A key aspect of the differences between people is their values. Whenever we make a decision about what to do next our values, the things that are most important to us, are the primary determinant of what happens. Not surprisingly, differences in values are at the root of many relationship problems. When I go to the movies, I value silence so that I can get absorbed in the experience – but others value talking to their friends (and other noisy behaviours) more. Even though I understand what is going on, I still feel resentful.
That’s a simplistic example, but more substantive differences in values can be damaging to relationships. In the workplace, senior managers will tend to value business success, money and recognition more than other aspects of life – that’s usually how they got to their position. It’s common for them to attempt to impose their values (in their world the only true values, after all!) on to everyone in the firm. This cannot possibly work, and a huge breakdown in relationships (and business performance) is inevitable.
On the other hand, an enlightened senior manager will recognise that people in the business may have different values (family and friends, outside interests, faith), and that the best way to maximise their contribution is to recognise and respect the differences. This strategy doesn’t need a battery of psychological tests and analyses to work: just an acceptance that differences are OK. Ironically, one of the most effective ‘corporate values’ is honouring personal values.
Usually we are not even aware of our own values – because we sit inside them we don’t necessarily notice how they affect our behaviour, and we can’t observe their impact properly. What we tend to notice is the difference between our own behaviours and those of others. Since we consider ourselves to be righteous, deviation from our own norms is treated with suspicion.
Values are also linked to filters: someone who places a high value on money will tend to automatically filter information for money-making opportunities far more effectively than someone who doesn’t care about money. Goal-setting works best when it taps into a person’s values and this, in turn, establishes new filters that draw the person towards the goal.
An acceptance that other people have different values (and filters) from ours can be an instant stress reliever, particularly when we also accept that there is no right or wrong here: people simply operate to the values that serve them best. Their values have evolved over time in the same way that your values have evolved over time. However the circumstances that you and they have faced are different, along with the different psychological characteristics that you inherited in your different genes. Although we tend to believe that there should only be one set of valid and correct values (i.e., mine!), in reality this cannot possibly be the case.
Let’s summarise some key points:
- often when someone behaves in a way that is different from us, particularly when it’s unexpected, it’s because of a difference in values or filters;
- our values are exhibited by what we actually do, rather than what we say we will do;
- we are rarely fully aware of our real values (rather than ones we aspire to), and neither is the other person;
- values evolve over time to suit the needs of each person: there is no absolute ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ (even when our own values tell us that there is!)
We don’t actually need to work out and name the different values: by understanding the mechanics at play, we can remove a lot of stress from our relationships. Values and Value Systems are explored in greater depth here.