I will often ask an audience to tell me what their core values are. Some seemed surprised by the question, as it is not one that comes up in most conversations and relationships. Most, however, respond with values like Integrity, Honesty, Respect, and such like. After the first few, people typically throw out many others that are similar but it is obvious to me that they are responding in “brainstorming mode” as opposed to a mode where these values are carefully thought of and selected. I then ask how they feel when one or more of these values are compromised? Do they feel good? How upset do they get? For how long do they “check out” from that relationship? How many violations of each core value need to occur before giving up on the relationship? The reality is that we all have values but only a few of us have truly processed them, prioritized them, analyzed their roles in our lives, and have prepared ourselves for a response when they are violated.
It is very important to understand your values. If your values are violated, then your ability to be at your best is compromised. This includes not just your skills but also your happiness. Values govern almost all of your subconscious thoughts and a great deal of your conscious behavior. If honesty is a major core value of yours and a peer at work just lied to you, subconsciously you are likely to store that data point forever and consciously, you are likely to not trust anything from that person. In sports, imagine if this happened with a teammate or a coach of yours? Knowing what your values are and how important each one is allows for a very healthy internal monologue. When you do not “feel right” about something, you are quickly able to identify the value that is violated and able to rationalize your response accordingly. This is a very emotionally healthy way to navigate the complexity of relationships and competing values.
This week, make a list of all the values that sound good to you. Then prioritize them and focus on only the top five. The best way to know which one of the five mean the most to you is simply to take inventory of your past and recollect your response when it was violated. The more pronounced the response, the more important that value is. The next step is to think through what your response would be in the future if that value was violated at home, at work, or any other setting that you live in. The nature of the relationship plays a big part in your response. A car salesman lying to you about the price she paid for the car is very different that your peer at work lying to you. They are both lies that violate the value of honesty but your responses will be different. The magic happens in relationships when we are fully aware of our values and learn to disagree without compromising each other’s values. Successful marriages are based on this principle and so are all other healthy relationships.