How to connect by understanding someone’s values

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How and when were your personal values formed?   Psychologists say that most people establish their personal values during the formative years of 8-13 years of age.  That period of time is known as the Modeling Period when we mimic the behavior of others including their values.  From the ages of 14-21, we are picking up our social and relationship values in a time called the Socialization Period.  In most of us, our values are pretty well formed by the time we are 21 and those values remain fairly constant unless some significant emotional event occurs.[i]

Our values are really a reflection of who we are and what we care most about and they are mostly formed by the significant people in our lives from the time we are 8 until the time we are 13.  And, these values are pretty much formed and remain constant once we enter the workforce.  Unbelievably, most leaders and managers do not understand the importance of recognizing and acknowledging someone’s values as a way to connect with them.

A very short discussion of only 30 minutes can help identify someone’s values and why those values are so important to them.  Once a person’s values are understood and acknowledged, it is actually pretty easy to identify what motivates that person and what will engage them in the work that they are doing.

As I have blogged about before and has been reported in the media, a recent Gallup survey found that only 30% of the American workforce is engaged in their jobs.  The remaining 70% are disengaged…just putting in their time and collecting a paycheck, or actively disengaged which means they are essentially undermining the company or organization they work for with more accidents, lower morale, more sick days, and poorer service.

The reason so many people are disengaged in their work or actively disengaged in their workplace is that their values are not being understood and honored by their supervisor and by the work environment they find themselves in.  When our values are not being honored, we experience stress…sometimes a lot of stress to the point that we disconnect from our environment.  This reaction is driven by the fact that sometimes we are being forced or coerced to act in a way that is not consistent with our inner most values and what we have held as acceptable behavior for dozens of years if not decades.

So, what can you do to engage your employees and identify what motivates them?  It is simple.  Just have a 30 minute conversation with them around their values and you will learn a lot about who they are and what they care about.  Try to connect with them around what their values mean to them and why those values are so important to them.

In my coaching practice, I start every engagement with a new client with a discussion around their values.  It helps me to understand who they are and what they care most about.  It also helps me identify where some issues might lie because often, when someone identifies a value, that value is actually not being honored by their supervisor, or the leader of the organization, or the workplace culture they find themselves in.  With a little bit of probing, I usually discover the reason they are not happy or as productive as they could be in their current work environment.  It is often all about their values that were formed before they were an adolescent not being acknowledged and honored.

Therefore, it is my firm belief, that by better understanding a person’s values, leaders at all levels can better connect with their subordinates and thereby create a much more engaged and productive employee.



[i] “How Are Personal Values Are Formed,”  Squidoo, LLC, website.