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Posted on Jan 12, 2018

When You Should NOT Trade-Off Values

When You Should NOT Trade-Off Values

What’s more important to you: Freedom or Safety?

What about your smartphone vs. your computer vs. your TV? Which one would you be willing to give up first? Which one would be last?

The fact is, everything in our life has a value, but a different value because we rank-order them. We’re just not always conscious of it.

In addition, the priority of values is often treated as situational. Here are two simple examples:

  1. While driving your car down the highway on a beautiful summer’s day, you might say that freedom matters more than safety because you feel “in control”. That’s why it’s easy to justify speeding 5 miles over the speed limit. But when you suddenly experience someone else racing past you at 40 miles over the limit, you might ignore their right to freedom and say (out loud) that they are not being safe.
  2. When you are ushered through the security checkpoint at the airport, you might say that safety matters more than freedom because you want to be sure any “bad guys” are prevented from getting through. But when it comes to boarding the airplane, you subtly maneuver yourself to get on the plane sooner to ensure you have the freedom of having your bags stored in the upper compartments.

In both examples, what’s happening is a values trade-off where we permit one value to supersede the other in order to justify our decisions and behavior.

Assessing Values Trade-Offs

We all constantly juggle competing values, choosing to trade-off one value for another. Why?  To avoid unnecessary conflict, with others and ourselves.

Consider the examples above:

  • Who wants to feel guilty for driving 5 miles over the limit? Enjoy the drive!
  • How will it help to criticize TSA security (or worse, get in a fight with them) for forcing you through their rigid process? Just grin and bear it, and get through it.

Or, on the flip side:

  • It’s irresponsible for anyone to drive 40 miles over the speed limit – right? If you don’t express your disapproval, then you might be encouraging such behavior, which might make you feel irresponsible.
  • There is already a lot of stress when boarding an airplane. So if you can get on sooner to make your life a little easier, why shouldn’t you do it?

Every day we work through values trade-offs on an ongoing basis, from food choices (cake or carrots?), to how we communicate (email or phone?). This also happens in a work environment, for example when witnessing an internal problem (report it or ignore it?), or completing an important task (stay late to finish or leave it to tomorrow?).

If this is such a common occurrence, how do successful individuals – and organizations – achieve their goals?

How do they manage to rise above the average, and accomplish the extraordinary?

What Matters Most

Those that consistently achieve their goals have identified what matters most. They know there are certain values trade-offs they cannot permit.

As mentioned above, everything in our life has a value. We’re just not always conscious of the rank order.

When we’re really clear about our goals, we also need to establish a set of guiding principles that are MOST important, those values that are non-negotiable. Our top values – and I encourage a limit of 3 – are the filter for making decisions, the yardstick for evaluating behavior, and the benchmark for determining who to work with.

When our #1 value is truly #1, it means we would choose pain and suffering rather than violate that value. The same is true for our #2 and #3 values.

There are NO trade-offs. There are NO “if-then” scenarios. There are NO compromises.

For example:

  • Top athletes understand the values of practice, perseverance, and staying positive.
  • Start-up entrepreneurs understand the values of agility, adaptability, and remaining lean.
  • Healthcare professionals understand the values of care, accuracy, and being patient-centric.

Of course, determining what matters most is hard work. But that’s how successful individuals – and organizations – achieve their goals.

So, I ask you:

To achieve your goals, what matters most?

What are your top 3 non-negotiable values?