Chasing Our Values: Steps for Clarifying What We Act On


bigstock-Self-Motivation-Golden-Dollar-2032781How do you experience value? How does your experience of value unfold in your daily life?  Many dilemmas arise from conflicting values as well as from conflicting perceptions of value.  Such conflicts are subtle because the differences in what we value and the reasons we value what we do are subtle. These subtleties may escape our notice.  But the conflicts themselves invariably command our attention. The common interface between home-life and work-life provides a nice and simple illustration.

When I miss my daughter’s soccer game or my son’s weekend hike with the Scouts so that I can complete a work project, I send my kids, perhaps my wife as well, a message concerning how I value each of them.  The message received may not be an accurate message. It may not be the message I intended to convey and it may not be received well.

Also, I may be conditioned to think the message received is not something for which I am exclusively responsible. Passing as such things do from my verbal activity though the filtering processes of my children’s mental machinery, I may say: “I can’t help that you took what I said the way you did.”

Whatever the cognitive mechanics, perceptions of my role and responsibility as a loving, nurturing and involved father have run headlong into perceptions of my role and responsibility to my firm and our clients.  I may be more inclined to place my “reputational” interests before my interest in being a “good parent” and unwittingly sacrifice my children’s emotional needs. The reasons I actually give for doing what I do may or may not bring me to an awareness of what I am valuing in the exchange.

For example, I may say: “I have to earn a living,” or “I need to demonstrate my dedication to the firm,” even when my dedication is not at issue and my ability to earn and provide is not in jeopardy. I may say “my client is depending on me for the success of this summary judgment motion” when taking time with my kids will do nothing to upset the trust upon which my client’s dependence rests.

In truth, I may simply desire to do something else with the time because the soccer game or a weekend hike doesn’t strike my fancy at the moment the opportunity is presented. While I value each moment spent with my children, I may value the intellectual challenge presented by resolving a pressing issue.  The choice is not truly one of deciding between being a reliable professional and a good parent. Rather, what is at work is the conflict between how I value time spent in one manner versus time spent in another at the moment of choice.

Regardless, my children do not process my absence as a dislike for soccer or hiking. They see it as my preferring my work over spending time in their lives.  They see me valuing work over participation in events of importance to them. This message is certainly not one any thoughtful parent would intentionally send to their child.

This simple illustration is especially helpful in showing how perceptions of “role” can add to conflicts arising from competing values.  Clearly, perceptions of the duties and obligations arising within our professional roles can butt heads with those arising within our parental roles.

This isn’t Earth-shattering news by any means. However, penetrating the various layers of such conflicts invites a deeper examination of what we value, why we value what we do, and whether the results we seek in our various life domains are congruent with the values we hold.bigstock-The-words-When-in-Doubt-Change-32121158

As time goes by, my children may devise other means of commanding my attention. My daughter may act out in progressively disconcerting ways or my son may become increasingly detached so that I am required to engage with each of them.  However, an amazing cognitive phenomenon occurs: I interpret their behavior as something for which they are exclusively responsible and view my task as one of correction. I do not make the connection between their behavior and the messages I have sent them concerning how I value my time.  I don’t view the situation as an opportunity for self-reflection or transactional dialogue with my kids.  I instead interpret the situation as one requiring parental intervention to correct troubling teen-aged behavior.

While I’ve shared a small detail of a “role” and “value” driven dilemma arising in the life-work context, intertwined role/value conflicts arise across all our life domains, at home, in the workplace, and in our social relationships.


Values can be loosely thought of as “intrinsic” and “extrinsic.”    Intrinsic values are those values that are not dependent on any other thing because the are complete in and of themselves;  Extrinsic values either depend or are dependent upon some other end for their vitality. They are typically a means  to achieving that other end.  For example, the quest for money may be viewed as an “extrinsic” value because money is viewed as a means to accomplishing some other end– perhaps the security of our family or the ability to act in a charitable way in our communities.  Security or charity, on the other hand, may be viewed as “intrinsic” because they are ends in and of themselves, independent of other considerations.

When we act upon, or are driven by, extrinsic values, we may be unaware of the underlying intrinsic mechanisms that are really at work in motivating our actions and behavior.  Below is an easy exercise for uncovering values at work in your daily life and reflecting upon whether the values that motivate your behavior align with your self-image and how you would like to be perceived and understood by others.

Step One–  Laying Your Values Bare

Ask yourself, “what do I value the most?”  Write your answers down.  Remember, values are intangible and unconscious.  Listing your values is an opportunity to bring them into your consciousness.  Don’t think about or rank your answers.  Just write down a short list of 10-20 words or phrases that occur to you when you ask yourself “what do I value?”

Focus on specific areas of your life: marriage, workplace, Family, Community.  Here’s an example of what your list might look like:

Marriage      Work                Family              Community
Equality          Security           Togetherness      Reputation
Sharing          Achievement    Unity                    Equality
Friendship      Loyalty             Cooperation       Justice & fairness
Trust                                       Respect              Compassion

Step Two– Find Your Values in Operation

For each value you have listed, think about how this value is expressed in each of the areas of your life you have categorized.  Write down a few brief examples.  Does one area of your life require you to exercise a particular value in manner different than you would exercise that same value in another area of your life?   If so, ask yourself why the difference?  Then, ask yourself whether you are comfortable with the difference?

Step Three- Connect the Dots

When you encounter differences in how your values motivate your behavior in your respective domains of influence, you have likely uncovered differences between deeply held “intrinsic” values that derive from your identity as a person, and often equally compelling “extrinsic” values that derive from the role(s) you have adopted in one or more areas of your personal or professional life.   Circle those values that seem to you to be intrinsic rather than extrinsic.  Notice how often your actions and behavior are motivated by extrinsic rather than intrinsic values.

Step Four– Acting from Depth

Because intrinsic values are those values that uniquely define us as individuals– are constitutive of our special character and personality– we should expect to experience greater sustained personal satisfaction when we act authentically from our deeply held values.  When we are motivated instead by extrinsic values only, we may anticipate the opportunities for  value driven conflicts and dilemmas to arise with some frequency because of the transitory nature of extrinsic values and their involvement in our behavior.

Coaching can help YOU clarify the values that motivate role-driven behaviors, can help YOU identify YOUR authentic values and motivations so that YOU can avoid debilitating conflicts and inefficiencies and act with intentionality, purpose and precision.  Coaching can help YOU create strong, intimate and nurturing relationships in each of your domains of influence by allowing you to connect with and act from a place of authenticity and integrity.

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