People experience our behaviours not our values

People experience our behaviours not our values

One often hears people say, “All we need to do is recruit people with the right values.” To employ people who are respectful of others and have compassion etc one simply needs to ensure they have personal beliefs and attitudes which are in tune with working in the right way- simple. The assumption is there is a direct link between our values and our behaviours: what we believe is what we do, what we value is what we uphold. However, for the thirty years or so I have been recruiting people for various roles I have yet to interview someone who has said they don’t have respect for others! It would be good if they did as then I could simply point them to the door and suggest they find another profession. Indeed the vast majority of us sincerely believe we have good values and would be quite insulted at the thought we could be seen as anything other than respectful. Yet we know people who use services, patients and their family members frequently report bad experiences which appear to be due to lack respect or even common courtesy.

In reality the connection between values and behaviours is complex, ever changing, multi-dimensional and not readily predictable. My view is we need to be very cautious as it extraordinarily difficult to deduce anything meaningful about a person’s values and even if can uncover what they are it is best to steer clear. I prefer to focus more on tools and questions which help to predict the way people might behave. I am often quoted as saying, “People don’t experience out values, they experience our behaviours.”

By way of illustrating the complexity let’s start by considering beliefs: the things we hold to be immutable and true. We know personal beliefs are influenced by culture, upbringing, faith, education and life experiences- none of us is immune. They are important as our beliefs can be strongly held and impact on our views such as; sexual and gender diversity, people of other faiths or gender equality. Likewise it influences how we might prejudge people such as; individuals who abuse themselves through addictions, people who are obese, or people with disabilities etc. Values can be described as those things we hold dear; family, health, perhaps career, money etc. Our values are informed by our beliefs eg hard work brings rewards or for others it might be more about who you know and connections. Sometimes we express our values through common sayings and examples like: “You reap what you sow” or “You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs” might give us an insight into a person’s approach to others! There is a clear connection between our beliefs, our values and our attitudes towards others eg some people are more deserving than others or some people are to blame for their own problems.

It seems then we all have issues with our values, we are all, without exception, prone to making personal judgements based on pre-held beliefs and our values are the product of a certain world view. Then, to make things even more complicated, they can change over time and in extremis even quite suddenly! Our behaviours are the outward the expression of our values and they are proven to be very subject to external factors: countless psychology experiments have shown the dramatic impact of peer pressure, external reinforcement, risks of being caught, perceptions of triviality etc on what we actually do- often to our horror. All things considered then trying to recruit people with the right values (assuming we ourselves know what “right” is) is rather complicated. For me, someone who is certainly not intuitive, I find it is better to stick with trying to gain a better understanding of what people do and what they are likely to do.

I have a belief that we can all learn to adjust our behaviour almost regardless of our starting point. When influencing practice standards I personally have always found it easier to give feedback such as, “Have you checked with Mrs Jones if it is ok to call her “love”?”, rather than “Did your parents not teach you respect for your elders?”! We will sometimes hear the maxim that the best predictor of how someone will behave in the future is how they have behaved in the past. While it is important not to have such a terribly rigid view of people (I will explore our almost limitless capacity for change in a later blog) it is generally viewed as good practice to ask questions in interviews which explore actual actions or responses of the candidate in previous comparable situations. These will generally provide more insight than asking for a person’s view of how they might expect or wish to behave. In the next blog I shall explore the connection between behaviour and personality and describe some surprising findings about excellent frontline care staff.