“The most important thing in life is to decide what’s most important”
Seems like people don’t talk or write much about values anymore.
Yes, the word value gets bandied about. Creating value, adding value, etc. While most organizations still use values words in their mission statements, most people don’t pay attention to them. Let’s face it – we’re cynical about values. Other people’s values. But not our own.
This post isn’t about overused and unrealized mission statement values.
Or attaching some unquantifiable asset to a brand or skill-set. Our
focus here is on personal values. Individual values. Your values and
mine. We’re not cynical about those values, are we? Maybe we just
don’t give them as much thought as we used to.
But we should.
should our values matter to us? Because our values are one of the most
potent forces in our lives. These intangibles motivate and drive us in
our work. They inform all of our decisions. Along with our beliefs
and feelings, values form our internal map of reality. Our values are
powerful because they supply our work (and everything else in our lives)
with meaning. Real meaning. Meaning that has purpose and depth that
reflects who we are in the world. Without them, we get attached (some
might say – fixated) to external motivators and rewards. We go on a
kind of Pavlovian auto-pilot.
a strong sense of our values guiding and supporting us, we can also get
caught up in other people’s values – spouses, colleagues, partners,
families, cultures. There is nothing wrong with that except that without awareness
of how to recognize and satisfy our own core values, we can lose our
way and find ourselves working in the service of someone else’s causes
Digging for Gold
easy to be cynical about using words and calling them values. But
values – real values – are fundamental to our purpose as human beings.
When we consciously choose to understand them – and the behaviors they
drive – a whole range of new choices can open to us.
our work in organizations, we are always talking to people about their
values. Sometimes, they seem surprised. Like someone has come on an
archeological dig and asked them to unearth their deeper selves. For
some people, what’s important to them about their work – what drives and
satisfies them – is right at the tip of their tongues. They’re eager
to share what’s meaningful about their work. For others, some deeper
drilling is required to pull out those valuable gold nuggets of meaning.
When we become consciously aware of
our values – when we make the connections to the feelings that they
generate – and understand what behaviors reinforce them, we can
experience that Eureka moment of striking gold. Identifying what’s
deeply important to us is one thing, living it is quite another.
Values in Conflict
is a powerful reliability factor in the following “formula” – tap into
your core values and connect them with your daily reality – and you will
discover a reservoir of energy that you can revisit time and again for
replenishment. But it has to be real. No BS works. In fact, this
“system” has a built-in BS detector.
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.
you act in ways that are inauthentic, that are, in conflict with your
value – your emotional response may be, anger (at yourself or others),
shame, guilt or disappointment. While you may try to talk yourself out
of it (“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.
One Size Does Not Fit All
important to note that we don’t all express our (behaviorally) values
in the same ways. Consider this example: one thing we often find when
working with inter-generational teams
are people who will say, “I’m having a difficult time working with so
and so because I have a strong work ethic and they don’t.” Work ethic
is indeed a value but how we experience and demonstrate the behavioral
equivalent of that value can be very diverse. Inherent in their statement is often a judgment that the values are not just different, but one is better than the other.
Unless we understand what our values are – and how we express them
(behaviorally) or don’t, we can project them on to our colleagues.
Assumptions and expectations are formed (often out of our conscious
awareness) and are often wrong.
if you are a manager or team member or have close working relationships
with others, it can be valuable to gain a better, more specific
understanding of what’s important to them. What are their values – and
how do they express them? If someone is working for you – it’s smart to
know how they know their values are being satisfied. That way, you can
provide them with experiences that enrich their values and create
Identifying and Prioritizing Your Values
with your values is a process. It requires that you take the time to
carefully explore where you are and what you want. According to blogger Steve Pavlina, “your values are your current estimation of your truth.” Living with conscious awareness of your values means that you living in closer alignment with your purpose.
are many ways to do what’s called “values clarification.” The following
process forms the foundation for beginning to work with your values.
3 Step Process to Identify Your Core Values
1. Start eliciting a list of your top 10 values by asking yourself: (for a sample values list look here)
What is important to me about life?
2. Once you have your list – revisit it and prioritize your values in order of importance to you.
3. For each value ask yourself:
Why is this important to me? Write down your responses
You can vary this exercise by:
- Creating one master “life” list and then creating separate lists for key areas or;
- Creating separate lists for key areas in your life: work,
relationships (you can break that down to separate roles as well),
family, parenting, etc. and then comparing them
Once you’ve completed this process
you may want to continue by connecting a list of your goals to your
values. The more you understand about your hierarchy of values, what
values you are satisfying and which you are in conflict with, your goals
list will shift to work with your list of values.
Most of us waste lots of precious
energy and time being distracted by things that do not satisfy our
deeper purpose. When we actively engage in a congruent relationship
with our values, we begin to generate more positive and supportive
feelings that drive a whole new set of results. Even when we “miss the
mark,” the fact that we aimed in the right direction can be a reward in
As always, we’d love you to share your thoughts and comments with us.
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Louise & George Altman, Intentional Communication Partners