“This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
So concludes Polonius’ famous soundbite-filled monologue to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. In other words: know yourself and follow your own counsel. This is sage advice indeed but, like many of the character’s platitudes (such as “neither a borrower nor a lender be”), much easier said than done!
The first step towards staying true to yourself – and the one that Polonius spectacularly fails to acknowledge – is, of course, knowing yourself. Self-knowledge takes myriad forms: it’s about knowing where you come from, where you are going, what you want from life, and – crucially – the values by which you choose to live. We all value different things, and we all differ in awareness of the things we cherish and respect. Becoming more aware of our own values is the vital first step towards ensuring we honour those values on a daily basis and thus stay true to ourselves and the things in which we believe.
What are values?
Values – simply put – are the things to which we attach value. The things we would fight for, the things we pursue and celebrate. Examples of commonly held values are friendship, generosity, family, education, citizenship, honesty, self-improvement, perseverance, security. However, these values mean different things to each of us and are often best expressed in word groupings. To one person, the meaning of “citizenship” might be voting / political activism / social justice / seeking change; while another person might think of it as participating in community projects / volunteering / neighbourliness / supporting local facilities. And there’s no right answer. Your value is your value, and it means exactly what you choose it mean. The only person who really needs to know and understand it for it to have power is you.
Because awareness of our values does empower us. Knowing what you stand for can make everyday decisions easier and turn dilemmas into no-brainers. It can also increase your sense of agency in life, since – unlike inherent strengths or talents – values are something you can actively choose to espouse or eschew. It can also help you stick to your guns when your choices are questioned since you are more conscious of the foundations on which you have based your decisions.
Identifying your values
So how do we identify our values? Here’s the stuff that Polonius left out of his little father-son chat. Values can often be teased out of our strongest memories, both positive and negative. So, think of a time in your life when you felt on fire, like you were functioning at 100% and exactly where you needed to be. What are you doing, who is involved, what impact is being made? Alternatively, think of a time when you were angrier than you ever thought possible. Often, anger is a result of a strongly held value being violated in some way. For each memory, consider what’s at stake and what makes it so vivid. What is being cherished or promoted? Maybe you’re thinking of the day you got a big promotion (so perhaps you value hard work, justice or financial security?); or a time when you stood up for a kid getting bullied at school (courage, solidarity, kindness, fairness, decency, dignity?).
How values can work for you in the workplace
When you know and own your values, you gain a solid foundation on which to base your decisions. This is the kind of sense of identity that businesses often seek to create with their mission statement and lists of company core values like “excellence”, “teamwork” and “innovation”. While companies may run the risk of straying towards meaningless buzzwords and empty promises, when used well and applied properly, values offer staff and other stakeholders important guidance about what a company stands for and – wordplay alert! – the kind of value it aims to create.
Values work in much the same way on an individual level. A manager who knows what they value is more likely to be able to identify and attract like-minded team members and will more easily create a sense of team spirit. This is especially helpful when managing multicultural teams within which working methods and communication styles differ significantly. By using coaching exercises that bring staff members together around common values that they explore and develop as a group, creating a kind of team charter, I have supported managers to ease tension and promote collaboration within previously under-performing and “hard-to-handle” teams. And on an individual level – whether you are in an entry-level or C-Suite position – knowing and honouring your values in the workplace can help you set boundaries, handle conflict better, make tough choices, and create healthier relationships with colleagues.
The value of values
Whether you are seeking to be true to thine own self at home, within your family, or amongst colleagues in the workplace, knowing who you are is the unavoidable first step towards owning who you are. By taking some time to identify your values and look at how you honour them, along with how you can reinforce their presence in your life and let them serve you, you offer yourself a significant decision-making tool. You strengthen the foundation of your behaviour in every aspect of your life – as a parent, manager, friend, partner, worker and leader – and, it must follow, as the night the day, that you can indeed more easily stay true to yourself and be false to no man.
Would you like to increase your sense of self, make better choices, and boost your satisfaction, both personally and professionally? Working with a dynamic and experienced coach to explore who you are and what you stand for can help you – and your teams – find greater purpose, determination and drive – for a life and career built with purpose and on purpose. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session.
It’s that time again, folks: ‘tis the season to be jolly, deck the halls, and sing the 12 days. And while it has become fashionable of late to deride the cheesiness of many Christmas traditions and bemoan its commercialisation, I have to say I love this time of year. Whether you choose to celebrate Christmas, Hanukah or the winter solstice, I have always found this to be the perfect time to wonder, reflect, and get in touch with my values. One of the things I enjoy most is the opportunity to honour the value of gift-giving.
