Misalignment of Values: The Canary in the Mine

Discovering the profound dissonance between their values and those expressed, overtly or covertly, by their workplace is a common theme with many of my physician clients.

Initially, they may experience a degree of relief at recognizing that this conflict underlies much of the frustration, anger, anxiety and even sadness that they are experiencing with their workplace.

On the other hand, they often feel at a loss as to the actions they can take to address the problem. The differences often feel too extreme and entrenched to resolve. Although, there are certainly situations where the only solution is to look for a more compatible place of employment, there are some steps that can be taken to potentially improve the situation.

If you find yourself in this situation, here are some suggestions:

  • Dig deep into the meaning of your values and make sure that you understand why they are important to you.
  • Reflect on your values and see if they are all non-negotiable, or whether some are less important than others.
  • Consider if there is a way to be “flexible” around your values, without compromising authenticity and without going into contortions trying to make things work.
  • Are your values truly misaligned? Could each party better define their interpretations of their values and see if there is common ground?
  • Despite differences, consider your value to the organization and how being authentic benefits them. Find ways to express this confidently and constructively to those in authority.
  • Have a candid conversation with management about your values dissonance, if you are comfortable speaking openly with your organization about your concerns. Consider beforehand how you will respond if you receive pushback or resistance.

Above all, do not minimize or dismiss the emotional or cognitive dissonance that arises when you find yourself in a situation where you cannot be true to your values and be your authentic self. Our values define who we are and how we want to live. They cannot be ignored or repressed.

Feelings of dissonance need to be seen as important warning signs (the canary in the mine) for potential unhappiness and burnout. They are a call to action in the pursuit of creating a joyful, fulfilling life.

“Open your arms to change but don’t let go of your values.”

In the words of the Dalai Lama:

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