Live your values, not your emotions

Recently I had an interesting conversation about the  difference between responding to a situation based on your values, and  reacting based on your emotions. The key concept here being that  sometimes we have an event (or ‘stimulus’) and a reaction, and that  reaction isn’t aligned with our values or what we believe is the ‘true  us’, it’s just what comes out.

Renowned psychiatrist Viktor Frankl wrote eloquently on the power of choice amidst the space between  stimulus and response. Prior to this conversation I had never considered  that space in terms of values, but upon reflection, it makes perfect  sense.

There’s the knee-jerk way I can react to an  event (the emotional way) or the more considered, values-based way (the  way my Platonic ideal of myself would react).

I  often encounter this dichotomy in my business life. I know that  especially when I’m worried about something in the workplace, whether  it’s a feature that I think needs to be added to my company’s product or  a topic I want my colleague to agree with me on that she or he isn’t  taking as seriously as I’d like, I tend to escalate things. Anxiety sets  in, and I start to view the element at hand as mission critical — a  potential direct cause of future failure. I need for whoever I’m  speaking with to be as worried as I am, and my emotions take over. I  become very pointed in my language, expressing conviction that I might  not have just to make things seem ultra-serious. My posture tenses and I  begin biting the inside of my right cheek. My voice is terse and I move  into argument and debate mode instead of collaboration and community  mode. And those are the very values I hold so dear — working together  and being empathetic to others’ needs and opinions, yet here I am, doing  nearly the exact opposite.

So then the question becomes, how do  we act more in alignment with our values than with our emotions? How do  we create that space that Dr. Frankl spoke so highly of?

For  if we can create that space, we can live by our values, watching our  emotions float by as they are wont to do, without getting in the way of  our expression of our truest selves.

I can’t claim  to have any final answers to the question of values alignment, except  for that tried and true method of awareness and experimentation. The  first step of which is to truly understand the emotion that’s driving  your behavior in a given situation. Is it fear, panic, loneliness…are  you just hungry? Is it one of those emotions or others that aggrandizes  itself without you even being aware? In my example, you might say that  what I express is panic, but what I’m actually feeling is that literally  everything is resting on this issue being understood or recognized. I’m  subconsciously attaching my success as an entrepreneur, as a coworker,  even as a human being to the outcome of this potentially forgettable  feature or event.

And so, after I have identified the  underpinnings of my emotions, I can take a step back. Perhaps creating  literal space for myself by going for a quick walk. I can focus on my  physical body, straightening my shoulders, leaving my poor cheek to rest  in peace for a bit. And then, when I’m ready, I can come back to the  topic at hand. Maybe with practice I can do all of this within moments,  and perhaps sometimes it takes me a few minutes to work through it.

Next,  I can pause and reevaluate my opinion, my stance that this is all so  life or death. I can ask my colleague to repeat their views, making sure  to articulate what I’m understanding them to mean and to share my  concerns honestly and constructively instead of couching them behind  other issues. I can ask for clarification using phrasing like, “this  isn’t necessarily urgent, but what would you think of doing it this way  instead of that way?” and guide the conversation with kind and open  questions that lend themselves toward thoughtful rather than defensive  answers. Finally, I can ask myself, what are the implications if this  doesn’t get done my way? I can write them down and once written, I can  use the space of the written word to evaluate what is truth and what is  emotion.

And that is, after all, probably the most I can ask of  myself and others; that we approach our shortcomings with awareness and  an open mind, constantly seeking to experience our emotions, but stay  true to our values.

Written by

Alexandra Connell

Alexandra Connell is CEO and Co-Founder of Pluma. Prior to starting Pluma, Alexandra held corporate roles across several industries including technology, biotech, and investment management in New York and London. During her role as Chief of Staff at biotech company Solazyme, Alexandra found inspiration for what would ultimately become Pluma. Shortly after IPO, the company was challenged with transition and change. Senior leaders were hired from outside firms. Emerging leaders, who had brought the company to IPO, felt alienated. To preserve a culture of innovation and flexibility, Solazyme needed to upskill and season its newer leaders - and fast. Engagement with content subscriptions was limited. There was significant pushback around the inefficacy and inconvenience of workshops and seminars. The one resource requested repeatedly was executive coaching, but this was simply too expensive and administratively cumbersome to provide across the board to those in need. Alexandra and her cofounder, Samuel Cabral, set out on a path to disrupt traditional leadership development. By leveraging technology, countless interviews with L&D professionals, and a network of thought leaders at Harvard, they developed a cost-effective and turnkey solution for developing leaders. By making executive quality coaching and professional development accessible more broadly within organizations, Alexandra leads Pluma`s mission to build the next generation of happy, inspired, and highly effective leaders. Alexandra holds an undergraduate degree in International Relations and Public Policy from Princeton University, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.

San Francisco, CA

Leadership Development