Values are, of course, a key factor when it comes to working with people. Values shape our (and other people’s) thoughts, feelings and actions. However, we have to be careful not to oversimplify the situation in relation to values; we should not allow them to become fixed and rigid and dogmatically apply them across the board when perhaps a more nuanced approach is called for. For example, there can be clashed between different sets of values that can be difficult to reconcile. Critically reflective practice means that we need to have a flexible approach to our knowledge base – and much the same can be said to apply to our value base. At one unhelpful extreme we have a lack of integrity by which I mean a significant gap between espoused values and actual actions taken. But at the other extreme we can have a dogmatic approach to values that does not do justice to the complexities involved. Critically reflective practice helps us to find the healthy balance between the two.
In many aspects of the people professions we are called upon to assess situations, weigh them up as part of making a decision as to how to deal with them. This is skilful work that can be helped by having a good working knowledge base around people (about motivation, for example). But what is not helpful is the tendency to rely on untested assumptions. At one extreme, this can amount to relying on stereotypes, crude caricatures that present a heavily distorted picture. But we can also encounter more subtle distortions, mainly based on the assumption that other people see the world the way we do. For example, something we see as simple and straightforward may be quite scary and disconcerting to someone else. It is therefore important that we make the effort to develop a more holistic picture, taking account of other people’s perspectives and checking things out where necessary rather than taking things for granted and potentially producing an inaccurate and unhelpful picture of the situation.