Nick and I have been working recently with a large organisation to review and refresh their values. It’s been interesting listening to the conversations and debate about the words themselves, their intention and how to distil the inherent meaning into a short yet meaningful action statement that everyone in the organisation can relate to. But what are values, why are they important and how do we use them?
One definition is ‘principles or standards of behaviour; one’s judgement of what is important in life’. They could also be described as our compass, internal drivers or morals that help guide us through life and navigate its ups and downs. Have you ever considered your personal or family values?
You may or may not be consciously aware of them, yet they are an intrinsic part of what makes you and are revealed in what you do and how you do it. It can be hard to name them but you’re likely to have 5-7 ‘core’ values, those that are most important to you, the ones that are established once we reach maturity and some of which may have been sown early in life when demonstrated by those around us.
Once adopted, they are unlikely to change although the way they are engaged may be different depending on the situation. The encountered situation may find that one value has more significance or be more important than another and that values hierarchy may vary depending on what is happening in our life and taking our attention. For example, if Health is not a value or is low in the hierarchy and we have a health scare or a loved one is taken ill then we may reassess its importance.
Importantly our awareness of our values develops through time and experience and learning what we actually stand for provides some of the most critical lessons in our life. We have all compromised our values at times as we’ve come to understand that and if you recall a time when you did that, you will probably remember how bad you felt as a result.
Something to note is that whatever we hold to be our values may be espoused ie talked about or desired rather than embraced and modelled and, again it will be clear from our behaviour. For example, if one of your values is honesty but you gossip behind someone’s back about them, I would suggest that honesty is espoused for you. Of if you say that respect is a value but you don’t always respect yourself then it may not be a value you truly embrace.
Our personal values are central to our decisions, choices, establishing boundaries, and how we go about our life in general and, if we ever feel challenged by someone, it can be due to a clash of values. So, whether in our primary relationship, with friends, family or at work, misalignment between our own and another’s values or the values of the organisation can lead to tension and cause conflict. This can be more likely if we appear to have similar values yet experience others applying them differently and behave according to their own interpretation rather than ours.
If you haven’t already explored your own values, then I invite to you to consider that as it will be insightful and help you recognise what you care deeply about. If you are in a relationship, it would be worth you both doing it separately and then discussing those you have in common and those that differ and how that plays out.
Identifying shared values helps to establish healthy boundaries, agreed behaviours and creates a strong foundation which will enable you to support and appreciate each other more, particularly in the difficult times.
If you have a family, remember that your children will be learning about values as part of ‘the way we do things around here’ and will pick them up through watching how you behave rather than being told what to do.
If this has sparked your interest in exploring personal values then we often suggest Barrett’s Personal Values Assessment through The Values Centre, it’s quick, easy and free to access and you receive an insightful e-report.