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Misunderstood: Creating Misunderstanding (Values Violations)

Updated: May 25, 2023

What is the one thing you should never say to someone in a conversation?

"You're over-reacting."

In the same family are comments such as:

  • You're making a big deal out of nothing

  • You're being too sensitive

  • You need to calm down

  • You need to get over it

When people experience heightened emotion, it's a signal you've probably triggered a values violation in the other person.

What is a Values Violation?

Before I explain a values violation, let me explain values. A value is what a person deems most important in life. We can be flexible in many areas but our values are less flexible. Sometimes we have similar values to other people, while other times our values can vary greatly.

People can have moral values, such as honesty, trust, fairness, and respect.

People can have interpersonal values that aren't necessarily concerned with morality, such as love/connection, community, authenticity, service, and compassion.

People can also have inward facing values that aren't interpersonal, such as achievement, determination, curiosity, variety, and autonomy.

Sometimes people's values are both inwardly held and also outwardly expressed toward others, such as adventure, fun, humor, and wisdom.

The phrase, "You're over-reacting," and similar, communicates to the receiver:

"What you think (or feel) doesn't matter."

In short, these phrases convey - even if unintentional - what you think or feel isn't a priority to me. It's expected to not always place the same level of priority on things as another person, but it will never be considered okay to not place importance on people, themselves.

We can intentionally or unintentionally violate, in other words not honor, a person's values. The less acquainted you are with someone, the more likely the offense will be outside your awareness.

What we have in these situations is a two-way misunderstanding. I don't understand why something is a such a big deal to you, and you don't understand why I seem to be deflecting or minimizing how you feel. So, we both make assumptions and create our own story about what's happened between us.

This is why open communication is important. In addition, we can choose to assume a noble motive; that a person's intent and impact were misaligned as we communicate with one another to get to the truth.

Gina's Story

Gina was widowed at a young age and was feeling socially isolated. To meet more people and get involved in her community, she joined a club focused on improving the lives of the community. Gina was in her element. She combine her work experience and passion to make a difference through her involvement in this club and started inviting others to attend meetings. She was happier than she'd been in a long while.

One day Gina received a call from another club member. This person formally led a specific area of the club and accused Gina of stepping on her toes and trying to steal the spotlight. Gina was stunned as the person hurled accusations and questioned Gina's character.

Gina attempted to respond by explaining she thought all club members were expected to be ambassadors for the club. She wasn't seeking the spotlight or trying to interfere. Gina wasn't believed and the person hung up on her.

Why Does This Happen?

People are like icebergs. Above the surface we can only see about 10 percent of them - their behavior. Below the surface are what influence the behavior we see:

  • Life experiences

  • Values

  • Thinking styles and critical thinking skills

  • Emotional intelligence

  • Personality traits

  • Strengths

We filter and interpret people's intentions through the complex layers of who we are, instead of seeking to understand who they are.

Gina values Community. Therefore, it's important to her to spread the word about the club to build and foster that community. The other club member values Status. Because status is important to the other person, they assume it's important to Gina and the motivation behind her actions. Gina was perceived as putting herself on a pedestal to take credit for club growth to increase her importance and visibility.

The problem with this assumption is Gina does not value status. Her values are faith, community, and generosity.

When people display heightened emotion, their values are likely perceived to be threatened. Image credit: Jakob Owens

What Do I Do When Misunderstandings Happen?

At the first sign communication wires have crossed, stop and acknowledge it. Own it if you might be the source of the misunderstanding. I once called my mother to gripe about an argument where I was believed I was right. My mother simply asked me, "Do you want to be right, or do you want to be effective?" When we choose being effective over being right, we no longer seek the winner and the loser.

When we attempt to take our place on the Throne of Being Right, everyone loses. Here is an example of what you might say:

"I see our conversation has taken a turn neither of us intended. Can we take a step back? I'd like to better understand your point of view."

People tend to respond well to humbly offered olive branches but not to justification of our words and deeds. If you're not ready to humble yourself you can say something like:

"I've impacted you in a way I didn't intend. Let's take a step back and collect our thoughts and discuss later." Suggest a time to reconnect.

There are no right or wrong values. Our values should, however, help us determine what we spend our time doing, and who we do it with.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Share in the comments!

Important note: The strategies shared are generally not meant for use in relationships with people who have a diagnosed personality disorder that is characterized by a lack of empathy, such as narcissistic personality disorder or borderline personality disorder. If you're in that situation, check out this resource: Stop Walking on Eggshells.


Need help discovering your values? You can get a personalized YouMap® profile (ages 15 - 120!) or work with a YouMap® Coach to help you understand your strengths, values, motivating skills, and personality-based interests.

Blog cover image credit: Alexander Krivitskiy

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19 mai 2023

Mrs. Sherry,

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!!!!! You are a "BLESSING" to Humanity.......This makes sooooo much sense!!!!!!!! I "LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Most want to be right. I would to be "EFFECTIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I love that their are no right or wrong values. I also "LOVE" how you explain how an individual values are formed. I also "LOVE" how you explained about your son it was'nt that he did'nt have an interest he wanted to plan his day!!!!WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and you apologized........This is soooooo"DEEP"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I listen to people and they don't fully know how to communicate and they don't how to effectively listen to what the person is saying or body language "MISUNDERSTANDING"!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!You are going to "LIVE" a longtime as I have b…

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