Research Paper By Karen Yackel
(Life Coach, CANADA)
It may be fair to say that most Coaches believe that clients should be aware of their values. The topic comes up on many coaching websites and in most coaching programs. There are many articles on how to find your core values and as many different articles on the methods or the steps to take in finding these values. Knowing the client’s values gives a Coach insight into how the client thinks and by what metrics they measure success or failure. Conversely, the Coach should be aware of their own values at a deep level in order to be able to help the client. The aim of this paper is to explain the importance of values in your coaching practice and describe methods to work with clients and their values.
In doing so, I explore the subtle similarities and differences of various values definitions, the different kinds of values, terms that describe values, where values come from, why they are important, and how they can help when coaching clients.
There are varying ideas about what values are and how to define them, although it is the opinion of this author that they basically boil down to very similar meanings. The following are some examples of basic values definitions:
- John Blakey’s definition of values states that: “Values are simply the things that are important to you in life. They are the characteristics and behaviors that motivate us and guide our decisions”.
- According to Rokeach, “Value is an enduring belief, a specific mode of conduct or an end state of existence, along a continuum of relative importance.”
- The Cambridge Oxford Dictionary definition is the principles that help you to decide what is right and wrong, and how to act in various situations.
- According to Adam Sicinski, Values are: “a set of standards you have for life. They are the things you believe are most important to the way you live, work, and play. Values are priorities that show us how we should be spending our time throughout the day”.
- Christie Inge says “Your personal core values define who you are and what matters to you as an individual. Ideally, your values establish where you invest your time, energy, and resources”.
Basically, all of these definitions are talking about the standards and principles that guide our lives and the measures by which we define ourselves. No matter how you slice it, we all use words to describe what we believe in, what we value above all, and the stuff we believe we are made of.
Different Kinds of Values
Next, there is a bit of disparity about the different kinds of values. Various articles announce that there are two kinds of values (terminal and instrumental), or three kinds (Personal, Moral and Aesthetic), or even six kinds (Individualistic, Family, Professional, National, Moral, Spiritual). The most common values are personal values, moral values, and aesthetic values, terminal values and instrumental values, and core values. For the purposes of this paper, only terminal, instrumental, and core (personal) values will be examined.
Terminal or Means values as defined by Adam Sicinski are:
tangible values such as family and money. These are the things you may want to have in life.
He then defines Instrumental or Ends values as
the emotional values such as love and security. They are the resulting emotional states you desire to experience.
He says that your
Ends values are the things you actually want as a result of acquiring the tangible things that you think you want. For example, a family is a Means of value.
Milton Rokeach says that
Terminal values are values that reflect an individual’s desired state of existence. These are end-state values, reflections of how we would like the world to be, and where we would like to end up. They are goals that we would like to see achieved.” He says that terminal values are personal values. He goes on to describe Instrumental values as “values that reflect how an individual wants to live their life. They capture a sense of behaviors and ways of interacting with and treating others throughout your life.
Rokeach’s Values Survey is a tool that was created by Milton Rokeach in the early 1970s to help individuals understand their values. By prioritizing a list of 18 terminal values (where you want to end up) and 18 instrumental values (how you want to get there) you can develop self-awareness.
Below is a chart of Rokeach’s Terminal and Instrumental values.
Your core values are the deeply held beliefs that authentically describe your soul. – John C. Maxwell
Lori Chance describes core values as:
emotionally charged one-word statements (value statements) that engage our hearts and minds and help to define our real Self. The most important ones are different for each individual person; the combination is never duplicated.
Andrew Blackman tries to say it all about Core Values in his definition:
- Principles of behavior which we hold most dear.
- Our internal compass.
- Core values are the lens through which we evaluate the world and make decisions.
- They tell us what is important and what is not.
- It’s core values that tell us what kind of legacy we want to leave.
- They cast a vision, but they also provide the blueprint for how to reach that vision; that is if we are intentional about adhering to them.
Lists of Values:
There are as many lists on the internet of values. Anything from 20 top values to 500. Quite probably a list of 500 values would be somewhat overwhelming for clients, but there are many useful lists. Below are some resources to finding values lists:
- Brene Brown has a comprehensive list of values in her book “Dare to Lead”. Pg. 187
- Connie Stemmle has an interesting list of 100 values at https://www.developgoodhabits.com/core-values/ This list gives definitions of the values which can be very helpful for some clients
There are many ways to describe values: a compass, fingerprints, a car, a tree, a lens, the engine that drives you, etc. These are very effective methods in helping clients visualize and relate their values to abstract ideas and concepts.
