8.1.2 The Process of Values Elicitation

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If you’ve done Exercise 8.1 you will have encountered some of the most

important procedural issues involved in the technique of values elicitation.

Hold it. I’d rather you didn’t see this subject aspurelyand simplyamatter of technique.

When you ask a person about their personal values, you touch on matters that are

personally important.These may be very deep, though not necessarily in the sense

that theydelveinto theunconscious. (Asit happens,Kellymakeslittleuse of the notion

of an unconscious in the Freudian sense, in which we are motivated for reasons

beyond our immediate awareness, and which plays tricks on us through various

protective defencemechanisms.) But he is concerned about personal growth, development,

and change, andhe doesassumethat that involvesa processinwhichwetry

to becomemore deliberateabout personalbeliefsthat wemayhavetakenforgranted,

the beliefs having been there for so long that they are bedrock. You don’t touch on

Table 8.1 Basic steps in laddering upwards: the first two iterations, as applied to the first construct of Figure 2.1 in the grid on

teaching methods (see Section 2.2)

Steps Dialogue Emergent poles Implicit poles

7 Keeping fresh – Dead, in a rut, safe but

stale

7 ‘Now I want to ask you the same: assuming you still prefer the same

end, ‘‘more fun and creative’’, why is that? What’s the particular

value for you of that way of preparing?’

‘Why do I want to be creative? Well, everyone does, don’t they? It’s

a way of keeping fresh.’

‘And the contrast to ‘‘keeping fresh’’ is . . . ?’

‘Oh, being dead, in a rut, safe but stale.’

4; 6 More fun and more –

creative

Stuck in your ways;

same old stuff

1 ‘Okay, let’s write down your first construct. Now, which do you

prefer to do: prepare material collaboratively, or by yourself?’

Other people in –

preparation

I can prepare this by

myself

‘Oh, I prefer to work with other people really.’

2

3 ‘Okay. Now, why’s that? Why, for you, is it important to work with

other people?’

‘It’s more fun and more creative, I guess.’

5 ‘And in contrast? What’s the opposite of doing something which is

‘‘fun and creative’’?’

‘Getting stuck in your ways; teaching the same old stuff from one course to

the next.’

bedrockwithout tremors, andif youwant to shift it, theremaybe explosions! Andeven

ifall thatyou’re doingisdelvingdeepto exposethat bedrock, simply to describewhat’s

there, you should remember that what you’re doing touches on some fairly personal

andfundamentalontologicalchoicesfor your interviewee.So I’drather youdidn’t think

of this simplyas a matter of technique, but gave a thought to the sensitive and delicate

process that is entailed.

Table 8.2 Completing the ladder shown in Table 8.1 by repeating step 7 until the

interviewee can’t go any further

Life and hope Death, hopelessness, despair

Being alive, having things

to look forward to

– Stopping growing, just stagnating

Keeping fresh – Dead, in a rut, safe but stale

More fun and more creative – Stuck in your ways: same old stuff

Other people in preparation – I can prepare this by myself

This records the five iterations of step 7 by which the original construct was laddered upwards to

arrive at the single personal value, ‘life and hope’ versus ‘hopelessness and despair’.

Table 8.3 A set of personal values derived by laddering upwards from each of a set of

constructs. Based on the grid shown in Figure 2.1

(Original

construct no.) Personal value

1 Life and hope – Death, hopelessness, and despair

2 Criminal irresponsibility – Personal moral responsibility

3 Stagnation – Progress

4 and 5 Pain and suffering – Pleasure and enjoyment

6, 7 reversed,

8 reversed, 9

Order – Chaos

10 Alienation from others – Sensibility and affiliation

. Don’t confuse this table with Table 8.2. Here, there are six distinct personal values, each one the

result of the process exemplified in Tables 8.1 and 8.2.

. The values are written down exactly as they would have been derived by steps 9 and 10 of the

laddering-up procedure. If there are some negatively evaluated poles on the left, and some

positively, that is because the constructs from which the laddering started, in Figure 2.1, are also

that way round.

. ‘Pain and suffering versus pleasure and enjoyment’ was obtained by laddering up from construct

no. 4 in Figure 2.1. With construct no. 5, halfway through the laddering-up procedure, it was

realised that the same value applied to that construct as well as to construct 4.

. ‘Order versus chaos’, likewise, lies at the top of a hierarchy whose subordinate constructs are

nos 6, 7, 8, and 9 in Figure 2.1. For constructs 7 and 8, the value was derived as ‘chaos versus

order’ rather than ‘order versus chaos’.

Very well. Let’s deal with the procedural issues by focusing on two matters of

technique, while being careful to highlight the personal process in which we’re

engaged.

How Do I Know That I’ve Got There?

This is, perhaps, the first question that occurs to you. Exercise 8.1 has

highlighted that the number of steps up the ladder is variable, and that you

will sometimes be unsure when you’ve identified a personal value. How can

you tell? There are six different ways of knowing that you are arriving at

value-laden constructs.

