Blog & Insight

What are your values?

The challenge with what motivates us is it's unconscious - ie we know something motivates us (our values) but we're not often consciously aware of what they are specifically. Never the less, they still provide the motivation to act or not act in everything we do every hour of every day.

Because values come from the heart not head, and as the language of the heart is very different from the head, values are generally unconscious - no checklist to choose from for determining your values I'm afraid (I know many coaches and trainers do use a pre determined list but aspirations rather than reality do have a way of finding themselves onto those lists. So if you've chosen your value from a list rather than followed the process below I would suggest you need to test their efficacy).

Here's a brief overview about values:

  • Every action you take is motivated by a value eg security, adventure, health, love etc
  • Values provide the rules you operate by - those things you're not prepared to negotiate on
  • You therefore use values to judge others - for example if you have a value of fairness you will quickly judge someone's behaviour as selfish - even though the person next to you might not even understand what you're talking about nor understand the level of anger that behaviour has generated for you
  • Values are context specific ie your motivators at home will be different than at work - even if there may be some core values common to more than one context
  • You have a hierarchy of values for each context - ie home, work, friends etc
  • This hierarchy may or may not include values that conflict - e.g. values of security and adventure may cause a few issues
  • The higher up the hierarchy the more sway a value will have on what you do or don't do - for example if security is higher than adventure you may find adventure not often getting a look in unless you can provide security with what it needs and then you're able to have adventure
  • For each value you will have complex set of beliefs that support what it is, isn't and how you get it (You only have to look at the different ways people love each other to realise that - ie love is a value and what it looks like is as varied as a snowflake - whether judged by those outside that relationship as healthy or unhealthy). By way of an example here's a post about defining honesty.
  • Values may not therefore inherently drive ethical behaviour.

You'll find a more in-depth exploration of these points in my post What are values, and another post helps explore why I think business values are very different to personal values.

Do you know what your personal values are?

Not aspirational values like making a difference or world peace - not necessarily anyway.

Do you know the actual values that drive your behaviour - ie what determines whether you get out of bed or not, or do this task instead of that task, or prioritise that instead of this etc. Do you understand which values might be stopping you from achieving your goal(s)?

It's fairly simple - if a little time consuming (although see below for coaching available if you'd like me to walk you through the process):

  • Pick a context you want to work on (I'm going to pick work)
  • Pick something you enjoy doing in that context (I enjoy training)
  • Ask yourself "what’s important about doing that" (eg what's important about training)
  • Make a note of the answer (eg sharing the learning)
  • Ask "what's important about that" (eg what's important about sharing the learning)
  • Make a note of the answer (eg connection)
  • Keep asking yourself the question "what important about" your last answer until you get something like "I don't know - it just is" ie you keep going till you can't give another answer.
  • You then have your first value (for me that's connection)

Then think of another activity at work and follow the same process again.

In this instance when asked "what's important about sharing learning" I could have gone a couple of ways - one looking at what was important about learning and the other looking at what was important about sharing. So I could do it again using the other aspect.

The aim is to do this until you have 7 or 8 values. You may find the same word crops up frequently but just keep going with different aspects of your work.

Another way of eliciting values is to chunk up and just ask "what's important about my job" and notice what you notice - or previous jobs you've had - or jobs you would like to have.

Another means of determining your values is to think about the things that annoy you most about other people ie what behaviour that other people do makes you the most angry (e.g that you think someone should be sacked for) and then ask the above set of questions about that behaviour ie what's important about not doing that behaviour.

For example, people being late might make you very angry, which might mean timeliness is important and that might be a value in its own right, or the value generating the anger might be more about respect. That's why its important to keep asking "and what's important about that?" until you can't give a different answer".

Another suggestion is to consider what you like being complimented about and then asking "what's important about that". You could also take that to the next level and consider attributes you compliment others about and consider "what's important about that?" too.

The aim is to find out what motivates you, and annoyance, anger or their opposite or any heightened emotion are certainly great ways of connecting with your values.

Remember you're aiming for a list of 7 or 8 for any one context.

Once you've got your list of values you need to determine their hierarchy. You do this by comparing each value with the others and saying which is most important.

For example - take my list of values at time of writing (this post has been taken from the 2015 archives and added to my new website): Achievement, Truth, Connection, Contribution, Freedom, Laughter, Empowerment.

  • Start with the first 2 and put them in order of importance - for me that would be - truth, achievement.
  • Then notice where the 3rd goes eg truth, connection, achievement - asking "is this value more or less important than that value" - note this isn't what you'd like the answer to be - just what it is really - no right or wrong either.
  • Continue with the other words e.g. truth, connection, contribution, achievement.
  • Freedom, truth, connection, contribution, achievement.
  • Freedom, truth, laughter, connection, contribution, achievement
  • Freedom, truth, empowerment, laughter, connection, contribution, achievement
  • Which then enables you to consider how this hierarchy might be negatively impacting you achieving certain goals.

Certainly freedom was getting in the way of me making lots of decisions as you will discover in blog has a value got too big for its boots. Truth can certainly get me into more trouble in a work context than someone who doesn't have it in their hierarchy - please note just because it's not in the hierarchy doesn't mean it's not something you do - just not something that is as important as those values that are on your list.

If you're shouting "Truth is important" but it hasn't turned up on your list then it might be that what you're doing at work doesn't fully meet all your 'work' values (ie we only used the activities that you are currently doing). In which case you may want to have a go at answering "what's important about the things I want to do at work but aren't currently". Then place them in the hierarchy you already have and notice what you notice.

You might also want to explore any obvious conflicts between values too. More in my next post on how to resolve clashes or unhelpful values hierarchies and another on why values don't inherently drive right behaviour.

Have a go yourself - let me know if you have any queries.

Once you understand your values you can then move onto understanding how values can help you motivate others.

If you'd like help to uncover your values, resolve any conflicts between them and understand how your values can be used to support you achieving your goals call me +44 (0)7770 538159 or email

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© Alison Smith
VAT Registration: 224 5001 58
Registered in Scotland, Registration Number: SC457105
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