A highly developed values system is like a compass. It serves as a guide to point you in the right direction when you are lost. – Idowu Koyenikan, Wealth for All: Living a Life of Success at the Edge of Your Ability
Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ‘em all over everything you do. – Elvis Presley
Ann Loehr says to
think of it (values) as a tree: values are the roots that keep us grounded in what’s important to us. The strength of the values determines the strength of the trunk, branches, leaves, and fruit from year to year. A strong tree supports the ecosystem around it.
Even though there are many similarities to how values are described and the methods to help your clients, there are enough differences to make it a bit overwhelming both to clients and coaches.
Where do values come from?
All of your values come from underlying beliefs. To understand where your values come from, begin with your beliefs. The quality of your values will ultimately be determined by the source of your beliefs.
It is commonly believed that most of our values come from and are formed in early childhood. We largely adopt the values of our parents. Our parents teach us what is important to them by the words they and the actions they take. We also, for the most part, adopt the dominant values of society. Unfortunately, these values that have come from somewhere other than yourself or are ranked in the wrong order for you may also have created a life that is carrying you down a path that is not the direction you want to go.
Rarely do people actually choose their values and they often don’t even know on a conscious level what their values really are. In fact, clients often come to coaching with a vague idea of what their values are. They may be able to give you a shortlist off the top of their head or they may just stare blankly. Perhaps they just haven’t revisited their values lately, maybe they just take them for granted, do not know how to verbalize them or maybe they just don’t really know what they are.
It is important here to note, however, that all values are not set in stone. It is probable that some of your core values will stay the same throughout your life, others will change as you change. As you get older, you may value different things than when you were younger. A life-changing event such as a traumatic event may change or alter some of your values. Getting married, having children, or the death of a loved one can all contribute to values either changing or being prioritized differently
…we sometimes go through life without paying much attention. We just move from one thing to the next without considering whether our actions reflect our core values. Tchiki David, Ph.D.
Why do we need to know our values?
Dr. Awdhesh Singh says that
Values are the measures you use to figure out whether or not your life is turning out the way you imagined.
It is much easier to just float through life and go with the flow losing sight of our values along the way. It is so much harder to live by our values. Yet, how else will we know if we are living our best life, or going in the direction right for us if we don’t know what we really stand for? Personal values are also important for personal development because they help you make intelligent decisions that are going to work in your favor by playing into your strengths, wants, and needs.
Peace of mind comes when your life is in harmony with true principles and values and in no other way. – Stephen Covey
This makes so much sense because when a client comes to a coach they are often in misalignment with their values. They know something is wrong, something doesn’t feel right. They know that they are stuck, but they just don’t know why. What is happening is that clients are not in tune with how their emotions and “stuckness” are due to misalignment with their values.
It is very important for people to know themselves and understand what their value system is, because if you don’t know what your value system is, then you don’t know what risks are worth taking and which ones are worth avoiding. –Benjamin Carson
When a client comes to a coach not knowing which way to turn, or how to make a decision, they are often in an emotional state that is blocking them from even being able to be in tune with their values. They aren’t being very self-aware. When a coach uses powerful questioning, they can help the client to see how in being more aware of their values they can see the “blind spots” that have been holding them back.
Mark Manson in his book “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck” makes a very interesting argument about values. He discusses that we all have “personal blindspots” in our self-awareness. He talks about the self-awareness onion of which we have several layers. The first layer is understanding our emotions and the second layer the ability to ask why we feel certain emotions, and the third layer is our personal values.
In the first layer we learn to recognize things that make us sad, happy, discontent, etc., then in the second layer to ask why. Why do I feel angry? Is it because I didn’t achieve a goal? Where does this come from? Finally, in the third layer, we ask what our personal values are. We can then ask ourselves:
- Why do I consider this to be a success/failure?
- How am I choosing to measure myself?
- By what standard am I judging myself and everyone around me?
