Election Aftermath

Pondering the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election reminded me of something very important.  Different values are not the same as wrong values. I am hopeful that you will take some time and deeply reflect on this.

Our values are very personal. They help us make difficult decisions and enable us to discern good from bad. They help define who we are and our sense of positive self-worth. And as noble as all of us may try to be, it is very easy to pass a little condescending judgment on others, whose values differ from our own. We believe our values are “right.” This can only mean that differing values must be wrong – or at least not as right.

You often hear people claim how much they value differences. But do they really, especially when those differences are in core values? Think of all the complaints you hear people express about others who are different. It may be complaints about unusual work styles, the distracting ways they interact with you, or even their odd tastes in music or movies. And these are all very superficial, when compared to deeply held values. Yet even these kinds of  “peculiarities” make individuals feel not only uncomfortable, but dare I say, maybe even a little better than, or at least less screwed up than those others.

Think about some of the values in play – and in conflict – within the country today. Some people value protection from too many people, good or bad, coming into the country. They see America as a lifeboat that can only hold a certain number of people. Too many, and the entire boat sinks. Others value the opportunity and freedom that America offers to anyone willing to pursue it. They believe we should welcome all people who will do whatever they can to come to America, knowing it is the best thing they can ever do for themselves and their families. You tell me, which of these beliefs is right and which is wrong.

Values around gender identify and sexual preference are as contentious as ever. Some value equal rights for everyone, including whatever restroom they choose to use, or their desire for a same sex marriage. Others argue that equal rights do not mean special rights, and there needs to be some limitations to ensure that one’s equal rights do not violate another’s equal rights. If you have kept up with the world, you can see how these types of issues have become crystal clear, right/wrong perspectives, in the eyes of their supporters. Do you immediately label one of these viewpoints as right and the other wrong?

Need I even mention differing values around right to life and right to choose?

I purposely have selected a couple of provocative examples, because these are the ones that really fuel emotion. And my suspicion is that the more emotionally attached one feels to a value-based position, the more correct that position must be – for everyone. Trouble is, others feel just as attached to their own positions, and believe them to be just as correct. And thus they seek to defend their values as being right, vs. listening to and attempting to better understand how the other person can value something different. “You need to listen to me, because I am right. I do not need to listen to, understand or learn from you, because you are wrong!” Sounds kind of like where we are at today.

People in organizations have sometimes almost come to blows over their disagreements concerning something that at best is only slightly important in the long run. I have seen this happen over disagreements in proposed credit term changes for customers, new processes for expense reporting, even “who among equals” gets the office with  five more square feet. (That last item was meant to be an exaggeration, but for those of you ever involved in an office move, you have likely experienced this whining first hand.) Neighbors have stopped being neighborly with each other over an “obnoxious” re-landscaping project or a “hideous” new house paint color (whatever obnoxious or hideous means).  Is it any wonder there is controversy and dissention after an election where some very different approaches to some very important values-based issues have been butting heads.

I encourage you to examine your values periodically, and know which ones are truly important for you. You will likely find them to be sacred, and not for sale or compromise. And realize that all others you know or interact with, have their own set of values, which are as dear to them as yours are to you. And their values will be different. And those differences can become sources of conflict, sometimes mild and sometimes very deep. And those deep conflicts can lead to a feeling of right and wrong, which can lead to a condition of win and lose. And when people feel they have lost a battle involving a core value, they will not likely take it lying down.

Leaders, being aware of how values prompt right/wrong thinking is only the first step. Now you must engage people to get out of their comfort zones to truly understand those deep seated differences. It is less about winning, and more about understanding. And yes, it can be done. There are often solutions that require compromises on positions or decisions, but still enable values to be honored.

I will close with this thought for you to mull over. Over the years, I have always been mindful of one thing during Presidential elections. There have always been a number of people whom I deeply admired and respected, even family members and close friends, who strongly supported the candidate I opposed. Never did I view them as unprincipled, immoral, or flat out stupid, because I knew they were none of these things. They just valued things differently. Funny thing – regardless of which candidate won, we still respected, admired and cared for each other afterwards. The winners never played “I told you so,” or delegitimized the others beliefs. And when it was their candidate who won, my respect for and belief in them, in spite of our different values, helped me accept that result with less angst. Life would go on, and so would I.

And if you are wondering – no, I would not go through some miraculous transformation and suddenly discover how wrong I had been. I would still view the winner as something between a really lousy choice to an absolute numbskull. Accepting the result was never about changing my fundamental beliefs. It was more about tolerating and learning to adapt to a decision with which I disagreed. Big difference!

There will never be one perfect candidate, or one perfect way to deal with complicated issues. And as long as there are deep differences in core values, there will be conflicts. Just remember that if you are willing to understand and learn, you will have numerous options on how you respond to, and choose to deal with some of those conflicts.

Enjoy the upcoming holiday season and lead on!

Steve Coats


  1. My friend and colleague Patil, from halfway around the world wrote:

    “I fully agree with the idea that different values does not necessarily mean wrong values. I would add that even if the values were ‘wrong’, one can feel more comfortable dealing with the person if the he behaves according to his stated values – at least we know what to expect from him even though one may not agree with him. This is better than dealing with someone who only pays lip service to his stated values however ‘correct’ these may be.”

    What do you think about Patil’s insights?

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