I actually gift shop all year round. I am always on the lookout for special items that are exactly what a friend once said they really wanted or needed, or spot-on gifts that hit all the right buttons for my kids – like the glittery (tick) unicorn (tick) sewing kit (tick) Santa will be bringing my daughter this year. I do this because when I give a gift, I want it to be wanted, or needed, preferably both. I loathe the idea of buying “stocking stuffers” to make up present quantities or getting something just for the sake of it. It’s a waste of time, money and the planet’s resources!
So, in the spirit of offering necessary and appreciated gifts, I’d like to offer a suggestion for a Christmas gift we can all give our loved ones this year. The gift of listening. No, I’m not suggesting anyone gift-wrap their ears, and I’m fully aware that this one will fall flat with anyone who still believes in Father Christmas, but think what a difference it could make to our lives if we all became just 5% better at listening to each other. What a gift that would be!
Learning to listen was, quite literally, item number one on the programme for my first day of coaching training. We were taught that, as coaches, our first job was simply to listen to clients, let them be heard, and give them space to express themselves, and that even if that was all we did for the entire session, we had almost certainly always made a difference. Because how often do we get to sit and talk to someone who is just there to listen to us, without judgement, agenda or expectations of reciprocity, and without jumping in to offer advice or a comparable anecdote?
If you would like to give yourself and those around you the gift of becoming a better listener, here are a few ideas to help you make that Christmas wish come true.
- Set your intention
Active listening – the coachingese term for making a concerted effort to listen to someone – is simple in theory but surprisingly tough to do. The first step is to go into the conversation with the firm intention of listening. Simply by becoming aware that your goal is just to listen will enhance your ability to listen closely and concentrate on the other person. When you enter a conversation, make sure you’re comfortable and not likely to fidget. You cannot focus on someone’s words when you are cold, need the loo, or have a clothing label scratching your neck. Sort those things out before getting into it with your friend and you will be able to give her your undivided attention. And remember to make regular eye contact and offer listening signals such as head nodding and the occasional “uhuh” or “mmm”.
- Listen to understand, not to reply
I have a number of friends – mainly those who live far from me – with whom I have developed the habit of leaving each other long, newsy Whatsapp voice notes. This function of the app is a great way to keep up with pals who live in different time zones or who have different schedules and with whom an actual phone chat is often hard to arrange. My mate Kate, a woman of great wisdom, recently commented that she enjoys how relaxing our habit of leaving messages is: “Since it’s a message not a conversation, you can really listen, without having to think about what to say next”. How often do we listen without mentally drafting our reply or thinking about a similar thing that happened to us that we’d like to share? What would it be like simply to hear someone’s story without feeling the need to share in return? Obviously, there is a time and place for reciprocity in conversation, but the next time a friend starts to share some concern or news, why not try imagining you are listening to a message? Your only job is to hear it. If there are silent pauses, let them be; resist the urge to jump in with “Oh my God, the same thing happened to me!” or “I feel the same – when that happens to me, I always…”
- Stay curious
A coach’s second most important job is asking questions. In training we learn how to ask big “powerful” questions that can turn a client’s limiting belief on its head or make him see a situation from a new perspective. However, some of the most helpful questions (or prompts) a person can hear are often the simplest. Try Tell me more, or What else? Ask for details: What happened next? How did that make you feel? What was the impact of that? Keep your focus on the other person, rather than bringing the conversation back to your stuff, your experiences. An alternative to asking questions is offering thought-provoking observations, for example, Wow, that sounds disappointing! or I can hear so much anger in what you’re saying. By voicing what you hear and inviting a person to express more, you’re showing you are interested, that you value them, and that what they are saying is important to you in itself – not just as a springboard for your own sharing.
- Interrupt judiciously
I initially called this paragraph “never interrupt” but changed that for the sake of precision. I doubt I even have to say that the quickest way to frustrate someone who needs to talk is to interrupt them. Interruption most often takes the form of jumping in with own our story, but equally irritating variants include but are not limited to: interrupting to correct, contradict, offer information that turns into a digression, and the classic “Ah! That reminds me…!” change of subject. The bottom line is no one likes it, so don’t do it. The exceptions to this rule are things like interrupting to ensure understanding and ask for clarification.
Being a good listener is one of life’s hardest skills to learn, but the benefits are multiple. By giving the gift of your listening and attention, you show someone how highly you value them and give them a space to explore whatever situation or predicament they need to share. Plus, this is one of those gifts with a kickback. By improving your listening, you will improve the quality of your relationships as your loved ones (consciously or otherwise) respond to and appreciate your presence and openness and your connections deepen.
And, if you listen well enough and often enough, you’re sure to hear something that sparks a great idea for next year’s gift. That’s an extra win!
If you’d like to offer yourself the gift of active listening with a professional coach to work on issues holding you back, areas of life in which you are stuck, or projects that you would like to accelerate, contact me for your free introductory coaching session to start building a life lived with purpose and on purpose.
