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How to be more considerate in work and life

Imagine you’re sitting at the library and notice a stranger struggling with the printer. One passerby looks at him, snickers and then continues to walk away. Another person, however, stops what they’re doing and helps him fix the paper jam. Which person will you like more?

It’s an easy answer: You’d likely prefer the helper.

Why? Research confirms something that probably comes as no surprise: From the time we’re babies, we prefer helpful people over unhelpful or mean ones. Despite all the rhetoric about how innately selfish humans are, we’re wired to help others and to appreciate those who help us.

So it just makes sense that you’d want to learn how to be more considerate. There are tons of science-backed benefits of being helpful and kind, which we’ll go over below.

But first, what exactly does it mean to be considerate?

Table of contents

What does it mean to be considerate?

Well, it depends on which dictionary you consult. Merriam-Webster defines considerate as “thoughtful of the rights and feelings of others.” Cambridge says it means “kind and helpful.” Both definitions highlight two important aspects of what it means to be a considerate person: thought and behavior. You think of others, and then you do what’s good for them.

5 reasons backed by science why you should learn how to be more considerate

  • We are wired for kindness. [1] Let’s look at details of the research mentioned at the start of this article. Kiley Hamlin of the University of British Columbia conducted studies where babies watched a puppet trying to climb a hill where it was aided by a helper puppet or pushed back down by a hinderer puppet.

    Then, Hamlin placed both the helper and hinderer puppets in front of the babies to see which one they liked best. Seventy-five to 100% preferred the helper puppet, suggesting that from a very young age, we recognize “good guys” and like them more than bad ones.
  • Being kind boosts happiness. [2] University of Oxford researchers Lee Rowland and Oliver Scott Curry found that doing acts of kindness for seven days increases happiness, whether they're performed toward friends or strangers. And the more, the merrier! The higher the number of acts of kindness completed, the bigger the boost in happiness. 
  • Humans value kindness above all. [3] Anat Bardi, a University of London psychologist who studies value systems, told the AP that humans see kindness as the supreme value. When asked to choose from ten categories of values, people chose benevolence or kindness as the most important, even above creativity, ambition, hedonism and seeking power.
  • Being considerate can decrease your stress levels. [4] Research by Yale professor Emily Ansell found that helping others can act as a buffer against stress. Something as simple as holding the door open for someone may make you feel better on a stressful day. The more helping behaviors that participants reported, the higher their levels of positive emotion.
  • Compassion can be learned. [5] Compassion (defined by Merriam-Webster as “sympathetic consciousness of others' distress together with a desire to alleviate it”) is closely tied to being considerate. It requires first that you become aware of another’s needs and suffering, and then it motivates you to alleviate their pain.

    The good news is that compassion is something you can practice and grow in. Researchers at The University of Wisconsin-Madison trained participants to practice compassion meditation to see how it affected their behavior afterward.

    To measure whether the meditation practice actually made participants more compassionate, researchers had participants play a game with money to see how altruistic they'd be in spending their money on someone in need. They also took fMRI scans of participants' brains before and after the training. In both cases, those who had undergone the compassion meditation appeared to become more compassionate.

What to consider when trying to be more considerate at work and in life

Here at F4S, we’ve conducted more than 20 years of research on the motivations that shape human behavior. Based on this data, we’ve categorized 48 distinct traits that you can increase or decrease, depending on your goal.

If you want to be more considerate, here are the motivations you’ll need to focus on.

How can you increase your Compliance?

Compliance refers to your inclination for following the rules, values and customs of an organization. Considerate people tend to be highly motivated toward Compliance, as they are aware that their actions affect others, and they strive to be a team player and set a good example. 

To boost your motivation for Compliance, try asking yourself:

  • What are the values or standards in this environment?
  • What is the norm in this type of situation?
  • How can I act in alignment with the values and standards of this team?
  • How do these rules serve to help me and others?

How can you boost your Tolerance?

Tolerance refers to your level of appreciation and acceptance of the values, standards and styles of others—even when they differ from your own. 

It may seem counterintuitive, but while considerate people are highly Compliant, they’re also highly Tolerant. They want to follow the rules and values of their environment, but they also respect that not everyone thinks like them or has the same values. For the sake of unity, they try to respect and incorporate others’ differing beliefs and styles.

To boost your Tolerance:

  • When someone disagrees with you, instead of becoming defensive or accusatory, ask questions to try and understand their point of view.
  • In every situation, ask yourself how you can accommodate the unique needs of others.
  • Expand your vocabulary to be more inclusive. Tolerant people tend to use words like “tolerate,” “respect,” “acceptance” and “different strokes for different folks.”

How can you become more People-oriented?

Those highly motivated toward People like to work directly with others and are interested in people’s thoughts and feelings. They pay close attention to people’s facial expressions and care deeply about others’ well-being.

Want to be more People-oriented? Here are some tips:

  • When making a decision, ask, “How will this decision affect my friends, family, coworkers or clients?”
  • Notice people’s facial expressions, tone of voice and body language to better ascertain how they’re feeling. If you’re still unsure about what they’re feeling, ask.
  • Ask others, “What are your thoughts on this?” or “How do you feel about this?”
  • To confirm your assumptions, try running them by the other person. For example, if you think your colleague is upset about a decision you made, you might say, “Hey, I noticed during the meeting yesterday, when I announced the decision, you got quiet and haven’t spoken to me since. I feel like I might have upset you in some way. Am I totally off base?”

What is the other person’s work style, especially around communication?

