Why values matter

Photo by Charlie Firth

Values are crucial. They define what is important to us. Most interpersonal conflicts can be traced back to violations of values. Violations of values always generate emotions. And once the conflict becomes emotional, then fact-based arguments usually have a difficult stand.

The best way to illustrate these mechanics is the method of non-violent communication according to Marshall-Rosenberg.

It essentially works in 4 steps:

  1. A statement of an observation – “I have seen that you haven’t placed your plate into the dishwasher after eating”.
  2. The explanation, which emotion is triggered by this action within us – “That annoys/disappoints me”.
  3. A reason why this emotion was triggered – “We had agreed that everyone would clear their plate themselves,” and finally
  4. The expression of your own need – “I’d wish that you would clear your plate yourself or we would have to revisit our set ofrules”.

The crucial transformation happens in point 2. As soon as we ask ourselves what emotion is currently taking control of us, the cortex jumps to analysis and we become the witness. With this, we create the basis for an emotion-free discussion of the solution options beyond the “You filthy bugger!”

We can support our brain if we are already aware of what is important to us. Apparently, the value “cleanliness” was violated in our example.

When working with values, there are two decisive factors:

  1. Am I /are we aware of my/our core values?
  2. Do we all have the same understanding of them?

Especially when a value is only defined by a keyword, this opens the space for different interpretations. Do we mean by “diversity” that we gather as many different genders and orientations as possible or that we value different personalities?

In an organization, it is always important to clearly define the common values and best to explain them in practical terms using exemplary behavior patterns. And, of course, managers must live these values in their day-to-day work, to serve as role models and to shape the company culture accordingly.

Especially in difficult leadership situations, the values helped me to give professional feedback instead of freaking out: “I noticed that you condescendingly threw your time report onto the desk of the colleagues from Finance. This annoys me because mutual respect among colleagues is one of our most important basic principles. I would like you to treat your colleagues with respect and apologize to them.”

Sure, I can’t always do that either. Sometimes I just get upset. But I have learned that I am more efficient with this communication style in a professional environment. That’s why I use Marshall-Rosenberg particularly when I’m really pissed off.

To break a lance right here: Emotions aren’t bad. They make up our human life, without them we would be robots. Emotions are wonderful and give us the most beautiful moments of life. But emotions can also destroy and cause violence.

Especially in a work environment, they are often perceived as unprofessional. So, we do very well to control this human power and – if at all – consciously freak out. Emotions are the spices of our lives. We only have to learn to dose them correctly.

We often struggle with a situation and then let emotion take control. Then we go into recriminations and fight for ourselves. Alone, it doesn’t get any better – we don’t feel any better either. A pearl of old wisdom says: “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die from it”.

Values define what is important to us – as individuals and as an organization. Once a common understanding is established, it allows us to concentrate our forces much more efficiently on the common goals and we save a lot of energy.

What about you?

Are you aware of what is important to you? Are the values clearly defined in your organisation? Does everyone have the same understanding? Have you ever used the values for critical feedback?

Further good reads:

Gary Peterson (Forbes): Three Reasons Why Values Matter, And I’m Not Talking The Money Kind

Nicolaus Schoenlaub: Core Values – why are they so important for your company

Marshall B. Rosenberg: Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life

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