He says that “This level, (the third layer) which takes constant questioning and effort, is incredibly difficult to reach. But it’s the most important because our values determine the nature of our problems, and the nature of our problems determines the quality of our lives”. This is interesting because often coaches quiz clients by asking them to give a list of values first, then link it to emotions and why we are feeding emotions that don’t align with our values.
He then goes on to say, “Values underlie everything we are and do. If what we value is unhelpful, if what we consider success/failure is poorly chosen, then everything based upon those values – the thoughts, the emotions, the day-to-day feelings – will all be out of whack. Everything we think and feel about a situation ultimately comes back to how valuable we perceive it to be”.
Not only does this method deal with self-awareness but also with underlying beliefs or “underlying values” as he puts it. Manson says that “If you want to change how you see your problems, you have to change what you value and/or how you measure failure and success”.
The secret to achieving inner peace lies in understanding our inner core values- those things in our lives that are most important to us – and then seeing that they are reflected in the daily events of our lives. Hyrum W. Smith
It is not until you change your identity to match your life blueprint that you will understand why everything in the past never worked. Shannon L. Aider
This should start to shed a light on why just asking clients to pick from a list of values, first of all, can be very overwhelming, and second of all, by itself, not peel back the layers of our onions.
Importance of Coaching Values
Digging deep is a term used in the coaching world to basically attempt to peel off our onion layers. How can a client dig deep without really knowing their values? How can they create awareness, action, or structure to their goals without knowing their values? How can they even set goals in the first place? How can they really understand underlying beliefs, release judgment, have real gratitude, make life changes, and display confidence without being mindful of their values? The answer is that they can. But the argument remains whether the changes will be lasting or make the real changes the client is looking for.
It is true that many clients leave coaching before they are really ready. They think they have made a few discoveries and then go on their merry way thinking they have been fixed. Later they tell friends that coaching helped a little bit but still find themselves stuck in many ways. Why? Because they haven’t fully explored themselves enough to have real confidence to move forward. Confidence doesn’t really happen until clients can build on self-esteem and they can’t build on self-esteem until they are living by their values and lastly, they can’t live their values unless they know what they are.
Tchiki Davies, Ph.D. says that
knowing our values and living by them can help clients begin to build on self-esteem.
Being confident means knowing that you can handle the emotional outcome of whatever you will face.
James Taylor, Ph.D. says
To truly understand what values you possess and live by, you must deconstruct them until you are able to clearly see what exactly you value and why you hold these values.
And this is the ultimate goal, isn’t it? To have clients live their values and be in alignment with them.
When you live by your values, you feel better about yourself and are more focused on doing the things that are important to you. Andrew Blackman
My definition of success: when your core values and self-concept are in harmony with your daily actions and behavior. John Spence
Dr. Awdhesh Singh sums up this section very well. “Values are the measures you use to figure out whether or not your life is turning out the way you had imagined. Therefore, values act like a compass that helps you stay on track and focused on the most important things in your life.
All this is very important because, when what you do and how you behave is consistent with your values, then life feels good, and you feel good about yourself and life. However, when what you do and how you behave is not aligned with your highest values (priorities for life), then that’s when discomfort and pain sets in. The whole point of exploring your personal values is to help improve the results you get from the most critical areas of your life. It is clear here that the successes that clients are looking for come from knowing and living their values, so they can move forward in life being mindful of who they are and being true to themselves in every sense of that word to step into life with confidence”.
Effective Methods of Coaching Clients on Values
Finally, after understanding what we need to know as coaches about values and their importance the next step is how in the world do we coach people on values?
Many coaches ask clients in their first meeting what their values are. This is a great first step because it gives some insight into where the client’s head is at. It also gives you a heads up to anything that doesn’t align with the coach’s values. As we know, it is important that the coach and client are a good fit. Better to know right away if you don’t think you can work with the client based on their value set.
The problem with this first step is many coaches stop there and wait for the value the client stated in their list to show up in conversation, which could be three or more sessions in. This can be useful when you know you have a client who is very self-aware and has a good understanding of their values, but for someone struggling this might not be the best course of action.
The next step, of course, is to go further and dig deeper than the values the client told you or wrote down. What if the client just hesitated or just came up with a list of basics? Sometimes clients don’t realize how many values there are to choose from so providing clients with a list of values, may help them to see more clearly how many there really are.
So, once the client has a list in front of them, what do they do next? There are many methods to finding values all of which can be adapted to any coaching practice or modified to suit the coach’s own values and or coaching model.