Failing to know someone’s communication style can lead to misunderstandings. Thankfully, F4S makes it easy for you. We’ve identified four categories of motivations that influence the way people operate and give and receive information.

Group Environment vs. Solo Environment

These two motivations dictate whether you’re most productive while working with people or on your own.

Group Environment
Those highly motivated toward a Group Environment derive energy from people being in their immediate workspace. They thrive in open-plan workspaces and enjoy collaborating with others on a project. Working in a cubicle, private office or even from home will demotivate them and decrease their productivity.

Solo Environment
Those highly motivated toward a Solo Environment do their best work independently and don’t need people around them in order to stay motivated. They might feel overwhelmed and drained if placed in an environment with lots of people because it’s distracting for them.

Knowing someone’s preferred work environment can help you be more considerate because you can make accommodations based on their work style. If someone seems distracted and disengaged while working in your open-plan office, maybe they just need a little more solo time. Consider ways you can give them space to do their best work.

Affective vs. Neutral Communicators

This category revolves around the way you express and read one’s emotions. Differences in these styles that are unreconciled often lead to misunderstandings.

Affective Communicator
An Affective Communicator places a high value on tone of voice, facial expressions, hand gestures and eye contact. They prefer face-to-face interactions because that gives them the ability to read as many signals as possible.

Neutral Communicator
In contrast, a Neutral Communicator focuses heavily on word choice. They can be hard to read because they’re not as expressive with their face or body.

As you can probably tell, if you’ve got an Affective Communicator discussing something with a Neutral Communicator, the interaction can be fraught with tension. The Affective one might take offense to the fact that the Neutral doesn’t seem enthused about something, while in reality, the Neutral might be very excited but expresses it only in their word choice.

Being a considerate person means taking into account how your conversation partner prefers to give and receive information. If you know they’re Neutral, you’d do well to choose your words carefully in an email that they can mull over. If, on the other hand, they’re Affective, hopping on a video call to show your enthusiasm with your facial expressions would help them understand better.

How someone learns or becomes convinced by something

What kind of information do you need to see, and in what way, in order to become convinced? In F4S we call these “Convincer Inputs” because they greatly influence the way a person makes decisions.

Seeing
Seeing is also known as a Visual Learning Style. When making a decision, those motivated toward Seeing need to see graphs, charts, videos, presentations or even have a face-to-face meeting to be able to decide.

Hearing
For someone with a Hearing Learning Style, auditory stimuli are the most helpful when making decisions. Listening to presentations, podcasts, audiobooks and more can aid them in drawing conclusions about your options. They may not always make eye contact with people, but they’re paying close attention to others’ tone of voice and volume.

Reading
A motivation toward Reading (AKA Read/Write Learning Style) means the person needs to see documentation, such as reports, research studies or even emails, to become convinced about something. This style pays off in roles where one must dive into data and spend time researching.

Doing
A person with a Doing Convincer Input, also known as Kinesthetic Learning Style, will have a strong preference for rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty. To make up their mind about something, they must get their hands on it and try it out, not merely read about it or hear about it.

As you can see, there is a wide variety of ways that people might prefer to receive information in order to make a proper judgment about something. Being more considerate means taking into account each person’s Convincer Inputs so that you can modify your message to help them think through something in an optimal way.

Scope (Breadth vs. Depth)

Knowing someone's preferences regarding scope can help you package your messages in a way that helps the other person better understand. You can think of it as big-picture thinking (Breadth) versus detail-oriented thinking (Depth).

Breadth

Someone with a high motivation toward Breadth (aka Big Picture Thinking) prefers to receive an overview rather than know the specifics. Give them too much detail, and you might overwhelm or demotivate them.

Depth

Someone with a high motivation toward Depth (aka Attention to Detail) thrives on the concrete specifics, with little need for a big-picture overview.

What is the other person’s decision-making style?

Decision-making style is influenced by Convincer Input traits as discussed above, but there is one more category of motivations that make up decision-making style: Convincer Process. Whereas Convincer Input refers to the information you need to make a decision, Convincer Process refers to the process you use to arrive at a decision.

Examples

A high motivation for Examples (aka Evidence-based decision making)  indicates that someone likes to see evidence multiple times before making a decision. There’s no set number; it varies depending on the person.

Automatic

On the opposite side, Automatic decision-makers don’t need repetition to make a decision. They rely on their gut feeling. 

Consistency

A person motivated toward Consistency may sometimes seem like a skeptic. They constantly recheck their work and reevaluate their decisions, never feeling sufficiently convinced.

Period of Time

Period of Time decision-makers will rarely rush into a decision. They need a set amount of time to pass before they can come to a conclusion.

If you want to be considerate, think about others’ preferred decision-making styles so you can better equip them to make the best choice. For example, telling someone highly motivated toward Period of Time that they “need to choose ASAP” will place immense stress on them since they prefer to decide in a slower, deliberate manner.

You have what it takes to be considerate

As you can see, science supports the benefits of thinking of others and being kind and helpful. 

If you’re interested in learning how to be more considerate, take heart in knowing that you’re already wired for it. Like any skill, it just takes practice to grow it.

Need some extra support on your journey to a more kind and helpful you? Sign up for our new coaching program on how to be more considerate.

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Inspire yourself and others to see the bigger picture! Increase your comfort and use of abstract and strategic thinking to gain a broader perspective in work and life. Big picture thinking is key in communication, leadership, businesses, selling, marketing, and situations where you need to get the gist of things quickly.

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