As coaches, one of our main functions is to offer a mirror to our clients so they can get a better understanding of who they are. We do this through a combination of enquiry, reflection and challenge, along with a range of activities that support the uncovering of blind spots and promote paradigm shifts in our client’s world view.
When clients understand more about who they are, they literally have more resources to draw on when it comes to their own problem-solving and decision-making dilemmas; the awareness empowers them to revisit their lives with renewed vigour, energy and clarity.
A key resource that coaches can use to help clients get to know themselves better is values work. Here, we explore some of the ways that we can bring colour and depth to our values work with clients.
Why do values matter?
When we understand our values, we have an opportunity to live more in harmony with ourselves. Our values are a way of expressing what matters to us and we therefore experience greater coherence when we make choices that are in line with our values. Put another way, if we know what matters, we can choose to direct our choices to have more of whatever that is. Win win.
Conversely, if we don’t know what our values are, we run the risk of making choices that don’t feel fulfilling, cause us to have an underlying sense of disharmony, or experience conflict or struggle in our relationships. This in turn can lead to a vicious cycle; we want to feel better but can end up making more of the kind of choices that take us further away from our true, congruent selves. Lose lose.
Stephen Hayes describes the importance of values in the following way:
Discovering our values
Many coaches are taught that to work with values is to plonk a long list of values in front of a client and asking them to pick which ones they connect with most. This is a huge missed opportunity. In doing this, we run the risk of unconsciously inviting the client to select their values like picking sweets from a pic ‘n’ mix – whichever looks sweetest go in the bag!
Rather than choosing what we think looks good or tasty, we should support our clients to go on a voyage of discovery, taking them on a trip through time, both backwards and forwards, to really elicit what matters most. We want to mine their past experiences and help them lean into their deepest desires in order to get a technicolour picture of their values.
Below are some ideas for how to take your client on that voyage of meaningful discovery, coaching your clients to unveiling and connecting to what matters most to them.
1. Peak experiences
Ask your client to think of a peak experience in their life, a time when they felt really fulfilled, present, in flow, at ease.
Encourage them to bring the memory to life, so that they – and you – really get a sense of how they felt, what was going on around them, how they spoke, how they moved etc.
Once they’ve bought the moment to life, support them in reflecting on what values were being met for them in this experience.
This is a collaborative process, so feel free to play with words with your client to help them land on the value that really connects. You’ll see the difference in their energy; they may try on different values that are close, but their energy will peak when they hear the word that is really ‘right’ – their eyes will light up as if in recognition of some part of themselves.
Repeat this for a couple of different scenarios and keep a note of the values the client identifies.
2. trampled values
Repeat the above process, but instead of looking for peak experiences ask the client to identify times when they were annoyed, angered, upset or frustrated by something.
As they reconnect to those scenarios, work together to consider what values were being suppressed or trampled all over. For example, their value of fairness may have been activated watching a manager give an employee a tongue-lashing in front of other team members.
Log these values too.
3. Stick of rock values
Ask the client to consider what is so fundamental to them that they couldn’t live without it. For example, creative expression might be utterly integral to how someone lives. Or they might not function if they didn’t have exercise and physical activity in their life.
You could deepen this by asking what their friends or family would describe as integral in them.
Log these too.
4. Values by domain
You may wish to use a chunking down technique to help the client drill down further into their values. They may find it insightful to discover which values show up across different domains or whether they are consistent across different areas of their life.
You could take a Wheel of Life approach to help the client identify different areas of their life that matter; work, family, health and well-being, finances, friendships, purpose, service, faith, learning and growth, leisure etc.
In each domain, support them to explore what emotions are stirred. Warmth and ease? Uncertainty and doubt? Pride and satisfaction?
Follow the trail of emotional breadcrumbs to dig deeper into which values are most alive or disregarded in each of the different domains.
5. sort, categorise and prioritise
The client will have now generated a long list of different values, so we can now ask them to sort them. What do they notice about these values? Are there any groupings that emerge? For example, there may be several values that relate to creativity or health or family.
Underneath these groupings, ask the client to find which value most expresses the feeling of the group, giving them a lead value per category.
This process will help them to whittle the long list down to a shorter, punchier and more vital list of values.
Depending on the length of the list, support them to whittle further; which is MOST important? Can they get a top five of their most core values?
Now they have a list of core values, ask:
7. Get creative
One way to embed this work is to encourage the client to bring the work to life in some way. They will have ideas of their own too so find what works best.
8. I’m dying to know my values
We end on a couple of exercises that can be really powerful in helping clients connect to what matters most. This would work well as a take-away activity for clients to do in between sessions.
As Stephen Hayes said in the quote at the top of the article, living our values is a mechanism for making, “the difference between a vital life and a deadened life.”
What more powerful way to bring this home to a client than to ask them to write their own eulogy and epitaph.
These exercises help the client to time travel forwards, and have them observing their own funeral. They start by taking some time to connect to the fact that they lived a full and fulfilling life. They achieved all that they wanted. They lived well. And now it is time for them to listen in to the eulogy that a loved one gives at their funeral service.
Ask them to write down what they discover about themselves:
What values had the most impact on the direction of travel their life took?
Given these insights into what a fulfilling life meant for them, they may also wish to distill this down into an epitaph.
How would they summarise what constituted ‘a vital life’ for themselves?
Here lies someone who…?
Hopefully this article provides food for thought on how to deliver deep and powerful values work with your clients – work that, done well, will underpin your client’s progress through coaching and beyond.