Core values are hugely important to me, and they are vital to my emotional intelligence. Values have real power. I had a recent reminder of this from an unexpected source. BTW – if you prefer an audio version of this to listen to, I have included one just for you at the end of this article – enjoy.
I was running a multi-day corporate training session in a genuinely delightful hotel with enthusiastic, effective, and super-organised staff. Despite being well-organised and prepared, things can and do arise and questions do come up which need immediate answers.
The mental block
“Just push this button and we’ll be right here,” said the staff member. And there it was. A small device with a big button clearly marked with the legend “Press for service.” All I had to do was press and a magical signal would flash across the aether and summon the assistance I desired. Simple enough you might think.
Well, one or two things did come up, but I simply could not bring myself to press that summoning button. Just thinking about it made me feel extremely uncomfortable. Instead, I went all the way down to reception multiple times and asked them to contact the correct staff member who then called up to see us. The reception staff also re-iterated the instruction to use the button which I still didn’t want to do. Even my delegates were telling me to use the button, but it was still not happening. A strange occurence for me and I needed to ponder and muse upon it.
What was going on?
Well, ponder and muse upon it I did. I found a quiet corner and considered the situation.
Here is what it was not:
- It was not a button phobia or physical barrier as I can easily and comfortably operate a full range of buttons in other areas, including doorbells which also summon people.
- It was not a love of the extra effort or wasted time when fetching help the old-fashioned way.
- It was not even a fear of technology – I love technology.
It was a values thing
As I explored all the possibilities over a cup of tea and a piece of cake, it turned out that a deeply buried value was in play. Now I know all about values, I live and breathe this stuff, and I thought I knew my own values inside and out. This was an old yet powerful one which had not surfaced for many years.
This value was installed, along with a host of other useful and sometimes not so useful family values, when I was a kid. It is all about not getting someone else to do something I could or should do myself. It is closely linked to the core value of not being lazy of course but it is also likely to be strongly associated with another core value based on an anti-elitist dislike of treating other people like servants. It is a working-class roots thing and other things besides. It is complex.
The upshot of all of this is not the results of my mini-psychoanalysis session. It is to point out that any unexpected or initially unexplainable behaviour or actions can often be pinned down to a powerful core value or values. Often these things are long forgotten and often lost in the mists of time.
What are core values?
I will define core values here as being fundamental beliefs which guide our attitudes and actions. They impact how we treat ourselves, others, and the world around us. Values are a set of internal “rules” which we have either chosen ourselves and developed or had instilled into us by significant others. They are the north arrow on our internal moral compass.
You will have core values. Everyone has them. Some people are more driven by values than others. Some people are more aware of values than others. Your set of core values will be unique to you and your overall personality. Despite how “rational” we like to think we are; humans are value-oriented creatures.
Values and Emotional Intelligence (EI)
How does all this fit with emotional intelligence or EI? Well, as I am sure you will know by now, the four pillars of EI, according to Danial Goleman at least, are self-awareness, self-regulation, understanding others & managing relationships. The concept of values impacts on all four EI pillars.
Values impact how you interact with the wider world and how the wider world interacts with you. It is always useful to take a closer look at your own core values and try to get a handle on what they are and what level they are at. The more you know, the more you can use this knowledge to take advantage of your positive values and limit or work around the not so positive ones.
How can you find out about your values?
Ways to find out about your value system could include deep self-reflection, coaching and feedback for example. You could also try a values elicitation exercise. This could be with a coach, a trusted other or individually using an online option. There are many examples out there and many are free to use – I will not specifically recommend one, but I will leave you to do some of your own research and experimentation.
One way to understand the core values held by other people is to learn to listen closely for clues. Humans leak information and our specific use of language creates an enormous number of clues for an attentive listener. Look out for strong and clear indications of firm beliefs or behavioural imperatives and you will often be able to identify a powerful associated and underlying core value. It is an interesting exercise, and you can also analyse you own language patterns for clues about your own core values.
Back to the button story
To close the loop on the training button story, I had a further chat with the staff member and explained my reluctance. The young lady in question understood but pointed out that staff were assessed by management on how fast they responded to requests and how available they were to help guests. My method of getting hold of them was doing them a disservice.
That altered the whole deal for me. My much stronger core value of helping people easily outscored and overwhelmed the now less powerful “working-class hero” value. I could now press the button at appropriate times with full comfort and congruence.
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