When Values are Violated


PR crises happen… a lot. Just ask Pepsi, United Airlines, Uber, Wells Fargo, Starbucks, Facebook, and Equifax—companies that have all faced the consequences of unintentional missteps or willful indiscretion in the past few years.

When a corporate scandal breaks, the response can be pretty boilerplate: issue an apologetic press release, make the appropriate internal changes, and schedule a CNN appearance. From there, companies often wait and weather the viral firestorm. But those companies that rebound successfully—better and stronger than before [think: Domino’s]—are marked by leaders who sincerely accept responsibility for their actions and re-prioritize their organization’s values.

Because that’s where the trouble started, isn’t it? Somewhere along the way, the company violated its values—what it stood for and operated by. Customers weren’t respected; regulations weren’t obeyed; information wasn’t safeguarded. And things quickly got out of control.

Values Matter

Similarly, we run into trouble when our personal values are violated. When someone or something clashes with what you consider to be important, it triggers a response known as “conflict.” In conflict, we get defensive … aaand, as you might know, it quickly becomes difficult to productively engage others and make good decisions.

Like those companies facing controversy, how you respond matters. But you have to know what you’re dealing with and all your options for recourse—this is where high-paid PR firms and handlers usually come in.

While you might not have access to a crisis team, you do have a range of tools for improving your self-awareness and better navigating conflict through Core Strengths.

Your PR Toolkit

An easy way to discover your values—or your motives—is to use a self-assessment tool, like the SDI. The SDI describes how your motives work when things are going well and when there is conflict. It also reveals how people initially respond to conflict and as they sink further into it.

Furthermore, the SDI captures what gives each person a sense of dignity, using simple and memorable terms, so it’s easy to recognize these values and honor them in your relationships. This insight takes the guesswork out of communicating with others and helps you resolve disagreement without descending into full-blown conflict.

Proactive, Not Reactive

It will save you a tremendous amount of time, money and energy [read: stress] if you learn how to prevent conflict, rather than simply respond to the damage it creates. In practical terms, when I know what’s most important to my colleagues, I can adjust my behavior, so I don’t violate their values. This is where the old expression, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, makes sense.

If we talk about values like human dignity, respectful workplaces, and equal opportunity, but fail to operate by them, we are going to find ourselves dealing with serious consequences. We must intentionally show people that we respect what matters to them if we want to prevent conflict and keep everyone productively engaged. This requires insight and ongoing effort—and it defines truly great leaders and teams.

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Dr. Mike Patterson is a principal at Core Strengths and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. He is also the co-author of Core Strengths: Results through Relationships training and the highly acclaimed book, Have a Nice Conflict: How to Find Success and Satisfaction in the Most Unlikely Places. Contact him at

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