Exploring path 2: Values

by Apr 7, 2022

You have a want and a need. You know that you could use a semantic path. Yet the obstacles to exploration mount. In this post we look at how we can use values alignment as a way to overcome the obstacles.

The covering of unprecedented terrain of the last couple of years has been made much more difficult by the exploring parties having a difference in values.

When you experience rage, dissonance, or disappointment in response to a government approach to the pandemic, a family member’s Facebook posting about vaccine mandates, a work colleagues posting on social media, or perhaps a coffee chat that goes awry its often that there has been violation of value experience.  A shared value can represent a strong motivating force to move into new territory or move forward.

Values that clash can act as significant impediment.

There are three main categories of values

  1. Ideas:  beliefs, opinions, ways of seeing things (religious, political, moral, etc.)
  2. Things:  materials objects, people, places, possessions (family, friends, money, house, cars, etc.)
  3. Experiences:  activities, events, actions, happenings (playing sports, listening to music, being with friends, seeing beautiful things, etc.)

It’s the ideas category that seems to create the most friction.  

And here’s the tricky thing. Your values with respect to ideas are deeply enmeshed at an identity level. When people threaten your values, your brains react at an emotional level BEFORE you have an opportunity to recognise what is happening. You need to see strong emotions as dashboard indicator that means you need to check the internal pressure.

The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.

The more you get used to reading the dashboard indicator the easier it is to navigate the clash of values. Recognising:

It is HIGHLY unlikely you will change some-one’s values:

That is borne out by the research on cognitive dissonance. Leon Festinger is the researcher who proposed that that inconsistency among beliefs or behaviours causes an uncomfortable psychological tension (i.e., cognitive dissonance), leading people to change one of the inconsistent elements to reduce the dissonance.

He did this really interesting research where he infiltrated a doomsday cult. He was curious as to how those who were most committed, had sold their houses and possessions, said farewell to loved ones were going to respond when the day passed, and they were still here on earth. On finding out the cult leaders’ prediction was wrong, the most committed went about trying to find new members and more social support to lessen the psychological distress of having a belief being ‘disproved’.

Boundaries. Limits. Edge

As the economist John Kenneth Galbraith said – faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, everyone gets busy on the proof.

It’s also the reason why most culture change programs are fraught and at best an exercise in putting up new corporate wallpaper. You cannot overlay a new set of values on an existing group of people who carry values they deeply identify with.

Exploring new frontiers based on values means you have two options:

1. You can hold the two conflicting values lightly and acknowledge they co-exist.



Boundaries. Limits. Edge


Most of us can’t. And its why we block / unfriend, dodge meetings with people who really conflict. It preserves our ability to function.

 2. You can find a bridging value – one that is important to you and the other party, that can override the values that you disagree on.

The latter approach is more common than the first. Both rely on an overt discussion on what values underpin moving forward.

How we do this in the world of organisational change is to identify first, what are the prevailing values at play.

So for example, does the leader value innovation, but the employee has created a successful career based on order and control? If this is the case, then the leader trying to push forward with change is going to result in a violation of values.

Exploring new frontiers for the organisation will mean strong push back.

You are going to need to find a bridging value, a third value which both parties not just share, but can commit to in acknowledgment of that you need to go forward together.

There’s no sleight of hand with this, you need to call it out. This is where this is some crossover with semantic path. So, in the organisational example, it might be customer centricity that brings both leader and employer together to continue to change. The language we used to describe our values can be misunderstood or culturally loaded.

Much of the discord in community around the pandemic, the vaccination mandates, the lockdowns can be seen through the lens of values violations.

I value community and collective outcomes. You value independence and autonomy.

Our bridging value maybe we both value transparency of information.

I value equity and equality, you value achievement and outcomes.

Perhaps we both value safety?

I value disorder & novelty, you value order & stability.

Perhaps we both value achievement?

I value learning, you value knowing.

Perhaps we both value education?

The thing is values sit below what is visible and are often imprinted generationally. You don’t even realise you value something until you are in a position that what it is you value is taken away from you or it is compromised.

With the rise of remote working we are seeing increased opportunity to work with teams in other countries in our organisations. This will bring with it a need to explore bridging values as both teams will have cultural value sets that have never ever been questioned

The first step in moving through a values clash – is to identify it and call it out.

Your take-away on this pathway is when you are next being frustrated in exploring new pathways with some-one, ask yourself what value might being compromised. If the relationship matters to you, you might want to call that out explicitly:

I think perhaps we value two different things that might make it difficult to make forward momentum. Where might be a value we are both aligned on?

The caveat on this. You need to be clear that you want to go forward. This circles us back to boundaries, edges, and limits. This isn’t about singing kumbaya with everyone in society. There needs to be a reason for exploring new frontiers. You need to be clear you value a continuing conversation.

If you do not feel you have agency in finding a new role, in getting out of Easter lunch with a family member with specific values that sit in conflict with yours, in making sure that you can avoid a conversation with some-one in your social circle that has wildly different values to you, and you MUST explore a new frontier then this path could be handy.  




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