Values: How To Figure Out The Things That Really Matter
Most people may have clarity on some basic values - family values or spiritual values maybe - but the truth is a far smaller number of people have done any significant work on figuring out exactly what their values are, why they really matter - or where they got them from.
We absorb values from a very early age - from our parents, relatives and peers - without realising. Over time, we acquire our values through a process of osmosis and enact them almost without thinking. We come into adulthood with a mishmash of values and beliefs - some of which are extremely useful and which provide us with joy, energy and motivation, others which may be inappropriate, ill-considered or just plain toxic.
We evolve complex systems of making moral and ethical judgements - often unconsciously - without noticing or benchmarking them in any way. We also unconsciously evolve our own personal values-based narrative – these narratives can also be either positive and valuable or negative and toxic.
Sometimes we end up with a hotch-potch of competing or contradictory values - the values of the locker room versus the values of the living room, if you like. Contradictory values and beliefs can lead to dysfunctional behaviours. It’s easy to end up feeling ‘at odds’ with oneself. Doing and saying things because of peer pressure which would remain undone or unsaid had we been acting according to our own moral compass.
On the other hand, values are a unifying force – a simple, clearly facilitated conversation around values – the ones we have in common and the ones we don’t, will bring a group closer together with a stronger understanding and appreciation of each other’s unique qualities. Without this discourse we can remain stuck in superficial conversation, never really getting to grips with what’s important to each other.
Useful starting points:
- Beliefs are what we hold to be true
- Values are what matter to us at a fundamental level
- Needs are the things we require to survive and thrive - food, warmth, shelter, friendships & relationships. (cf. Maslow)
All these things are critically inter-related. So far, so good – however there’s a danger here - If we don’t have a clearly defined set of values and an understanding of values resilience we are susceptible to those who wish to influence or manipulate us on a values level - especially via both social and mainstream media.
How do you respond when your values are challenged? Are you easily able to stand up for what you believe in?
Speaking from a bloke’s perspective, it’s hard to reach adulthood without picking up some toxic values along the way. The challenge is first to notice this, then re-imagine yourself with different values and changed behaviours. And men should encourage others to do the same.
I do recognize that this is easier said than done - especially when there’s peer pressure to act like a ‘real’ man or a 'domestic goddess'. If that pressure is uncomfortable it’s a sure sign that you won’t be happy unless you find a different way for yourself.
I grew up in Glasgow in the sixties - boy were there some awful things said and done back then. So I know from experience it’s possible to adopt new and better ways of being in the world.
Values are the things that really matter to us. And that’s a choice. We can edit them - weed out redundant or toxic values - clean up our act. Redundant values and beliefs can hold us back. Think about it - are the values you grew up with working for you now?
Why do values matter?
Values provide us with our moral and ethical map and compass,
- Values give us energy. They are our ‘duracells’. They motivate us and enable us to conceive of doing extraordinary things.
- Conflicting values and beliefs can demotivate us, stop us in our tracks.
- Values inform our personal story – as we grow we develop an internal values based narrative – this can be positive and useful to us or it can be toxic and get in our way.
- Values drive our behaviour – if our values are out of balance then so will be our behaviours.
Working ‘in depth’ with values is a real eye opener – this work reveals just how many of the rules we operate by have been acquired by a process of osmosis over the course our lifetimes. We may not even be conscious of some of the most powerful stuff that drives our personal ‘operating system’ - or who in our lives has influenced us most deeply.
Values exercises that explore personal and social values in a group have a profound effect on the group as a whole – they deepen empathy, help people appreciate their differences and improve the quality of relationships.
Getting a group working together to identify deeper values helps strengthen relationships within the group - it’s like we start to understand each other’s unique software.
Values exercises based on lists or cards only reveal half the story – why? Confirmation bias means we choose words, phrases, cards that confirm what we like to think our values are. This may lead to an unreliable list - not the best foundation to work from.
Values bind us together – but they can also tear us apart.
Disagreements over values drive conflict. Left/Right Leave/Remain etc. And these values can be manipulated by the media to appeal to our baser instincts, to polarise thinking. When we are pushed to extremes we lose the warm, nuanced thinking in the middle – denying us access to conversations about all the things we have in common. Most of the human race share a whole heap of shared values. Coming together and discussing values can help us understand how to connect and work with others who may have values and beliefs that are different to our own.
A useful metaphor for this work.
You wouldn’t continue to use a computer without updating the software - and yet, if we don’t revisit our values and beliefs from time to time - especially those values that we acquired early on in life, we are running on outdated software - making decisions, reacting to things on the basis of values and beliefs that we simply have not questioned - largely because we haven't consciously thought them through.
Values and Energy
Values - in coaching parlance - are the energy behind our goals. They underpin our sense of purpose, provide motivation and allow us to select our goals in meaningful ways.
When values and goals are aligned, we make progress. When they are out of alignment, we slow down, struggle or give up completely.
Values, selling and influencing
Stories - based on our values and beliefs - are the foundation of our ability to form close bonds, influence others, and create the relationships we need in order to thrive in life and work. A clear understanding of values enables us to move away from selling ourselves and towards building deep, long lasting relationships with the people that matter.
When people discover our values and key into them, a virtuous circle is created – a circle of values, empathy, trust, relationships, loyalty. Our friends, colleagues and our customers bind to us via shared values and find comfort and consistency in that.
Embodied values vs cerebral values - Head, Heart and Gut!
When values, beliefs and goals are aligned, we are able to move forward sustainably, and in ways that support our emotional health and wellbeing.
There are three main levels of engagement with values:
- Thinking about values in a cerebral way – defining them, making lists of words to describe them – defining what matters to us in terms of values, beliefs and needs.
- Enacting values – After we identify, review, and select/focus, we move towards acting out our values in the world. At this level we talk about them and act them out in our working relationships. We begin to use them in the storytelling of work and life.
- Embodying values - embracing values at head, heart and gut level. Committing to our values at a deeply emotional level. We feel our values and live them. At this level values are a life force - you can see that in the passion and commitment of people who have connected with their values at this level. Emotionally intelligent leaders, gifted speakers, activists, connectors.
Things get an awful lot easier when:
- We get to understand our internal values-based narrative – the stories we tell ourselves about our confidence, credibility and capabilities.
- We become clear about who we should seek to connect with and why.
- We can begin to craft the stories we need to tell others to build great relationships and connect with others effectively.
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If you'd like to talk about digging into values with your team or find out about workshops around getting values working in your organisation, don't hesitate to get in touch via my profile.