office as a framework for formulting conversations

Jane Cote

Inappropriate workplace behavior can be a struggle for employees to confront when working at any organization. From ethical dilemmas to minor inner conflicts, deciding how to respond can be the most challenging part when confronting questions of ethics in the workplace. Employees are disrespected by their colleagues due to lack of social etiquette, take risky shortcuts, steal and engage in other unethical behavior more frequently than most think.

Claire LathamWhen values or ethics are challenged in the workplace, it is important to know how to respond. Most of the time, it’s complicated, with potential social implications, power imbalances and tension related to confrontation. These factors can create a stressful and undesirable working environment, therefore negatively impacting employee engagement and the company brand.

As a way to combat this, a framework called Giving Voice to Values (GVV) has been implemented by global corporations, including Lockheed Martin, Unilever, Mayo Clinic, Kaiser Permanente and more. GVV serves as a channel for employees to express concerns or conflicts in the workplace in order to uphold a healthy professional standard.

As a framework designed to formulate conversations surrounding workplace challenges, GVV has found the following six guidelines to be useful practices to implement in the office:

Understanding your values: Know the morals and values you stand behind. The first step in addressing an ethical challenge is knowing what your ethical purpose and boundaries are.

Understanding your colleagues: Consider where they may be coming from. It is unlikely that their behavior stems from purely unethical reasons. Take a step back to understand the situation from their point of view.

Confronting challenges: Realize it is normal to be discouraged by conflict, but the best way to enforce a pleasant working environment is to resolve the issue as soon as possible.

Anticipating responses: In most cases, your colleague will come back with reasons they choose to behave in a certain way. Practice responding with a third person to prepare to defend your point of view.

Practicing your responses: Know what you want to say in advance and attend workshops offered by your company that help prepare you for unexpected circumstances such as ethical challenges in the workplace. These workshops will allow you to develop the skills necessary to respond to similar dilemmas with confidence.

Communicating effectively: Pick a communication method you are most comfortable with. Do you prefer in-person confrontation or via email? Every situation is unique, so it is important to decide what works best for you given the current circumstances. Talk to a trusted colleague or mentor to discuss your plan of action before addressing the situation.

In GVV workshops, employees can immediately benefit from the skills they will develop in order to maintain a healthy workplace. Not only do these workshops bridge the communication gap between employees and employers, but they also create a two-way dialogue dedicated to resolving conflicts, whether on a trivial or major scale.

If you are interested in learning more about GVV, visit, a website by Mary Gentile, creator of the GVV framework. Businesses can also bring the GVV workshop in the office.

Jane Cote is the academic director leading the Carson College of Business at the Washington State University – Vancouver’s Carson College of Business since 2005. Claire Kamm Latham is an associate professor in the Department of Accounting at Washington State University – Vancouver’s Carson College of Business, where she teaches accounting information systems and internal control and auditing.

Dr. Latham and Dr. Cote are available to provide tailored workshops across the Pacific Northwest region. Cote can be reached at

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