Abstraction. The constructs you are offered deal less and less with matters of

behaviour, operational activity, and detail. As you go up the ladder, you

encounter constructs which deal with the essence of existence and life. Not

good timekeeper – poor timekeeper

but

predictability and order – unpredictability and chaos

perhaps.

One way of helping the laddering process is to gently nudge your interviewee

into ever greater abstraction. At step 7, for example, fairly high up the

hierarchy, you might say ‘Why, for you, is that the personal preference?

What’s the essence of it?’

Universality. By their nature, personal values deal in the generalities of life.

When we delve into values, we’re dealing with the grand themes of existence

rather than the small change of day-to-day living. You’ll notice that you’re

moving towards the top of the hierarchy when your interviewees start talking

about the world rather than their own back garden; society in general rather

than the golf club in particular; life, the universe, all of creation.

Not

wide choice of products – poor product range

but

freedom and choice – slavery and constraint

for example.

And again, you can help to nudge your interviewees on towards their values

by using the language of universals. At step 7, your prompt might include

questions like ‘What would life be like if you chose this end of the construct?

What would the world look like this way, rather than the other way?’, pointing

to each pole in turn. Depending on your degree of rapport, you might choose

to be more explicit about this: ‘We’re moving away from day-to-day life.

Remember, we’re looking to arrive at your personal values in general – the sort

of thing that applies in many different situations and settings. What’s the

general issue that faces us all when we choose this end rather than the other, in

your own view?’

Intimacy. You’d have to be very dense not to notice that, as you progress up

the ladder, you’re dealing with issues that are personal and increasingly

private. In fact, one of the ways you know that you’re developing skill in the

laddering technique is when you find yourself feeling just a little vulnerable

yourself, wondering whether you ought to be taking the interviewee through

another iteration.

A lot will depend on the situation, the topic, how well you know the

individual already, and how good a degree of rapport you’ve built up. As

you’ll remember from Section 5.3.1, you need to adjust what you’re doing to

the setting in which you do it.

Laddering is best done in private. If you’re in a training setting and laddering

is involved, don’t ever ladder someone’s values in front of the rest of the group

unless you are an experienced trainer and are used to dealing with group and

individual process issues: permissions, engagement, explicit feedback from

the interviewee that what you’re doing feels okay, and disengagement. If you

don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t even think about group laddering,

even if you frequently elicit basic grids in a group setting.

In the individual laddering situation, when you get the feeling that you’re

intruding, you have a simple choice to make: have you arrived at the personal

value, or should you try just one more iteration? Don’t be afraid to go on, but

your answer should be the result of careful attention to the way the

conversation is heading, to your best intuition, and to a deliberate checking

of that intuition in all of the ways at your disposal: eye contact, gaze, and

posture – all of the non-verbal as well as the verbal cues. Concede that the

material is intimate; talk about what’s happening; ask permission to proceed.

Not ‘Why’s the issue of death important to you, then?’ but something a wee bit

less crass, depending on how the issue has arisen.

If, on balance, you feel that an exchange at this level of intimacy would be

inappropriate, don’t enter on another iteration. Stop at the point you’ve

reached, and ladder no further.

Self-reference. Kelly defined as core constructs those constructs which people

use to place themselves in relation to their experience. All core constructs have

a relation to personal values, though not all personal values are necessarily

core constructs. Nevertheless, there is sufficient overlap that you can recognise

an increasing potential relevance to the interviewee’s self and self-image as

you proceed up the hierarchy. That’s why the procedure asks about the

personal choice that underlies the preference at step 3, and why intimacy is an

issue, as we’ve discussed above. The more frequently the interviewee talks

about him- or herself, the stronger the self-reference, the closer you’re getting

to personal values.

Self-evidence. There is an absurdity about questioning personal values. As

Donald Super once defined it in the context of occupational values

measurement, a value is ‘an objective sought in behaviour’ (Nevill & Super,

1989). There is a tendency to take it as self-evident. If you’re stating as a

precept, ‘Thou shalt not kill’, you’re in a situation in which to ask the question,

‘Why?’, is inappropriate! You’re aware that, according to some beliefs, there

are circumstances in which people do kill other people legitimately, and that

military jurisprudence and religious morality seek to specify the basis for such

legitimacy, but that’s not the issue when the value itself is being enunciated.

And so, to ask about a person’s reasons for holding the value will seem

strange, absurd, irrational, or, sometimes, just plain funny!

Acknowledging the absurdity is a good way of dealing with this. Admit that it

may seem strange to examine an apparently self-evident preference, ask

whether your interviewee thinks there’s any more to it, and emphasise that

while the preference may be obvious in general terms, you’re concerned with

your interviewee’s own reason in particular.

Explicit information. If in doubt, ask your interviewee and let them tell you!

