In friendships, we have ample opportunities to navigate differences– differences in personalities, preferences, energy, needs, love languages, habits, and so on. And, yes, we will have friends who have different values than us, too.
First off, let’s define values. My current working definition is this: Values are beliefs that guide my actions. They are at the foundation of my intentional choices and behaviors. In other words, values can be things I hold pretty near and dear. What stands out to you? What resonates? What doesn’t? What would you add?
Some of the things I value are connection, justice, community, growth, and authenticity. Check out this values activity to name or explore your core values.
Picking Up on Different Values
If a friend texts and invites you out on a Tuesday, and you respond saying, “I can’t tonight– Chem test tomorrow” and they reply with “Come anyways!” you may feel some tension. You might feel like your friend doesn’t understand that focusing on this test is important to you. In other words, you may be experiencing a bit of a difference in values. For example, they may value spontaneity, while you value commitment.
In another instance, you might want to talk about the circumstances unhoused people in your city are facing and what you can do to help. A friend may not share this concern or interest and when you offer a call to action over lunch they cut you off and change topics. Again, these may be a clash of values. You care deeply about making a difference and human rights, and they may value fun (just wanting to talk about the here and now stuff).
Can you think of any situations where you’ve felt this kind of difference in option? What stands out to you as you recall this memory?
These examples are admittedly too black and white, and I suggest possible values only to illustrate the ways values come through our words and behaviors. Additionally, values differences can show up in seemingly smaller ways, like logistics, or in bigger ways like social issues and justice. Some differences will show up often, while others less so. Some will feel more crucial to address, while others can be brushed off. Trust yourself when you feel a difference that feels like a sticking point.
Navigating Different Values with Friends
- It’s normal and okay to have differences. Your values can be valid, and your friend’s values can be valid. Our values are typically our values for a reason. And while this doesn’t mean that people can’t grow and change (and consequently shift their values), it can give you some perspective. When you remember that your friend’s beliefs are coming from somewhere– their lived experiences, their history, their family, etc.– you may be more inclined to be patient with them and hopefully vice versa.
- Disagreements are a normal part of relationships. Relationships include disagreements, conflict, and/or tension. Conflict should not be the bulk of the relationship (and it should not be violent, aggressive, or harmful, of course). However, I think we need to normalize navigating these moments in kind, loving ways. Check out this blog about not taking things personally to help with this process.
- Boundaries are part of communication and working together. If there’s a topic that continually brings up conflict between you and a friend, it’s okay to create a boundary around that topic. Perhaps there are specific times you agree to talk about it or perhaps you agree to avoid the topic for now. Keep in mind that boundaries are flexible and can be revisited and reassessed at any time per anyone’s request.
- Find the values you DO share and capitalize on those. You might be able to access a sense of ease, trust, or connection when you and a friend find a shared value. Spend time talking about these things or engaging in activities that support these shared values.
- It’s all a process. None of these “tips” are meant to be rigid or prescriptive. Being human is messy; being in friendships is messy. Do your best to let things be in process. If a friendship is important to you, trust that you and the friend(s) can work through it together, over time.
The amount of work and patience it takes to navigate different types of conflict will vary. Additionally, the ways you and a friend navigate differences together may depend on your shared history and sense of trust in one another and the friendship. Be patient with yourself and your friend(s) in the process.
As you explore your values and navigate differences with friends, you may enjoy documenting your support system with this guide + map. You’ve got this!