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Knowing your values: why they matter

Integrity. Security. Achievement.

Trust. Loyalty. Adventurousness.

Compassion. Timeliness. Positivity.

On paper, these are just words. But knowing how you govern and react to the world around you, based on words like these, can really help you unlock your potential.

These words are all examples of values. I discussed values a little in a previous blog post (that you can find here) but I’ve been doing a lot of value work with clients recently and really wanted delve into the details of them today. I’ll also be offering some tips for identifying your values and what to do with that information going forward!

What are values?

Values are our moral principles or standards and are an expression of who we are. They are not real, physical things but are instead based on universal concepts, such as:

  • Security

  • Purpose

  • Freedom

  • Success

  • Comfort

You may have the same values as someone but what that value means is entirely personal. For example, security to one person might be associated with finances, whereas to another it might mean living in a safe area. We have a core set of values that drive our decision-making from a young age, but we can inherit new or changed values as we grow up and experience life in different ways.

Why are values important?

We are not always aware of it, but our values motivate our actions in both subtle and obvious ways. They affect everything we choose to do (or not do in many cases) and shape our opinions of others.

Think back to a time when you met someone new and made a speedy judgement or assumption about whether or not you would get on with that person. Whatever judgement you made, positive or negative, will have been formed based on your values.

For example, if you were interviewing someone with a colleague and you highly value positivity, achievement and intellectual status, it’s likely that you’d be really impressed by a candidate with a Masters degree and a confident attitude who was from a well-known commercial organisation. However, your colleague might value thoughtfulness, contribution and uniqueness more than those other things, and would have in mind that they were looking for a candidate with experience in the charity sector who will have displayed their contribution to society through volunteering. Neither person has a ‘more correct’ nor ‘better’ set of values, but the differences between how they would perceive different candidates might affect who they chose to employ.

Other parts of our life that values affect include:

  • The friends and relationships we choose

  • The career paths we go down

  • The hobbies or leisure activities that we pursue

  • The clothes we wear and how we style ourselves

  • What makes us emotional – happy, sad, angry, frustrated, content

Our emotions and our values

Identifying our values is a really valuable way (yes, I went there) of understanding our emotional reactions to different situations. At times, do you wonder why something that someone has said or done just doesn’t sit right with you? If you struggle to know why you sometimes feel uneasy around certain people or situations, it is likely that your core values are at play.

If your values lie in expressiveness and creativity, you may find it more difficult to connect with people who value stability and carefulness. Or, similarly, if you are someone who’s core values lie around empathy, service and thoughtfulness, you may struggle to truly engage with a job where you don’t feel like you’re making a difference.

Think back to a time when you’ve felt totally happy, and in the right place. What was happening at the time and what needs of yours were being met that made you feel this way? You can also think back to a time that you felt really angry or frustrated. What wasn’t happening and what needs of yours weren’t being met that resulted in you feeling that way?

If you know what your values are then you can more quickly understand your emotional reactions to situations and learn how to seek out the things that make you happy and limit your exposure to things that frustrate and annoy you. Knowing what sets you off can be used to your advantage to guide you to situations and people that you thrive around.

Identify your core values

  1. Run through the list of values from above and make a note of any of the words that jump out to you. There’s no right or wrong answers here but only note down the words that really resonate with who you think you are as a person

  2. Go through your list again, and whittle it down to a maximum of 20. You’ll find that some of the words you’ve picked are similar to one another, but remove the ones that you’re least driven by

  3. Looking at your revised list of values, group the similar ones together to form around 5-7 different groups. ​For example, you might have empathy, equality, fairness, sensitivity, thoughtfulness and tolerance in one group.

  4. Attribute one single value or word to each group. This can be a word from the list you’ve created or it could be a new word that you feel more fully described the group of values. For the example above, the overarching word could be fairness or it could be something like care

  5. Write out your list of group titles – these are your core values and a summary of what drives you!

Questions to ask yourself

Once you’ve pulled together a core list of 5-7 values, it can be really useful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • How can my new knowledge of my values be applied to my life going forward?

  • How can I ensure that my values don’t over-influence the assumptions and judgements I make about other people or certain situations?

  • How can I use my values and strengths to help me work through difficult situations in future?

  • What do I want other people to know about my values to help ensure that I can get the most out of the time I spend with them?


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