Remember that you’re engaged in a collaborative activity and that, after your

first iteration (steps 1–6 followed by step 7), and certainly during steps 8 and 9,

your interviewee will have understood your procedure. They’ll know what

you’re up to! And so it becomes entirely appropriate to ask whether going

further, trying for a yet-more-superordinate construct, is worthwhile. ‘Shall

we try just one more step?’ becomes, with your interviewee’s permission, a

shared experiment.

What Do I Do if I Can’t Seem to Get There?

This is the second matter which is likely to arise. When you’re engaged in

steps 7 and 8, you may find that your interviewee can’t provide a more

superordinate construct. S/he sticks, or just keeps going round in circles,

giving you answers that are synonyms to those given lower down in the

ladder.

Thus, for example, dependable – undependable: ‘Why do I prefer people who

are dependable? Well, you can rely on them.’ reliable – unreliable: ‘Why, for

me, is reliability important? Because if you have a reliable person, you can

depend on her.’

Both of you suspect that there is, nevertheless, a superordinate value still

remaining to be elucidated – one, but possibly more, upward rung in the

ladder which you haven’t yet identified. The constructs you’re dealing with so

far are not as abstract, universal, intimate, self-referential, self-evident, and

explicitly identified as they might be! What to do?

. Confront the issue explicitly: ask your interviewee what’s happening, and

how you might both progress further up the ladder.

. Make deliberate use of the five other attributes of a personal value discussed

above: as indicated earlier, in helping the interviewee to elicit the

superordinate construct, use words like

– ‘essentially’

– ‘generally’

– ‘privately’ or ‘your own personal’

– ‘for you, personally, in particular’

– ‘I know it may be obvious, but try to spell it out!’

. As with any conversation laden with personal feelings, sharing your own

feelings and experience can be a powerful way of moving onward. ‘Yes, I

think I can appreciate how you feel about ‘‘being left alone’’. When my own

father died it touched me in many ways, and some, in particular, that I

hadn’t expected. What was the main issue for you at the time your loved one

went?’

. Cross over and use the other side of the ladder. In other words, if you’re

stuck in progressing upwards from the preferred pole, work with the other

pole. A general form of words to use would be along the lines of: ‘You can’t

work out what lies behind that preference? That’s okay. What about the

other side? What would life be like if the other were true?’ (quoting the

contrasting pole of the construct at which the interviewee is stuck). Figure 8.1

illustrates this option.

A Reminder

As you can see from the foregoing, the identification of personal values in this

way, beginning with the constructs provided in a repertory grid, uses a

straightforward, yet very powerful, procedure that results in detailed,

intimate, and personal information about your interviewee.

It doesn’t take a long time. While the procedure can be done at any time, on

balance and other things being equal, it’s probably best done, after a 5-minute

pause, in the same session as the one in which you elicit the original grid.

Rapport is well established, your interviewee is in a thoughtful and

undistracted mood, and the constructs are fresh in his or her head.

‘Other things being equal’? Well, if the session had been a long one, your

interviewee not especially involved or interested, and rapport not well

established, you’d close the session for the day and return for another session

in due course.

In the normal course of events, though, finish the basic grid, sit back and relax,

suggest one of you make a cup of tea, and then, when you’re both ready again,

The interviewee has got stuck at X. Asking ‘Why, for you, is it important to ‘‘keep fresh in your

teaching’’?’ doesn’t work: the interviewee finds it so self-evident to ‘keep fresh’ that he can’t give

the pole of a superordinate construct along that ‘upright’ of the ladder.

So, cross over and work with the contrasting pole of that ‘rung’ of the ladder.

‘Okay, let’s look at the other side. Suppose you found yourself ‘‘dead, in a rut, safe but stale’’.

What would your existence be like? What would be the essential issue at stake?’

‘It’s a matter of personal growth really. I’d be getting nowhere. I’d have stopped growing and be

just stagnating.’

‘And crossing back to the original side of the ladder: what’s the contrast to ‘‘stopping growing’’?’

‘Oh, that’s easy! I’d be alive, and have everything to look forward to!’

‘And why, for you, is that the preferable alternative?’, etc.

Figure 8.1 ‘Crossing over’ during the laddering-up process. See Tables 8.1 and 8.2

introduce the laddering activity as a final step: something ‘in which we’ll

explore your own personal reasons for these constructs; your own personal

beliefs and values in a little more detail’.

Once you’ve learnt the technique and are comfortable with it, you’ll find that

the complete laddering procedure takes between 15 and 30 minutes, on top of

the 40 to 60 minutes it takes to elicit an initial grid of around 8 to 10 constructs.

It is possible to be ruminative, thoughtful, and very sensitive to the

interviewee’s personal feelings and privacy while moving him or her along.

Eye contact is particularly helpful in pacing the laddering process. All this

involves skill that takes a little while to acquire and, initially, whenever you

feel you might be forcing the pace too much, slow down and give your

interviewee more time for reflection.