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Posted 05/20/24

Using your values to make great choices

You thought you knew what your values were but you’ve made a decision that feels ick and now you’re not so sure…

You have no idea what your values are, feel like you’re making wrong choices all over the place or are just frozen with indecision…

You joined your organisation because you thought you shared its values but their behaviours don’t seem to be in alignment…

Problem with values? I hear you. From lifestyle blogs to business boardrooms, values are everywhere. Maybe you know what your values are; maybe you don’t (yet!) but to my mind there’s one thing that elevates values from being the latest buzz word to having actual, well…value, and that’s doing something with them. I’m Beth Stallwood – coach, consultant, speaker, podcast host, author and creator of all things WorkJoy. In this guide, I’m sharing everything (well, almost everything) I know about values, and how to use them to make great choices and ultimately get more WorkJoy. 

How to use this guide

How often do you sit with a cup of tea (or G&T, frankly 😉) and really read something and take it in? Not often I bet. If you’re in the right headspace (and actual space) to do that right now, go for it! If not, use the links below to dip in, out and around. Anything goes! 

Contents

Values are awesome (if you know what to do with them)
The difference between values, principles and behaviours
Know this: Values change over time
Four routes to identifying your values
How to: choose an organisation that aligns with your values
WorkJoy Community story: finding alignment
How to: Live your own values
Watch out for: guessing someone else’s values
Next steps: Choose your own WorkJoy journe
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Spread the WorkJoy


VALUES ARE AWESOME (if you know what to do with them)

When you know your values and are (mostly) living and behaving in alignment, you may feel a sense of security, certainty, and reassurance. They also act as an anchor point when things feel difficult, guiding you through tough times, helping you weigh up options, set boundaries and make great choices.  

Conversely, when you go off-piste from your values, it can feel that things aren’t quite right, like you’re in quicksand and unable to find your footing. It becomes difficult to find your direction and make the right decisions. If this feeling sounds familiar, it can be comforting to know that there’s nothing wrong with you – it might simply be a case of mis-aligned values. 

So let’s start at the very beginning (a very good place to start, according to Julie Andrews – what a QUEEN 👑), with how to spot a true value when you see one.


THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN VALUES, PRINCIPLES AND BEHAVIOURS

You and I could hold the exact same value (let’s say, ‘integrity’) yet do two very different things – because what I think demonstrates integrity and what you think demonstrates integrity could be different. Equally, we could hold the same value but our principles could differ. So let’s straighten a few things out shall we: 

Values are deeply linked to your emotions – they are heart-led. They are the things that you care about in your life. They help you make choices and decisions that feel right for you.

Principles are linked to your beliefs about the ‘right’ way to do things – they are thought-led and influenced by your background (family, culture, environment, etc.). They act as your internal moral compass.

Behaviours are how you show up in the world – they are action-led. In theory, they are the way in which you demonstrate your values and principles, through what you say and what you do.

When you’re behaving in a way that aligns with your values, it can feel that all is right in the world. At other times, your behaviour won’t match what you care about. When you’ve lost your rag (even though one of your values is kindness), felt compelled to stay quiet (when you’d say speaking up for others is important), or adapted your position for the sake of ease, or fear, or because you simply can’t be bothered (when you would say being truthful is a value), it can lead to all sorts of awkward feelings. 

The idea that if you can stand by your values 100% of the time, you’ll be happier, is a noble one, yet almost impossible to achieve. The fact is that:

  1. Sometimes you’ll make choices that don’t align with your values.
  2. Sometimes your values rub up against each other, causing friction, and you must choose one at the cost of sacrificing the other.
  3. Sometimes you don’t even consider your values and go along with a plan without a second thought – in pursuit of peace, or because you simply act on what you want in the moment.

Here’s a little extract from my conversation about Working with Your Values with the fabulous Lizzy Nichol:

I sat down with a coach…I’ll never ever forget this. She had all of these little tiles and on each of them was written a word. And she said, pick out the words, the values, basically, that really speak to you. And we started with ten. And she was like, right, let’s go deeper. And we got down to five, and then we got down to three and I’ve never ever forgotten them. And my words were freedom, wisdom and growth. They’ve provided a cornerstone for me. So I always need a certain amount of freedom. I need freedom to be creative.

Listen to the full episode here.


KNOW THIS: VALUES CHANGE OVER TIME

Things can feel awkward (or downright uncomfortable) when our values are misaligned with our actions, but it can feel equally disconcerting when we continue making choices according to values that are out of date. This is obvious but it bears repeating – we are human, we’re changing and evolving all the time (or we certainly should be). This means our values need to change with us, and why I recommend to clients that they do a regular values audit (tip: the weird period between Christmas and New Year – also known as Twixmas – is a great time to do this).

It’s unlikely that you’ll find the need to dump an important value overnight (unless you’ve experienced some big life changes), and more likely that you’ll see values travel up and down in priority order before being respectfully replaced. It’s essential that you’re aware of this as it’s happening, and that you’re willing to let go of old values that no longer serve you. 


FOUR ROUTES TO IDENTIFYING YOUR VALUES

There are lots of books and processes out there for working out the values that are important to you, but I humbly offer you my method. My four experiments (Opposites, Free Writing, Reverse Engineering and Crowd-Sourcing) can give you a set of values in under an hour (depending on how quickly your crowd Whatsapp you back!). Print it, scribble on it and keep it close. 

FREE DOWNLOAD
Download my four values experiments here.

Check and challenge

Once you’ve created your list of four words that describe your values, dig a little deeper, and test them out using these reflection questions.  

Reflection questions:

How do these words make you feel?How would you describe what they mean to other people?Would you be proud if other people described you using these words?What behaviours would you need to display to make these values clear to others?How often are you living up to these values?When you’re not behaving in line with them, what’s going on in your world?

