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How to act on your values, with Giving Voice to Values founder, Mary Gentile
October 30, 2019

two women talking

By Jewelle Saunders

When facing a conflict of ethics in the workplace, you may feel as though you don’t have the ability to speak up or make a change. “You have more choice than you think you do,” assures Mary Gentile.

Mary Gentile, Ph.D., is the creator of Giving Voice to Values (GVV), a pedagogical approach to values-driven leadership and ethics. Mary gives the YLAI Network the essentials to speaking on your values and advice to network members starting their businesses on how to establish a culture of transparency.

A new approach to ethics

Mary Gentile, Ph.DHaving been frustrated with how business ethics were being taught, with a narrow framework assessing only the right and wrong things to do, and often leading to a feeling that the right thing was impossible, Mary developed GVV to rethink this assessment of right and wrong as an intellectual problem to build skills and confidence and make approaching ethical solutions more feasible.

Many of us already want to act on our values and make the right choices, particularly at work and in conflict. GVV exercises help ask individuals in conflicts, “What if you were going to act on your values? What would you say and do?” Instead of focusing on what you can’t do, focus on what you can do.

People tend to react emotionally in values conflicts, so Mary enlists GVV as a framework to develop moral muscle memory and a default behavior to speak up effectively, rewiring this emotional response. When thinking about ethics, Mary and GVV assume that often you already know the right thing to do. Once you know what is right, how do you get it done?

Pillars of action

Mary recognizes seven “pillars” of action when facing a values conflict, developed from observations and insights of individuals who have been empowered to act on their values. The seven pillars are:

  1. Values
  2. Choice
  3. Purpose
  4. Normalization
  5. Self-knowledge and alignment
  6. Voice
  7. Reasons and rationalizations

First, when you are facing a value conflict, it is important for you to understand how to define your values and what makes up your core foundation. After establishing important values and shared values, concentrate on this rather than on personal judgments and opinions. Speak in a way that connects with audiences. Next, you should recognize that we all have more choices than we think we do and remain open-minded to act more effectively.

book cover

Defining your purpose in a broader context is an essential next step, narrowing in on your professional motivation and what you view as important long-term. The next step involves normalizing the event and de-escalating the emotional response. “Value conflicts are a normal part of business and a normal part of our lives, and if we realize this is a normal part of life, we can always get better at it,” Mary says.

Self-knowledge and alignment come next, examining how you may play to your strengths, and figure out how you are best at communication and how you can be effective, framing this conflict with that alignment in mind. After that comes voice, understanding there are many ways to speak up about your values, and finding the approach that works best for you, whether questioning, providing new data, persuasion, negotiation, etc. The last pillar, reasons and rationalizations, allows you to consider objections that you might come into contact with and asks you to understand their power and come up with ways to respond persuasively.


Mary’s advice for network members is to reflect on times they have or have not acted on their values and continue to ask themselves questions. Young business professionals and business owners should understand and work to enable others to recognize that everyone is capable of voicing their values.

It is important for aspiring leaders to think about these different conflicts in the workplace through a new lens of possibility, and practice to build up muscle memory and the instincts to do so effectively and efficiently. The more you practice, the better prepared you are to voice your values and establish a transparent workplace.


Make sure to read more on Giving Voice to Values and Mary, and to follow along with YLAI for Integrity content to learn more about integrity and transparency in the workplace.

Este artículo está disponible en español.