By Mystie Johnson-Foote, MD

Oxford Languages defines values as “a person’s principles or standards of behaviors; one’s judgment of what is important in life.” The values that an individual holds to be important come from a lifetime of experiences that begin as a child through interactions with parents and caregivers. While we are not always aware of what our values are, they directly influence our personal and professional relationships. While there are many tools that allow us to categorize and find common language describing values, you can define your own in a brief but thoughtful activity.

Let’s start by thinking about your personal relationships. Write down those relationships you feel are your 5 most important. Choose 1-3 words that describe each relationship. Now do the same thing with your professional relationships, and then once again, thinking about your organization’s values. Finally, repeat this exercise thinking about the relationships that cause you stress. What do you notice?

When I did this activity, I found these words to be common: loyalty, integrity, empathy. Not surprisingly, the relationships that cause me stress are those where the values were nearly the exact opposite of these. You may be thinking, so what? Exactly. What do we do with this bit of information?

Well, for starters, it’s important to have a clear picture of your values because when there is misalignment between the values you hold and the values of others, it can affect you personally and professionally. You may begin to feel frustrated, dissatisfied, depressed, or simply bored, which can be an indication that you are disconnected from your values. 

At work, this disconnectedness can result in performance issues, lack of engagement in your work, or in severe cases, burnout. In your personal life, this may show up as feelings of discontent or anxiousness, and living life without authenticity. 

When you take the time to evaluate your values, and the values of others around you, you can make informed decisions that help you take control over your personal and professional lives so you can reclaim a life of purpose and joy.  

Using my example, let’s define what each is so we can have a shared understanding. My values (defined by Oxford Languages) include:

Loyalty: “a strong feeling of support or allegiance”; 

Integrity: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles” and “the state of being whole and undivided”;

Empathetic: “showing the ability to understand and share feelings of another.” 

What have you just learned about me? And how would you be able to use this information to build our relationship if we became co-workers or friends?

Now, find the definitions for the words you chose in the activity. What awareness do you now have about yourself? Does this feel like the authentic way you want to show up in the world? 

Understanding your own values and those of others allows you to deepen your connections. You tend to gravitate toward those who have common values. 

In the workplace, there is typically greater diversity in personal values than in your personal life. Organizations will define the values that are important and create the foundation for developing mission and vision statements and setting expectations of how an individual should behave and perform. This is reflected in the culture of the organization.

Whether it’s personal or professional, values misalignment can cause stress and dysfunction. As you gain an awareness of your values and the values of others, you can learn to appreciate what everyone brings to the table. By becoming aware of this, you broaden your view, become clear on what is most important to you, and open the doors to possibility.

Now that you have the foundation of your values, what is possible?