Prioritising Values - A Powerful Method & What NOT to Do!


I'll start by saying that this process is easier to DO than describe but don't let that put you off! My clients have had really powerful results  - and great Aha! moments with this coaching exercise.

Let's start with the MOST IMPORTANT part!

DON'T ask which value is most important. INSTEAD ask which value they could not be WITHOUT!

This FORCES a true preference rather than getting people caught up in 'shoulds'. So, just imagining it's possible for a moment, if you could:

1) ONLY have FUN/HAPPINESS for the rest of your life but NO HONESTY/INTEGRITY

Which would YOU choose?

Often clients will put what I call "SHOULD Values" - like honesty, loyalty, respect, security at the top of their lists. Doing the prioritization the way described in this article gets people away from "SHOULD Values" and moves them into what's truly important (love, happiness, fun etc).

Using this method, when a client says, "I'll pick honesty over love." I challenge them. "Really? No love for the REST of your life?"

Once I had a client who insisted that honesty was more important than love - even after pondering it as homework. So, we explored it further - and it boiled down to this - she was not being honest or reliable with her friends and family and it had been eating away at her. This realisation moved her into a space of honouring her commitments, saying no when she needed to and phoning in advance of no-shows.

So, I've had a lot of fun with this process - now let's give you the full details. Ask your clients to:

  1. Roughly prioritise their value lists by simply looking at it (QUICKLY – a 2 minute job!)
  2. Then take the first item on their list and compare it to the second item. Ask "If you had to choose between having A and NOT B, or having B and NOT A - which would it be?"
  3. If A wins, compare A to the next item on your list and Ask "Would I rather have A and NOT C, or C and NOT A?"
  4. Keep going until an item beats A. If an item (say D) beats A – continue the process using the new ‘most important’ value of D.
  5. Then keep going down the list with from where A got to (if A beat all the items above then D will too).
  6. Repeat until you have an order for your values.

FOR EXAMPLE - If the top two items on ‘your’ list are happiness and success:

  • If you had to choose between having:
    a. Happiness and NO Success
    b. Success and NO Happiness          Which would you choose?
  • So, now take the item which 'wins', say Happiness.
  • Test Happiness against the next item on your list and keep going until another item 'beats' Happiness.
  • If nothing else beats Happiness, then Happiness is your no. 1 value.
  • If another item beats Happiness, continue down the list with the new item until something else beats the new item.

I said it was complicated to explain - and easier to do. And now all that's left is for you to try this coaching tool on yourself and experience the powerful difference!

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

  1. *Free* Coaching Tool - 89 Value Examples - to share with your clients.
  2. How to IDENTIFY a Client's Values - a simple 3 step process
  3. 7 Top QUESTIONS to Help Identify a Client's Values  -  please comment & add yours to the list!
  4. List of 73 Top SAMPLE Values - to help you and your clients get started!
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 >>


    • Emma-Louise

      Hi Kiran, the method asks you if you could have one value and NOT the other - for the rest of your life - which would it be?

      You must make a choice to prioritise. Take your time. It's only a thought experiment, but which one could you NOT live without.

      I hope that helps, warmly, Emma-Louise


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