Despite my relative youth I have had what used to be called “quite a few different jobs” and is now referred to as a “portfolio career”. In each of my incarnations, I have learned new skills and worked with some wonderful people who have often become friends. During one of my past lives working in corporate communications, I had a fantastic manager (we will call her Angela), who taught me more than most; but the thing that really sticks out when I think about Angela is her fanaticism for alignment.
Whenever one of our team would send a brochure for printing or deliver a presentation to a client, Angela always said, “Check the alignment one last time before you send it, please!” Not only was she polite, Angela was also a stickler for ensuring that text boxes and images lined up nicely and that there were no random extra spaces at the beginning of lines. This thoughtfulness and eye for detail is what made Angela excellent at her job and a great mentor.
Now, as a coach, I think of Angela often as I work with clients on a different kind of alignment: the alignment of their decisions and chosen actions with their values and life goals. In sessions where clients are figuring out who they want to be, what they want to do, and where they want to go, I frequently ask them to check their alignment before moving forward, with questions like, “What values are you honouring with this choice?” and “How does this action serve your ultimate objective?”
However, while it is fairly easy to judge whether a couple of images are in a straight line in a PowerPoint presentation, evaluating the alignment of your goals with your values, or assessing whether your daily activities correspond to your broader aspirations is much more difficult. So how do you check the alignment of your choices before you approve and – metaphorically – send them to print?
There’s no quick-fix list for checking that your choices are coherent with your bigger-picture life plan, but I do have a few techniques that can offer help open up a path towards insight.
Know your value
Before you can decide whether something honours your values, you have to know what your values are! But how do you know what you value? One really effective way of identifying some of your values is to think about what makes you angry. Most times, when something makes your blood boil, it’s because one of your key values is being disrespected. If my husband gets furious when a car overtakes us on a curve at warp speed, it’s not because his masculine pride is wounded. It’s because protecting his family is right at the top of his values list. In films, when the “good” guys don’t triumph (you know those films where, right at the end, in a sly twist, you realise that the chap you’ve been told to root for and that the lawyer managed to get off was actually guilty all along?), my husband is always incandescent with rage. The disrespected value is, of course, his sense of justice.
So ask yourself: what makes me angry and what value is not being honoured in that situation? You can also think about your proudest moments, the moments when you felt most fully alive. What was going on? What value was being celebrated? If getting your degree is in the top five, maybe you value education and learning. If the relay race you lost horribly at school is actually a sparkling memory for you, maybe you cherish the teamwork it took to take part in the first place.
Try on your decision like a coat
This technique is great both for testing alignment and ending indecision. To see whether an action or a choice feels right and “aligned”, image that you have already made your decision. For example, you’re hesitating about leaving the amateur choir you have been singing with for a few years. Decide to leave and draft the email to the choirmaster with your resignation, then go to bed and sleep on it. How do you feel when you wake up? Relieved? Strong? Joyful? Or do you wake up terrified that Gmail has experienced a glitch and sent your draft email out automatically? Try on a decision the way you would a new coat and see how it fits. If you experience discomfort, consider what that tells you. Maybe it simply means that the decision is good but hard to execute, or maybe it means that it’s not the right path for you.
Don’t be afraid to say no
Sometimes honouring your values means saying no or that you’ve changed your mind, or that something no longer works for you. That’s hard, but ultimately liberating. When my daughter started school, in a fit of perfect-mother zeal I joined what us Brits refer to as the PTA (Parent-Teacher Association). Unsurprisingly, some of my top values are my children, education, and making a contribution. I quickly realised that the reality of PTA work in France is very different from what I saw my mother doing when I was at school in the UK and that the activities undertaken – while not harmful or unpleasant – didn’t hit the spot in terms of any of my values. The day I left, I felt rather guilty and embarrassed but I could practically feel the alignment return to my body. Now, the time I could have spent fielding Whatsapp messages (seriously, hundreds per week) and reading meeting minutes is used playing Kapla with my son, reading with my daughter, and doing pro bono coaching work (my children, education, making a contribution – tick, tick, tick).
Beware conflicting values
It’s impossible to honour all of your values all of the time. Maybe you value health and fitness but also security, which to you means having a minimum amount of savings in the bank. Joining a gym honours the first value but does nothing to help with the second. Sometimes you have to choose which value is most important here and now. So perhaps you decide that you can maintain your fitness by jogging in the park while keeping your bank balance healthy too. Perhaps you conclude that supervised weight training and cardio is really what you need to avoid certain issues that run in your family and you splash out on the gym but trim your budget elsewhere. Much heartache can occur when you try to honour conflicting values all at the same time (just ask any working parent!) so be mindful of what your values are and which you are honouring with each decision and why.
If you’re looking to find greater alignment in your life and make day-to-day choices that serve your higher purpose and long-term life plan, supportive and encouraging coaching can help you identify your values and honour them. Contact me for your free introductory coaching session to find out how working together can help you build a life lived with purpose and on purpose.