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Living and working in line with your values


When was the last time you felt indignant at work? I mean really, properly, jaw droppingly, face-flushingly p1$$ed off? The chances are that someone had trampled all over one of your core values and you felt the pain acutely.

The thing is that other people can’t see your values. They might see your resulting behaviour when one of them gets trodden on but … they won’t know why you’re behaving in that way.

I’ve now been working with values for about five years; discovering and articulating my own, as well as working with my clients on their values. I’ve learned that a truly fulfilling career is one where you can live out your values and state your boundaries when they get trodden on.

But here’s the tricky bit that everyone gets wrong: We don’t all share the same values!

Bear with me. I know this sounds obvious but it really isn’t. Although we intellectually understand that we are all different, in my experience, we ALL think that everyone else is operating from the same internal values system as we are and when they behave out of line with that, we get confused.

When your colleagues don't share your values

Take “Amy” who I used to work with. We were both working on a start-up project that had the potential to make a big difference in the working lives of a lot of people. It also had the potential to make us both quite a bit of money if successful. We worked well together, with complementary strengths and skills, and both highly motivated.

That is until the project start to look like it wasn’t going to be financially viable. Amy started behaving in a way that I thought was completely irrational. She started demanding to be paid an inordinate amount of money upfront for her contribution otherwise she wasn’t going to do her bit. I kept having the conversation “But, there isn’t any money to pay you and what about everyone else that’s working on the project. Don’t you think they want to get paid as well?”

It just so happened that, as part of this project, we got to participate in a values assessment and we share our values reports with each other. Suddenly, Amy’s behaviour made sense. She had an extremely strong driver for economic reward (my economic driver has always been low). The realisation, for her, that her dreams of overnight wealth were not going to come to fruition sent her into some extremely irrational behaviours.

When I saw her values report, the penny dropped. And, whilst it was difficult for me to understand her, I had to try to see her behaviour from a place of no judgement. Albeit that business relationship ended soon after! Our values were too misaligned for it to work.

When your organisation doesn't share your values

As demonstrated by Amy’s behaviour, our values being trodden on can send us into a difficult place. It really hurts.

In my last corporate role, I worked for a company that had very flexible employment practices, particularly towards working parents. I loved the fact that there was this great flexibility. It was completely in line with my values of work/life harmony.

However, one day I was asked to work late for (what I thought was) a quite spurious reason. I mentioned that I had a riding lesson that evening at 6 pm that was a really important part of my week and my wellbeing. Perhaps I could complete the work very early the next morning?

The answer was “no”. It had to be done now. But no valid reason was given. The red mist descended. This organisation bent over backwards for people attending family a activities, but the one activity that was important to me was not an acceptable reason for leaving on time.

I have now articulated that fairness is one of my top two values and … let’s just say I wasn’t at that organisation much longer.

Moving towards value alignment

Each and every individual has a unique set of values. Even if we share some of the same values descriptors, they can have a very different personal meaning. For example, “fairness” could be about people being treated equally or it could be about equality of opportunity. My version of work/life harmony could be very different to yours.

So the idea that we can share values with other people or with an organisation is not realistic. Rather, you need to be able to know what your values and boundaries are and to make sure that you can express them amongst your colleagues and within the culture of where you work.

Once you’ve identified and articulated your values for yourself, the best thing you can do is to tell people about them and what that means for you. That way, other people can understand you and your behaviours better and you can seek out environments that will enable you to live out your values in your personal and work life.

If you don’t know what your values are and would like some support, let me know. I can provide you with some coaching questions to help you uncover your values or you can book a Discovery Call with me to look at ways of working with values.

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