There are as many different methods to identify values as there are authors on the subject. The International Coach Academy has a downloadable worksheet called “The Values Game”. There is also a brief value video called “The Dinner Party”. Below are three additional methods for finding your core values. The first is quite simple and the other two much more elaborate:
Simple value method by Tchiki Davis, Ph.D.
- Look at a list and write down any value you hold.
- Circle the most important 3-5
- Write down 3 actions that define what it would mean to live by these values. Ex. Loyalty – Action – forgiving
- One thing that you have done that does not reflect each of the top values.
- Write down what you could do differently next time
This is a very simple method and although it could be valuable, it focuses first on the negative rather than looking at what the client has done to best reflect a value. In coaching, we want to be focusing on positives not negatives, although it is also necessary to discuss what is working and why.
Next, Adam Sicinski’s method provides questions to ask yourself or a client when making a values list. There are more details about this method on the website sited below.
Step 1: Discover What You Truly Value in Life
- What would I do if I only had six years to live?
- What would I do if I only had six months to live?
- What would I do if I only had six weeks to live?
- What would I do if I only had six days to live?
- What would I do if I only had six hours to live?
- What would I do if I only had six minutes to live?
- What values stand out?
- What patterns am I seeing?
Step 2: Piece Together Your Value Hierarchy
- What do I want most in life? What is truly important right now?
- What would this ultimately give me?
- How will that make me feel?
- Why is that important to me? Or…
- Why is that feeling important for me?
- What does this really mean to me?
- How does this make me feel?
- What causes me to feel this way?
- Why is that important?
- What’s next most important to me?
- Which of these values is truly the most significant in my life right now?
- If I could only experience one of these values, which value would it be?
- Which value is the next most important that I absolutely cannot live without?
Step 3: Explore Your Moving-Away Values
- What feelings do I seek to avoid most?
- What don’t I want to ever experience?
- What next will I seek to avoid most?
Step 4: Run an Ecology Check
- Does my moving-toward value hierarchy serve me well?
- Does it align with the goals I would like to achieve?
- Does it integrate into my life’s purpose?
- Is it consistent with my beliefs and convictions?
- Is it aligned with the kind of person I am seeking to become?
- Does it satisfy all my six human needs at the highest possible level?
- Does it create inner harmony, fulfillment, and peace?
- Does it allow me to make better decisions?
- What about my moving-away values? How do I feel about them?
- Do any potential conflicts exist?
Last is a method by Scott Joffrey.
Peak Experiences– Consider a meaningful moment—a peak experience that stands out. What was happening to you? What was going on?
What values were you honoring at this time?
Suppressed Values – Now go in the opposite direction; consider a time when you got angry, frustrated, or upset. What was going on? What were you feeling? Now flip those feelings around. What value is being suppressed?
Code of Conduct – What’s most important in your life? Beyond your basic human needs, what must you have in your life to experience fulfillment? What are the personal values you must honor or a part of you withers?
- STEP 3: Chunk Your Personal Values into Related Groups – Combine all the answers from step 2 and you now have a master list. Your next step is to group these values under related themes
- STEP 4: Highlight the Central Theme of Each Value Group - If you have a group of values that include honesty, transparency, integrity, candor, directness, and truth, select a word that best represents the group. For example, integrity might work as a central theme for the values I listed. You can keep the other words in the group in parentheses to give your primary value more context. You’ll use them again in step 6.
- STEP 5: Determine Your Top Personal Core Values
- What values are essential to your life?
- What values represent your primary way of being?
- What values are essential to supporting your inner self?
While the number of core values differs for each person, the magic range seems to be between 5 and 10.
- STEP 6: Give Your Personal Values Richer Context - Now, creativity comes into play.
Highlighting values into memorable phrases or sentences helps you articulate the meaning behind each value. It gives you the opportunity to make the value more emotional and memorable. For example, let’s say you’ve identified a core value of health to represent other values, like energy and vitality.
Your values statement might be: “Health: to live with full vitality and energy every day.”
- STEP 7: Test the Ecology of Each Value Once you’ve completed your list of core values, walk away from them, and revisit them the next day after a good night’s sleep. Review your list:
- How do they make you feel?
- Do you feel they are consistent with who you are?
- Are they personal to you?
