coaching topics, Self-reflection

Using Values to Understand Behaviour and Choices

I hate shouting. I hate being shouted at and I hate it when other people are shouting at each other. It makes me feel sick and shaky. I tend to withdraw and back away both physically and emotionally. It affects the rest of my day and returns to me at night (or more likely 5am the following morning). Some would consider this an over-reaction, and I know that other people don’t react in the same way as me.

I have an extreme reaction to shouting (even when I am not directly involved) because it is in conflict with three of my Key, or Core, Values – those of “Respect”, “Kindness” and “Calm”.

After my children were born, I went through a spell of anxiety and depression, as do many. I was encouraged and supported to work through some exercises to try to understand what triggered the worst of these episodes, which is where I came across the concept of core values.

My core values are respect, integrity/authenticity, kindness, helping others, learning, reflection, curiosity, hard work, calm, and independence. The strength of any individual Value ebbs and flows, but they all tend to be there to some extent. They help my sense of identity and guide some of the choices I make. They also give me the words to explain why I make certain choices (why I became a coach for example).

Understanding my own values, and that everyone has their own values which may or may not be similar to mine, also helps me understand my response to various situations and to “dampen” down unhelpful (to me) responses. In the shouting example, I wouldn’t say I didn’t still feel horrible, but I will be telling myself “OK, this is clashing with your core values so you are going to find it horrible – it doesn’t mean it’s the end of the world”. Followed by “just because to me shouting is disrespectful and unkind  – and these are things that are important to me – they may not mean the same things to those involved so they probably aren’t doing it to deliberately cause you pain”. If I were more closely involved in the situation I might say (usually afterwards): “I hear your frustration at the situation, but I really value respect and to me shouting is not respectful and therefore it makes it hard for me to listen/ understand when you are shouting”. It doesn’t always stop the shouting because my response may clash with a “self-expression” Value for someone else, but I do feel like it gives me more power over my response to the situation.

Understanding some of my other values  has helped me understand why  I get frustrated with my 10 year old – he is still very much at the stage at which Values start to form but he certainly does not currently share my “hard work” and “learning” Values – though we share more of the “kindness” and “helping others” Values. It is an open question as to how much it is advisable to try to pass on my “hard work” and “learning” Values to him on a daily basis (especially during home-learning situations) but helping narrow my frustration down to the conflict with these specific values helps me move away from feeling like I am generally frustrated with him, which in turn makes for more positive interaction the rest of the time.

Only recently have I come to realise how strong my values of “integrity” and “authenticity” can be. They have shown up in 2 big ways over the past few years.

  • I had a colleague who would say completely different things depending on who was in the room. For example they would be very supportive of my ideas 1-2-1 but when I presented the same ideas in a larger meeting, they would pick them to pieces and explain why they were wrong. This was annoying – but it gradually struck me that it wasn’t the picking apart per se that was the problem, but the change in tack from the 1-2-1 to the larger meeting. In other words the lack of authenticity in that person. I stopped valuing their opinion so much and moved to work with others whenever I could.
  • My new career relies on me building relationships with clients, both on the coaching side and the consultancy side. This includes writing content for social media. I started a bit haphazardly to write some articles from a very formal standpoint, and others from a more relaxed, personal perspective. Guess which ones brought me both more satisfaction and more engagement from others? Showing up authentically gives me energy, joy, and hopefully clients! I am working in a way that is aligned to my core Values.

Finally, a note that it isn’t always necessary to understand where those Values come from – they are usually a combination of life experiences, peer influences, cultural background. I have some idea of where some of my values come from, but I don’t focus on this (either positively or negatively) most of the time. It’s enough to name them and understand how they influence my responses and choices now and moving forwards.

If you’d like to find out more about Values and how I use them in coaching sessions, you can find that in this blog.