Be flexible when your values conflict with others

Cryptic sign in snow, saying not all who wander are lost

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Do you wonder about people who are chosen as Man or Woman of the Year? Images of hardworking CEOs are rife in our culture. And of socially aware activists who give their all to a cause. But are these people able to be flexible when their values conflict with others? 

We celebrate those who reach heights the rest of us dream of. What drives them to achieve such accolades? And what’s the personal cost of their behaviour? After all, it’s hard to be fully present for family and friends if they’re 100% involved in creative endeavours or causes.

The personal cost?

What would their families or friends say if they were asked for their point of view? Then we may discover a new perspective.

And what about the high achievers themselves? Are they aware of any lack of flexibility in their value systems? Or of any conflicts between their values? For example, does the value placed on success conflict with relationship values?

Of course, many innovators are well-balanced and caring individuals. But others are consumed by their work.

Narrow range of values

Some innovators may ignore values that aren’t related to achievement. For example, justice, fairness, creativity and connection.

So they may not spend much time with friends and family. That can make it hard to develop intimacy, and can alienate the very people who support them.

Rigid focus is unhelpful

A narrow focus in any walk of life can be unhelpful. It can lead to rigid thinking and a lack of flexibility. The same thing is true of our value systems. Any values taken to extremes may lead to problems.

Someone who works in the helping professions may have a wholehearted belief in serving others with compassion. Yet they can become candidates for burn-out if they drive themselves too hard. Unless they change their habits, their concern and caring will morph into indifference.   

In addition, a belief in excellence is usually commendable. But it needs to be applied wisely, in the right situations.


That’s where flexibility comes in.

When is it useful to aim for excellence? And when does this morph into the unhelpful expectation for perfection? If you wish to become a scientist or doctor, an emphasis on excellence is needed. But these same people may not aspire to excel in learning about politics or how to fix their car.

And expecting others to clean the bathroom perfectly is a waste of time. If they do it to a reasonable standard, that’s good enough.

If you want it cleaner, you can finish it off yourself. It’s your issue. Are you flexible when your values conflict with others?

Reduce conflict

If you’re flexible, you’ll have less conflict with others. For example, requiring family or employees to excel at everything is unrealistic. Most people are good in a couple of areas. But they’re less confident or interested in others.

Gentle encouragement may boost their efforts to improve. But rigid expectations will turn everyone off. Not only that – this approach will backfire. You’ll get the exact opposite of what you want – resentful and uncooperative employees or children.

Be selective

Also be aware if you only put excessive pressure on yourself to do everything with excellence. Aiming for perfection in everything is a waste of time.

You’ll end up disappointed and exhausted. Then you’ll get discouraged and think there’s something wrong with you if you don’t reach your high standards.

See excellence as a worthwhile ideal. But be flexible when choosing activities in which to strive for excellence.

Sometimes it’s more fun to accept you’re mediocre in some areas. You can still enjoy many activities, and you’ll be more relaxed. Ironically, you’ll probably perform better with less stress. 

Sometimes you can accept you’re already very good at a task or job. But to reach excellence would take more energy and time than it’s worth. Be realistic and sensible. 

Don’t waste energy striving for excellence when it’s not needed.

See values as ideals

Values are best seen as ideals. We aspire to reach them as best we can. But we need to be careful about how we apply them. Rigidly following a particular value all the time may not work.

So be careful if you find yourself emphasising a particular value at the expense of others.

You may be so zealous in helping others that you neglect your own health. You may be so generous that you reduce your ability to care for your own family. Or you may overvalue fitness so much that you forget to socialise with others. 

Be flexible when values conflict

Be flexible when your values conflict to juggle competing needs in your relationships. It can also help you weigh up how to benefit others as well as yourself. Otherwise you could use your values to justify undesirable behaviour.

Read about a father whose sons bore the brunt of his inflexible demands for excellence. The next generation is still being affected by the fallout.

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