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  • Andrew Scott

Implicit Positive Values

A group of coaches who have been working together on the Shifting Stories ideas got in touch recently to ask me for clarification about Implicit Positive Values. It was a good question, as I mention these briefly in the book, but there is more to be said. So I wrote this explanation, which they said was helpful - and therefore I thought I could usefully share it here.

The fundamental idea here is that we aspire to the good; and that what we believe to be good is based on what our values are. So if we are trying to help someone to identify more helpful stories, it is important that these stories are congruent with their values.

Sometimes, when people are enmired in their negative stories, they find it hard to articulate their (relevant) values in a way that is meaningful or powerful for them.

So as a coach (for example) it can be very helpful to find ways to elicit those values, in ways that are relevant and powerful.

If they see their unhelpful story as negative (that is, they take a stand with regard to it, that it is not OK), that is a value judgement. So we know that in some way, this unhelpful story is contravening one or more values that are important to them, and are relevant to the story.

By exploring those negatives, we can suggest, or prompt them to identify, what positive values are being negated by the unhelpful stories: these are the positive values that are implicit in that unhelpful story.

For example, I was working with an academic recently who named his unhelpful story of himself ‘The Slow Plodder.’ I wondered if there might be some value he attached to being (intellectually) fast. But I was mistaken. As we explored this further, it became clear that it was the plodding that was the problem; and by plodding, he meant going over the same research idea so laboriously that he lost the joy of it.

So one of the implicit positive values in that was joy in his work. We continued to explore this together, and other values that were negated when he was in Slow Plodder mode emerged: risk taking, for example. He recognised that some of his most exciting accomplishments had been when he had submitted a paper to a journal before he was quite sure it was ready - and it had been accepted anyway (always with helpful suggestions for improvements by the peer reviewers, of course).

So two implicit positive values, that were negated by Slow Plodder were finding (or sustaining) joy in his work, and taking risks - and they informed the more helpful story that he identified, and also helped him to discover more Exceptions to the Slow Plodder story than he had initially been able to.

When I had asked him about his values, as they related to his work, he mentioned things like perceptiveness, clarity, and rigour. But, whilst important to him, these explicit positive values did not seem so helpful or relevant when trying to supplant the Slow Plodder story. They did, of course, feed into the new more helpful story as he developed it (The Joyful Historian) but the implicit positive values were the most relevant to focus on, at least in the early stages of developing it.


With thanks to Aubrey Odom-Mabey and Stephanie LeBlanc for sharing their photos on Unsplash

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