- Knowledge Centre

Personal Values And Shared Understanding

Personal values are important in the workplace. They govern how we work, communicate, and develop relationships with employees, colleagues, and clients. People respond well to those who share their values, and respect those who stick to those values. But problems arise when colleagues believe they share values, only for each one to fall short in the other’s estimation – because they lack a shared understanding of what that value means in practice.

Think of this: you and I work together, and in the early stages of the relationship, we both agree that 'honesty' is of great importance to us. Will having this shared value make working together less stressful, more enjoyable, and even more fulfilling? Nope, not at all! Unless, that is, we both understand what exactly 'honesty' means to each of us. Many moons ago I was invited to facilitate an open and honest discussion between a senior manager and a subordinate. They had completed such a discussion at interview stage and the senior manager (also the recruiter) stated that one of the main reasons he selected the applicant for the job was that he felt ‘on the same page’.

And yet, just three months into working together, their relationship had become toxic, information that should have been shared wasn't being shared, and both individuals had founded their own clique to bad mouth their colleague and reinforce their belief that they were right and the other person was wrong. Having your own clique to support all your existing beliefs can be very powerful for boosting your ego, but they won't though dig you out of the hole you will eventually find yourself in when people leave, change allegiance, or simply get fed up with listening to you persistently bad mouth someone or moan on and on about the same thing.

How could this have happened after such a positive and enjoyable selection interview? Quite easily actually. Following discussions with both parties I established that the word 'honesty' had a very different meaning for each person. For the new staff member, honesty meant that there was open, honest dialogue, and information was shared in a timely manner with everyone's best interests at heart. There was to be no personal or hidden agenda overriding the needs of the team or business –such behaviour would amount to being dishonest. On the other hand, the manager stated that for him, 'honesty' meant 'telling people how it is', 'letting people know where they stand,' and also 'giving feedback that makes people listen'.

Let's bear in mind that in most situations we can only tell people how we see it, not how it actually is. We can only provide our opinion about a subject or situation. While it may not be what we can accurately call 'the truth', it is nonetheless 'our truth'. Letting people know where they stand can be extremely useful if it is designed to agree roles, responsibilities, and boundaries within which someone is to operate. This clear context can stop individuals and teams going off track and missing deadlines and quality standards.

However, when an insistence on ‘telling it how it is’ is used to set a command-and-control, ego-based relationship, it can serve to destroy trust, loyalty, and employee engagement. And why wouldn't we want to provide feedback that makes people listen? The word 'makes' in this instance reflected a 'I'm right so don't dare to speak back to me' approach, rather than the more collaborative approach of helping someone want to listen and appreciate the feedback being provided. Indeed, helping someone want to listen is more supportive, motivational, and likely to result in a win-win situation, simply because it is said with a positive intention that can help the relationship grow and prosper rather than fall apart and cause toxicity.

As it turned out, when both parties shared their definition of 'honesty' and what it meant to them, the relationship got on to an even keel. Both parties gave each other permission to provide candid feedback, but only if it was with an intention of improving a situation - backstabbing was no longer to be the order of the day. A wonderful demonstration of integrity - which is another personal value that they shared. I only hope they got some shared clarity on what this actually meant to each other, or this too could cause problems…

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