Shared value statements. Sometimes just words on a wall. Sometimes an enlivening north star. Why do so many groups of people insist on defining what they collectively value or aspire to?
Shared direction? Alignment? Feeling like part of the family? All good reasons. And there is another positive outcome of defining shared values — as my co-living group discovered. It opens up our ability to deal with conflict in a healthier way! If we can build the perception of common ground through finding the ways our values overlap, then our conflicts become much easier to get through.
At the start of 2020, I bought a house with 7 friends. We’ve been living there together ever since. We took on a big responsibility by buying our home— and a huge financial commitment to each other! You’d think defining our shared values before making a large investment together would be pretty important, right? For us, not so much. We can be a bit of a loose, spontaneous group at times. We were mostly too busy having fun, to do the hard work of figuring out what we all share. We tried to pin down our common ground a couple of times, but it was more about getting to know what each individual valued. For a year, we never quite managed to enter the fertile ground of defining what we had in common.
But times weren’t always easy. Conflict is a natural part of living together, and we had our share of it. In my opinion, the hardest challenges of shared living are the interpersonal challenges. After all, our home is meant to be our safe haven, so it’s difficult if that safety is compromised by conflict.
When our conflicts were coming to a head, and our doubts about living with each other were at their maximum, we decided that we needed to spend a weekend away together. And over that weekend, we would finally do what we’d tried and failed to do before — define what we valued in common, the ways that we wanted to live that we had in common.
In other words, conflict was the trigger point for us to get serious about defining our shared values.
It was no easy job. Think of a simple venn diagram, with two circles overlapping. Now add a whole lot more circles. We were trying to find the central overlap — the rocket ship — in this picture:
After two days of work, we finally got there. We found the overlaps between eight people — the ways we all wanted to live. Here’s what we came out with!
At the end of it all, we felt great. It wasn’t so much the specific words we’d made together — it was the fact that we had demonstrated our common ground. The doubts we had, the conflicts to resolve, were all so much less threatening with the knowledge that each of us had something in common, that we could each find a way to empathise with each other. Spending those two days together made us much stronger as a group. It smoothed over the wrinkles in our conflict resolution pathways. And we are now reaping the rewards by having a great time living together!
Other articles coming out of our co-living project: