Executive leadership teams regularly develop values statements to explain what is most important to them in fulfilling the company mission. Teams go through exercises to identify values they hope to live by.
And yet we, as individuals, rarely really know our most important values and what we hold most dear. Our most cherished values are hidden to us as we go through our daily work lives. As your Tangle DoctorTM, I contend that misaligned values are one of the hidden forces or threads of organizational tanglesTM -- unproductive working relationships, snarled lines of communication, and fuzzy lines of authority. Symptoms of tangles include negative emotions, conflict, and blame.
Unconscious Triggers for Negative Emotions
When working with executive leaders I discovered that a violated value can be an unconscious trigger for negative emotions. One executive leader realized that when peers recommended a course of action that cut corners, she experienced a sense of visceral anger. She lashed out at them, causing tension. Peers and subordinates began to avoid her. In our session, she realized that integrity, which to her meant keeping one's word, was a core value, and it was being violated. Our work together involved discussing methods to self-monitor and reflect to avoid over-reacting to that trigger.
When another leader’s company used personal company information in a way that compromised the privacy of its customers, he realized that protecting privacy was of paramount importance. His company's action triggered an emotional response in him. When he angrily raised the issue, the CEO called him on the carpet, because the CEO did not share his value. The CEO valued revenue generation more than protecting privacy. The anxiety this created for my client and others on his team resulted in a lack of trust. In similar situations, the value conflict may be so fundamental that an individual may decide to leave the company.
Misalignment of Values
I call this phenomenon the Violated Values TangleTM. To pinpoint the specific tangle, I always listen deeply to identify the primary threads that need to be unknotted. I do this by listening to the words spoken and emotional content. Once I have determined that the primary thread is misaligned values and that this is indeed a Violated Values TangleTM, I work with my client to pinpoint the specific value. Through an inquiry process we explore together the reasons for the misalignment. I probe to see what other threads are involved. Clearly, in this case, emotions fueled the tangle. I also consider what power dynamics are in play and what else might be knotting things up.
The challenge with this particular type of tangle is that we often don't know what is really important to us personally until it is threatened and we experience a visceral response. To complicate things, we often misinterpret our emotional reaction. We are not really sure what set us off.
Preventing a Violated Values Tangle
Given that the Violated Values TangleTM is defined by hidden forces, there are several ways to prevent them from sneaking up on you.
Get to know your own most highly cherished values.
When you feel a strong negative emotion, notice if one of the triggers is a violated value.
Practice good self-management. Be aware of your emotional states and moderate your reactions so that relationships maintain intact.
If you get off track, and overreact, redouble your efforts to notice what triggers you. When you experience the trigger, take a few deep breaths, think, and then respond in a way that respects the other person.
Ensure that your team has clarified individual and team values related to your work together. Determine what is most important to the team in working together under inevitable volatility, ambiguity, and pressure
Develop good conflict management skills to negotiate clashing values
While you are calm, prepare a measured, non-threatening response that communicates why this value is important to you.
This blog post is an abbreviated excerpt from my forthcoming book. I will let readers know when it is published.
If you suspect you already have a Violated Values TangleTM, contact me for a complimentary session.