Your values are what you consider important in life: often traits, sometimes things, always intangible: for example, generosity, recreation, bravery, professionalism.
When we have a clear understanding of what our values are, we are better equipped to make decisions that are 'right' for us, enabling us to lead happier and more fulfilled lives. For example, if you value honesty but your work involves 'twisting the truth' chances are you'll end up feeling conflicted and unfulfilled.
Pinning down what your values are might not be as straightforward as you think. So here are five steps to help you discover yours:
1. Understand what 'values' are
To get yourself started you need to understand what you are trying to identify. A quick Google search on the phrases 'workplace values' or 'personal values' will provide you with numerous lists. Have a look through them to cement in your head what values are and note down any that immediately resonate with you. Maybe even print off a list and then follow the next steps.
2. Quiz yourself
Now approach it from the other angle: from the perspective of your experience. Take a step back from the list and try asking yourself these questions:
- What makes you happy?
- What does success mean to you?
- What motivates you?
- What fulfils you?
Think back to instances when you felt happy, proud, motivated or fulfilled. What were you doing? What were those around you doing? Now, which words from your values list are most relevant to those experiences?
3. Don't be swayed
Values and standards extolled by society, the media, your colleagues, family or friends might not necessarily be in line with your values. Focussing on what you think should be important to you rather than what you really care about can lead you down the wrong path. So dig deep, be authentic and focus on your personal experiences and how they made you feel; it's the best way to uncover what your values truly are.
4. Group and rank your values
Once you've compiled your list, the next step is to narrow it down. Start by grouping together similar values. For example, values like accomplishment, motivation and ambition could sit together, then look at the groups and see if one stands out more than the others.
Aim to have no more than five to ten core values and determine which ones are the most essential to your life: do they inform your day-to-day activities? Do you find yourself thinking about them often? Is going against them something you would never do? When other people don't uphold them, does it grate? Assess each value individually and then rank them accordingly.
5. Test your findings
When your list is complete try to come back to it every so often and compare it to what you've been doing and how you've been behaving. If you're not honouring your top value as much as you'd like to, think about how this makes you feel: do you feel less fulfilled? If not, should it really be your top value? And if yes, what can you do about it?
Your values may change, so it's important that you keep revisiting your list, working through the process and making changes when needed. Remember that you don't choose your values; you recognise them.
Knowing what your values are will help you on a personal as well as a professional level. Not only will you feel better in your job but it'll also make working with your co-workers more enjoyable and productive as you work towards a shared goal.
Sources: Abintegro, Mind Tools; Scott Jeffrey