- Do you see any values that feel inconsistent with your identity (as if they belong to someone else, like an authority figure or society), and not you?
- Check your priority ranking. Do you feel like your values are in the proper order of importance?
Many clients come to coaches because they have difficulty making and following through with decisions. There may be many reasons for this, including underlying beliefs, issues with self-esteem, self-awareness, etc. But as discussed earlier these things can stem from not really understanding our values. A way to approach the topic of values for this type of client is to talk to clients about the decisions we make on a daily basis. We apparently make about 35,000 decisions per day. Questions to ask here would be:
- What guides the process behind making the choices that you do?
- What influences your decisions?
- How do you know when you are making good decisions?
Coaches all want their clients to learn and grow. We know that one way to grow is knowing and understanding our values. But, just knowing values is not enough, clients need to learn how to live by those values. Choosing a method of values learning that helps clients really grow from the experience would be a method that they can adopt to start living these values. In an article in Psychology, today by Christie Inge on values asks: “How does knowing your values enhance your life”? It answers by saying:
- Making decisions will be easier
- You will know where to invest time, money and resources
- Knowing your values will show you where your blocks are
- You will feel more like “yourself”
- You will know what your goals are
- You will feel empowered.
Isn’t this everything that our clients are looking for? Isn’t this the core of everything they come to coaching for? All of this has to do with our client’s emotional well being.
Stephen Stosny says:
Value plays an enormously important role in emotional well being. We feel authentic when we are true to our deepest values, numb when we are indifferent to them, guilt and shame when we violate them, and utter meaninglessness when we lose touch with them.
Brene Brown, Ph.D., in a discussion about living our values in her book “Dare to Lead” says, “Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk – we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs.”
Here is the last thought that puts learning and living values into perspective from Challenging Coaching:
“Think of your values like your children. They are all unique, different, and important to you. Like children, they all want to be the center of your attention and they all need to be honored at different times and in different ways. Sometimes children squabble and fight with each other and then you have to step in to make peace. Sometimes they go and hide in their bedrooms sulking and wait for you to come and put an arm around them. Sometimes they jump up and down in front of you excited and full of joy. Over time they change and you start to see them in different ways but they are still your special children. I suppose if we were being good parents to our values we would make sure we did not abandon any of them, that we recognized their unique qualities, and that we managed any sibling rivalry in a way that maximized the well being and harmony of the family as a whole’.
Brown, B. (2018). Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. New York: Penguin Random House.
Manson, M. (2016). The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*uck. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
Clear, J. (2018). Atomic Habits: Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results. New York. Random House. Retrieved from: https://jamesclear.com/core-values
Blakey, J. (2013). Values Coaching: How do you know what your values are? Retrieved from: https://challengingcoaching.co.uk/values-coaching-how-do-you-know-what-your-values-are/
Blackman, A. (2018). What Are Your Personal Values? How to Define & Live by Them. Retrieved from: https://business.tutsplus.com/tutorials/what-are-personal-values–cms-31561
Inge, C. How to Define Your Personal Core Values. Retrieved from: https://christieinge.com/personal-core-values/
Stosny, S. Ph.D. (2010) Core Value. Don’t worry about happiness; focus on core value. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/anger-in-the-age-entitlement/201004/core-value
Dr. Singh, A. (2009) Six Types of Human Values. Retrieved from: https://ezinearticles.com/?Six-Types-of-Human-Values&id=2843537
The World of Work Project. Personal Values: Rokeach’s Values Survey. Retrieved from: https://worldofwork.io/2019/03/personal-values-rokeachs-values-survey/
Fowler, S. (2017). Where Values Come From. Retrieved from: www.huffingtonpost.com/susan-fowler/where-value-come-from_b_10934032.html
iEduNote (2017) Values: Definition, Characteristics, Importance, Types of Values. Retrieved from: https://www.iedunote.com/values
Chance, L. (2011). The Real Definition of Core Values. Retrieved from:https://www.selfgrowth.com/articles/the-real-definition-of-core-values
Pearson, J. (2016). How to Discover Your Core Values List (and Use Them to Make Better Decisions. Retrieved from: https://taylorpearson.me/core-values-list/
Stemmle, C. (2020) Personal Core Values List. 100 Examples of Values to Live By. Retrieved from: https://www.developgoodhabits.com/core-values/