How to Identify a Client's Values - A 3 Step Process for this Essential Coaching Tool!

I don't know about you, but I prefer a free-form approach to helping people identify their values. It's a process I like people to take time over - each step a week or two apart given as homework to bring to our next session.

Once the client has finished the 3 steps below they will have a list of 10 powerful core values - but that's not the end of it! My favourite part of the Values process is prioritisation - and I also explain the prioritisation process I use in a separate post coming next week.

The Values Process I Use:

  • Step 1) Ask your clients to brainstorm the question, "What's important to me in life?" writing down anything and everything (even 'non-value' words like food, colour, flowers, their dog). Just whatever pops into their mind!
  • Step 2) Anything your client can do or have is probably not a value. Ask them to review each item and if it's something they can do or have ask, "What does that give you?" until you get to a value. Eg. Travel could be Adventure or Learning, Colour could be Fun, Beauty or Food could be Community.
  • Step 3) Narrow down the list to a top 10, grouping and combining words together in a line using slashes eg. honesty/trust/loyalty - making sure to put the most important words at the front.

While taking a few weeks over this may seem a long way round to get to a list of values, what's really VALUABLE about doing it this way is that they get to use THEIR words and insights. By brainstorming their values in this way, the client focuses on what's really important to them and derives their values from their passions and interests, instead of picking values from a list of words or trying to go straight to 'SHOULD Value' words - like honesty and respect - where people will often choose values expected of them.

Step 4) Is the prioritisation process. In my experience, this is the most powerful and challenging part of the values process and I describe it separately here.

You may also like our other resources on Values and Values Identification:

  1. Our "Done For You" Personal Values Identification Workbook! Tool
  2. Our *Free* Coaching Tool - 89 Value Examples - to share with your clients.
  3. 7 Top QUESTIONS to Help Identify a Client's Values - please comment & add yours to the list!
Emma-Louise Elsey Headshot

Contributing Author:

Emma-Louise Elsey has been coaching since 2003 and is the Founder of The Coaching Tools Company and Fierce She's passionate about coaching and personal development. Originally a project and relationship manager for Fortune 500 companies she combined her love of coaching, creativity and systems to create over 100 brandable coaching tools, forms and exercises including 30+ completely free coaching tools. She now serves coaches and the coaching world through her exclusive newsletter for coaches, Coaches Helping Coaches Facebook Group and many other great tools for coaches, plus resources and ideas for your coaching toolbox. The Coaching Tools Company is an official ICF Business Solutions Partner.

Learn more about Emma-Louise & see all their articles here >>


  1. Sirli

    Dear Emma-Louise, Thank you for those Values articles. Really liked them and they are great help. My only question is that when to pull up this values work? I can't find a question that would make a client to come up themselves to look at her values. Should I suggest it to my clients to work on that? But then it is my agenda not my clients. Can you please help to understand how to implement this to my coaching business since I feel that values work is really valuable and helps hugely! Thanks!

    • elelsey

      Hi Shirly,
      Thanks for your comment. I think what you are saying is that you would like to do values work with your clients, but are not sure how to get started - unless the client brings it up first.

      If so, you raise a good point. Values work won't necessarily be high up on a client's agenda. They will have more specific issues, dreams and goals - and won't understand (or be aware of) the importance of our values, sitting underneath it all, driving everything (or getting in the way - if we're not living our values!).

      I usually wait for a relevant issue to come up where a client (if they knew their values) would find it easier to resolve. This could be a wish to change career, a feeling of dissatisfaction in life, a difficulty with a friend or relationship or a goal or action step that doesn't seem to be happening. It could also be if they are visioning or thinking forwards re: goals and their life so values work would help the client set more meaningful goals.

      I phrase it as a suggestion. Something like, "I have this really interesting and helpful exercise we can do together to identify and prioritise your values (what's important in life). It will help you understand yourself better and live your life more meaningfully. Is this something you might be interested in doing?"

      Then I leave it up to them. They may ask more questions, but essentially they need to want to do it. Or be curious about it. I mostly give it to them as homework.

      And whilst it is your agenda to help them do their values - your idea. For me, values are part of the bigger agenda of a coach/client relationship, to help the client know and understand themselves better so that they live a happier and more meaningful life.

      I hope this helps! Warmly, EL


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