HOW TO: CHOOSE AN ORGANISATION THAT ALIGNS WITH YOUR VALUES

There’s a lot to be said for finding work in which your personal and the organisational values align. If you’ve got kindness, creativity and learning on your list and the organisation you work for – or want to work for – espouses those too, you may be going ‘tick, tick, tick – this is going to be awesome!’ There may also be times when your personal values are misaligned to an organisation – for example if you value humility, but the only way to get noticed in your organisation is to be boastful.

Some organisations have values that you can touch and feel as soon as you’re working with them. The behaviours align with the words, and it all feels authentic. In others the behaviours are so contradictory to the values, you wonder who on earth created them. There are multiple directions and combinations, which can act as a first filter to help you make a values-led choice when shopping for a new organisation: 

  • Great sounding values + great behaviours (fabulous – where do I sign?)
  • Great sounding values + awful behaviours (inauthentic)
  • Awful sounding values (or no stated values) + great behaviours (identity crisis)
  • Awful sounding values (or no stated values) + awful behaviours (run for the hills)

It also pays to remember that an organisation’s values are only as solid as the behaviours of the people who work there, and their interpretations of the organisational values will mingle amongst their personal values. Their behaviours will be a combination of these, so they’ll also be imperfect and inconsistent. So look beyond the organisation’s behaviours and get to know people who actually work there. 

Reflection questions:

What values do your organisation promote (if any)?How do those values align with the behaviours you observe?Do your colleague’s values align with the organisation’s values? 

WORKJOY COMMUNITY STORY: FINDING ALIGNMENT
“I really believe that ‘values’ has become an overused word. Companies can say their values are whatever they like, but the culture is organic. It never lies. I was working for a business, on the operations side. They’d paid for me to do my Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) human resources (HR) training, and I’d worked really hard on the company values. I was an obvious fit for an HR role when one came up, but they brought someone else in to do it.

“Finding a company that I aligned with became a big thing. I wasn’t sure how to go about it, but I always stuck to my values. I actually made two moves to get closer to what I wanted. I reached out to someone whose values aligned with mine and they created a position within their organisation for me, three days a week. They’ve really got it sussed. I’m a strong part of the team and I’m really happy there. The other two days a week I work for myself, and I get to choose clients whose values I align with as well. It’s phenomenal the difference it’s made.”

HOW TO: LIVE YOUR OWN VALUES

Much like when they conflict with other people’s values, your own values can cause friction when in competition with each other, causing that ache of internal conflict. Like anything in life, values apply only within the unique context of a situation, an environment or a moment in time. Rigidity will not help you here. 

Back in the day, before music was on-demand on a phone, people had hi-fis. These machines had something on them called a graphic equalizer. You may remember these, or you may be thinking ‘what on earth are you talking about?’. Feel free to google this now so that you can get into the analogy! A graphic equaliser takes the elements of music and dials some up and dials some down depending on what is the best mix for that moment. Like this:

In any situation, you may need to dial up one of your values and dial down another, deciding what is contextually appropriate. Perhaps one of the values isn’t relevant to what’s going on; perhaps another isn’t helpful and could cause more issues than it solves. This doesn’t mean you aren’t fully living your values. It means you’re being savvy about how to apply them. 

An example might be: You hold a value about transparency because you value open and clear communication; you also hold the value of trust because it’s the foundation of great relationships. If a colleague tells you something in confidence, you’ll need to choose which gets a higher weighting. In this circumstance you’ll likely pick the trust (possibly without even consciously considering it). This doesn’t mean you’re not being transparent, only that you’re carefully choosing the right things to be transparent about. 


WATCH OUT FOR: GUESSING SOMEONE ELSE’S VALUES

When you observe behaviours in others, it’s easy to make assumptions about what values they hold. You are not a mind reader, so you take clues from what happens on the outside. If you’ve ever heard yourself mumbling phrases like, ‘They clearly don’t care about…,’ then you’ve fallen into that trap. Unless you know someone well, have spent time with them in many, varied situations (the good, the bad and the ugly) and have had those deep conversations about values and principles, you’re unlikely to be able to define what they truly care about. Withhold your judgement – you never really know what’s going on in another person’s life.


NEXT STEPS: CHOOSE YOUR OWN WORKJOY JOURNEY

Values can be tricky to understand, and even trickier to live in alignment with. I hope this article has cleared up some of the confusion, as well as helped you identify your own values and learn how to squeeze every last drop of juice from them. Here’s what you can do now. 

1. Sign up for a regular WorkJoy injection
Follow me on Linkedin. I’ll also let you know whenever there’s a WorkJoy-ful interview on the pod (or anything else you might like). 

2. Grab an hour for personal-professional development
I’ve got a few downloads waiting for you, and I’m thinking that How to fall back in love with your job might be just the ticket for you right now. 

3. Start working your way out of chronic WorkGloom
Get my 21-day GloomBusters audio guide. A five-minute gloom-lifting audio will pop into your WhatsApp every day for three weeks. All you have to do is listen.

4. Buy a book
My book, WorkJoy: a toolkit for a better working life, has a whole chapter on values, as well as boundaries, organisations, bosses and much more. Think of it like the WorkJoy curriculum. 

5. Book a chat
Really stuck? Book a 1-1 coaching call with me

“I have experienced a number of coaches, and coaching styles but none have stayed with me as much as my sessions with Beth.
Beth enjoys the conversation, and her style of questioning is non-intrusive but she has this way of opening you up. I was invested in our chats and I always return to her advice.
Beth is calm, warm and engaging and I always value her thoughts. Her guidance is always welcome.”
– WorkJoy community member

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Know someone who’s struggling to make values-led choices right now? Why not send them this link?

Photo credit: Jordan Ladikos on Unsplash

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