Our identity values are pervasive in our experience. They show up in many places in many ways. I call this a value matrix. If someone feels that winning's important, a value, they're likely to think that achieving and attaining and tenacity and relentlessness are also important, because all of these values are connected. They're in a matrix together.
A very different kind of value matrix would belong to someone who thinks that efficiency is very important. With that value, you'd likely hear reliability, precision, regulation, automation. These value matrices will let you know when you're closing in on what's really important to a person, when you're closing in on who the person thinks he or she is or wants to be.
The more you know a person's preferences, the more you know his or her value matrix, the more you'll know who the person thinks he or she is or wants to be. Now this might seem manipulative to consider what you're doing, but you're finding out what's really important to the person in order to help him or her get it. This is not about selling someone something he or she doesn't want and just saying, “Well, it has this value.”
Too many people think in terms of what they want and not in terms of the identity values that are fulfilled. You can perform a definite service for people by making them aware of their values behind the objects or experiences they're focusing on, and allowing them to notice that there are other ways to have those values fulfilled, just as there are other ways for me to find freedom in my life besides a large open house.
Now some people are naturally good at figuring out what other people really want. And I admit, at one time, I wasn’t one of them. I needed some help, and so I received some questions to get me started. These have worked for me, and so I’m going to offer them to you.
When someone expresses a preference, whether it’s by looking at something for a few seconds longer or sighing or saying something subtle like, “I really like that,” you can ask, “What do you like about it?” “What do you think about it?” Or, “What attracted you to that?” These questions acknowledge a truth. The person is interested in it, and you’re interested in why. Whatever the person tells you, listen and watch. Is he or she engaged? Is he or she moved? Is this at the level of his or her favorite ice cream or is this something more about him or her?
When you hear this answer, make a mental note and if possible actually write it down, because these words are magic. These are the person's value words. These are the words he or she can't help but respond to. And then ask, “What's important about that?” Or, “What do you value about that?” This will begin to get you into the higher values that will get you several degrees closer to the person's identity values. As opportunities present themselves you can continue to ask for higher and higher values.
And keep in mind that all of us can't help but express them anyway. For most people, it's difficult to keep them from telling you what their values are. The difference is that you're going to focus your efforts on getting closer and closer to the identity values. These are the values you're addressing when you ask, “What has to be there?” “What's necessary?” “What's absolutely essential?” Now, this requires a level of trust, a level of rapport, a genuine interest in moving up that hierarchy of values to find out what's really important to that person.
So let me offer you an exercise. Start with a colleague or an acquaintance. Most people need to start there because they think that they're asking intrusive questions. You've got to discover for yourself that all people love to talk about what's important to them, especially themselves. And starting with something, an opinion about a movie or about a car or about something they're about to engage in, and ask them, “What do you think about that?” “What do you like about that?” “What attracted you?” These will tend to be the lower-level values.
Now some people just start at the top, and you can notice that by their level of engagement. But for most people, they'll give you something every day. It's interesting. “I like the way it's made.” “I enjoy what it allows me to do.” And at that point ask, “What's important about that?” At this moment you're asking for their higher values, at least a little higher. Listen to those answers. This brings you closer to their identity, and they might say things like, “It lets me do the things I want to do. It gives me freedom or belonging or new possibilities.” These will be words that aren't all that specific, but you can hear the valuation in them. At this point you could ask, “What's essential or necessary?” Or “What's most important to you?” “What has to be there?” At this point you're closing in on the identity value.
You see, values can be desirable, what you'd like, what you'd prefer, or they could be what is needed, what is necessary, and what drives the system. This is a way of finding out those have-to values. Those values will begin to connect with other ones that you've heard before. This is the value matrix. This set of values is essential to the person and points at who he or she is.
What do you do with this? Feed it back to people. These words represent very important values to them. If you were to change these words in some way, you wouldn't be addressing who they are and what's important to them. Say things like, “So what's really important to you is,” and put these words in. You'll find the person sometimes nodding with exaggeration. When was the last time that someone acknowledged what was really important to him or her?
In a way it's kind of a sad statement, but in another it's a real possibility. The possibility that we could get to know each other better and make a positive difference in each other's lives. The difference I'd like to make with you right now is in applying this to yourself. That is, for you to find out more about your value matrix, about what values are most important to you. The idea here is when you know that it begins to represent you more fully, it brings your life into focus more, it allows you to know what ought to be the basis of the decisions that you make. What tends to happen is that the higher values take over from the lower values. Lower values, well, if you can read them, you will, but you'll always meet your high values, your identity values, and in that feel fulfilled and that your life is on course.
So think about something important to you and what you like about it. What do you think about it? What attracted you to it? You might want to write these down for yourself, even though you would know them because they're yours, because it's a way of seeing them on the outside validating what is important to you. And as you write down these value words, you can ask yourself about each of them in turn. What's important to you about that? What do you value about that? And write down your answers, your responses.
You might notice that they change in quality from the flavor of something to some more abstract ideas of fulfillment and satisfaction and self-expression. And ask yourself then, What's important about those? What's essential or necessary? What has to be there?
As you answer these questions, keep in mind these are probably not all of your identity values. We are much richer creatures than that. And yet, at the same time, this begins to represent for you some central values, some organizing values, some life-directing values. Take a moment and notice those. Notice how you express them in your experience. Notice how they've guided your life till now. Notice how you felt when you violated them, when you haven't respected them. These are ways to express yourself in the world. They're important to you, and they deserve your respect.
Begin to wonder, what is it that you could do in the future to express more of these, to let other people know that this is truly important to you, it matters to you, it makes a difference to you. It will allow you to express more of who you are and who you want to be.
As you think about that and notice the liberating feelings that offers, consider that that is what you are offering each person whom you talk to. When you notice who they are, when you notice their important identity values, their value matrix, you're offering them the feedback, the acknowledgment. You know it'll make a difference in their life, and you also know that it's the values and not the things. There are many different ways we can fulfill values. Each of these is a degree of influence. Begin where you're comfortable, of course, and take it on up to higher values as you become more aware of the importance of knowing and acknowledging this.
This kind of acknowledgment of a client, a customer, a colleague, or even a family member can transform a relationship. Every one of us is trying to hold our uniqueness, our values in a world increasingly impersonal and impervious to what we want. When you realize that it doesn't change the fact that it is really important to you, it does really matter, you realize it's important to everyone else around you.
So remember, people want their values and criteria to be fulfilled. It is meaningful to them. That people's values form a whole cloth, a value matrix that points at who they are and who they want to be. And the higher values you appeal to, the more influential you'll become. What do people really want? They want to be acknowledged. They want to be known. They want to fulfill themselves. Help them.