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You’re sitting in a meeting at work. You’re tired and hope this meeting will end soon. It’s not that you’re totally disinterested, but it’s a meeting that’s covering ground that was covered in the last session. You feel that it’s a waste of time, and you want to move on to your next task. You like your manager, but sometimes he rambles a bit on the same point.

After the meeting ends and everyone runs off to their next appointment, you overhear two peers making a shocking statement about your manager. You’re likely the only one who heard it, as you were walking directly behind them. They don’t seem to notice that you heard the comment.

Your mind begins to replay the disparaging comment and find it inconceivable how two people – let alone direct reports – could ever say something like this about another person. Your internal dialogue concludes that what you heard was a racist remark about your manager, who is a minority.

Your core values fire off an alarm that this isn’t right and is not acceptable. You believe the right thing to do is to address this matter with your peers.

This micro skill reviews the value of being in touch with our core values and how they can influence decisions and behaviour.


Most of us have a set of values that influence how we make decisions. However, if you ask the average person what their top-five core values are, unless they’ve done a value clarification exercise, they may need to take a moment to think about them.

We all have core values; however, we may not be consciously aware of their benefit and power over our behaviour. The more important the core value, the more influence it will have on our behaviour.

The good news with core values is that we can pick and change them any time. We only need to be intentional and aware of their purpose and benefit to us. For example, if we want to add exercise and an improved diet to our daily routine to lose some weight but health is not a core value, there’s little chance we’ll start or stick to this discipline.

When someone breaches one of our core values it sets off an alarm that creates an internal call for action, because our values are how we filter the world as to what’s good and just.

In the above work example, because your parents taught you the importance of accepting differences in people and to never judge based on sex, age, sexuality, ethnicity or disability, you made civility a core value for yourself. It prompts you to confront your peers in a respectful way to share your concern.


Once we’re aware of our core values, the next step is to be accountable for them. Following our core values is not work. They guide us to make decisions that are aligned with how we want to live our life.


When we become in tune with and define our core values, we can ensure that they’re aligned with the person we want to be.

Four steps for tapping into your core values:

1. Define your core values – Before you can benefit from core values, it’s important to think about what’s most important to you. Your values influence how you live your life and the kinds of decisions you make every day. Stephen Covey, in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, provides an example of how deciding how you want to live your life and following these values can have a positive impact on the quality of your life at home and at work.

2. Write out your top three core values – You can have more than three, but if this is new, start with three and write out why each is important to you and what kinds of behaviour are aligned with this value. One method that can help you brainstorm and decide on what top three core values you want to live by daily is to review Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues that include justice, humility, order and moderation. He provided his own definition for each.

3. Be congruent to your core values – Others don’t have to accept your core values, but don’t let others prevent you from living yours. In our example, tactfully confronting your peers provides them an opportunity to learn, grow and change. If they disagree or are rude, you can decide to move on or perhaps suggest the three of you have a chat with a human resources representative.

4. Monitor daily whether you’re aligned to your core values – Following what you believe may be hard at times and you may slip. By monitoring your activities daily, if you slip you can reset the next day and learn from your transgression.

Bill Howatt is the chief of research for work force productivity at the Conference Board of Canada, and former chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell.

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