Don’t get scorched by differing values


When Eduard Spranger wrote Types of Men back in the 1920’s, he probably didn’t realize his work would be used as a college textbook for the next 80 years. Yet that is exactly what has happened. Sure, the book title isn’t PC by today’s standards, but if we can get past that, the material he uncovered provides more a-ha’s than an episode of Columbo or a Sherlock Holmes novel.

Essentially, Spranger identifies six basic drivers, or values, in our lives. These drivers or values, sometimes known as “hidden motivators,” give us the “why” of our behavior. They’re formed during our youth through observation, experience, and reasoning, and by the time we’re in our late teens, they’re pretty well set. They may change as the result of a significant emotional event, but otherwise they usually stick.

Essentially, when values are similar between two people, chances are they will get along okay. When value systems clash, you can probably watch sparks fly.

So when a woman named Janet called last week to talk about some problems she’s having with her boss, I asked many of the standard questions. Interestingly, her boss is heavy into the various assessments available: DISC, Colors, Myers-Briggs, etc. He’s also heavy into Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits. I’m thinking that he ought to have some idea of what’s going on, and I’m wondering why all the head-butting. Then I remembered the Values assessments we use that are based on Spranger’s work and I asked a few more questions.


Turns out this woman is very self-sacrificing. She gives of herself for the good of society and thinks nothing of it. She has what we would call “social” values. Her boss, on the other hand, is a guy who likes to be in charge. He likes to control his own destiny as well as that of others. He has what we would call an “individualist” set of values. Without realizing and appreciating their differing value systems, they have a perfect head-butting combination.

Again, differing value systems can be a seedbed for hostility. Just take a look at what’s happening in the Middle East and that becomes painfully obvious. Clashing value systems on a global scale create global-size sparks.

Bringing these differences down to the workplace, it behooves us to know, understand, and appreciate the different value systems we can hold. To provide a basic foundation, here are Spranger’s six areas of values in a nutshell:

  • Theoretical: Focuses on cognitive abilities to discover, understand, and systematize the truth.
  • Utilitarian: Focuses on getting a good return on investment in everything they do.
  • Aesthetic: Focuses on form, harmony, and symmetry and what can be learned from it.
  • Social: Focuses on investing their resources to help others excel to their potential.
  • Individualistic: Focuses on achieving position and exercising power.
  • Traditional/Regulatory: Focuses on finding (and sometimes proclaiming) a system for living.

Each preferred “motivator” drives our behavior. With a little thought, we can see that some people will show up to work for the money (utilitarian), others may show up to the same job for the new knowledge they gain (theoretical), and someone else may show up because of how the finished product helps other people (social).

The problem in all of this is that we’re usually blind to other people’s value systems. Too many of us think, “If only everybody else thought like I did the world would be a much better place."

If this is you, think again.

We need the balance. We need people to look at things with different perspectives. The key for us is to accept and work with people who hold different values. We may not agree with someone else’s value system, but that doesn’t mean we have to criticize it. We can choose to see why a person believes the way they do, and work toward solutions that benefit all. It can be tough, but with enough persistence and patience, it’s quite possible. Moreover, the solutions, once achieved, can be phenomenal.

Sadly, it seems Janet’s boss doesn’t want to do this. All she can do is anticipate his desire for power and control, and deal with it the best she can. Don’t be like Janet’s boss. Learn about and appreciate the different value systems. You don’t have to agree with them – but if you don’t work with them at all, the sparks may scorch your relationships.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Dan Bobinski is a training specialist, author, and an accomplished keynote speaker. He's been providing management and leadership training to Fortune 500 companies as well as smaller, regional concerns for more than 20 years.