Are You Ignoring or Using the Power of Your Values?

Autonomy. Dependability. Honesty. Freedom. Integrity. Privacy. Respect. Fun. Creativity. Affiliation. Service. Collaboration.

All of the above are values – these and many more can shape what we do in life and how we do it.

We all have values. They represent what is important to us. Values are powerful because they supply our work (and everything else in our lives) with meaning.  They govern our behavior and guide our choices. Values are powerful motivators.  They determine the decisions you make in your life. You’re either moving toward things that satisfy your values, or moving away from things that contradict your values.

Values are contextually driven.  For example, I might value autonomy in my choice of job but intimacy when it comes to forming non-work relationships. While context changes some values –  some we often call “core,” may be important to us in every situation, like trust, authenticity and respect.

Values Determine Choices

We often don’t consciously think about why it is we make certain choices or what drives our decision-making process. One thing is for sure; they’re not whimsical or accidental and values are at the heart of every decision. When we become consciously aware of our values and make connections to the feelings and behaviors they generate, we can experience that Eureka moment of striking gold. Ah…this is what is really important to me…

Did you know that values “experts” think that the primary age for imprinting values is 10? Think back to yourself at 10. What was happening? Who were your heroes? What were the dominant themes in your home and the culture at the time?  Because values formation begins when we are very young and isn’t given much conscious thought throughout our development, we arrive at adulthood with the set of values that guides us through much of life.

Often the choices we make now represent values that had meaning at an earlier stage in our life. As a boy I may have loved adventure and organized my actions around finding it, but now that I’m well past my skateboarding days, how do I express my continuing need for adventure? Perhaps I recognize but don’t give expression to that value anymore or seek new outlets for it. Or, I let my still active desire for adventure find unsuitable outlets that no longer serve the adult me and result in dissatisfaction and even negative consequences.

Only by bringing my values into conscious awareness now and envisioning where I want to be in the future, will I reap the true gifts of my values.  My value of adventure is an exciting, fun part of life.  It sparks curiosity, wonder and pleasure and I choose to make it an active part of my experience now – the question is how.

It saddens me to hear people say what they value most is honesty and trust, but because don’t experience it – especially in business –  they are “giving “ up on it.  We can’t “give up” on what we value most, without diminishing what is most important and unique in our experience

Language Does Not Truly Represent Experience

We use language to talk about our experience, but it never truly represents the experience. So, when we use words to describe our values to another person, even though there is mutual acknowledgment of the word, there may be a difference in how its behaviorally experienced.  

Often when I work with an  inter-generational teams someone will say,  “I’m having a difficult time working with (Jill, a “millennial”) because I have a strong work ethic and she doesn’t.”  Work ethic is indeed a value but how we experience and demonstrate the behavioral equivalent of that value can be very diverse. Essentially that person has judged that (Jill) doesn’t have as good a work ethic and likely has formed other beliefs about the way (Jill) does her work.

Assumptions and expectations are formed (usually outside of our conscious awareness) which we then project – and sometimes impose – on those around us. Unless we understand what our values are – and how we experience and express them (behaviorally) we’ll act on those assumptions and often be wrong.

Whether it is a close personal relationship or workplace relationship, it can be valuable to gain a better, more specific understanding of other people’s values and what’s important to them. And most important– to know how they express them?

Here’s a simple 2 step technique for finding out someone’s values for a particular context. For example, let’s assume the context is hiring and we want to determine if the person is a good match for the organization.

  • Step One – Ask the question  “What’s important to you about  working for our organization?”  Let’s  assume the answer is – that the job/organization provides a collaborative work environment.  

Note: We need to ask another question to determine how the person behaviorally experiences collaboration (value). If we don’t, we’re using our experience of collaboration as the basis for assessing the person’s rightness for the position.

  • Step Two – To determine the person’s idiosyncratic experience of the value collaboration, we ask another question. “How do you know that you’re experiencing collaboration?” “What types of activities/experiences satisfy your desire for collaboration?”

Note: This question is designed to elicit the actual behaviors associated with the person’s experience of collaboration. The more behavior-based information you have about values, the better.

Values in Conflict

Let’s say, authenticity, is one your core work values.  If you find yourself playing office politics by agreeing to something that violates that value – you can rely on your emotions to let you know where you are on your values meter.  Feelings don’t lie.

If you act in ways that are inauthentic, that are in conflict with your values – your emotional response may be anger (at yourself or others), shame, guilt or disappointment.  While you may try to talk yourself out of it, usually expressed in the form of a rationalization (“I have to play politics with this guy. He wouldn’t understand if I shared my real views. There would be pushback.”) at your core, no whitewashing the truth will suffice.

We’re always getting feedback from our values system, unfortunately, we often choose to either override it or ignore it.  Actively working with your values is a great way to clarify what you really want and absolutely must have to feel you are living a life that is truly meaningful for you.  When we honor our values, we feel more confident, alive and vital.

Thanks for reading,

George Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants

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