Being considerate of others is an integral part of what it means to be human. Charles Darwin would have agreed. He argued that our instinct to be considerate is even stronger than our instinct to be self-serving.
As obvious as that may seem, only recently has neuroscience has been able to explain why. Research conducted by Dacher Keltner at Berkeley showed that our brains react exactly the same when we see other people in pain as when we experience pain ourselves. Watching someone else experience pain also activates the structure deep inside the brain that’s responsible for nurturing behavior, called the periaqueductal gray.
Being considerate of others will take you further in life than any college or professional degree. Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said, “Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax.” Being kind and considerate of others softens people and makes them malleable, which can be helpful to your way of thinking and is certainly a good career move, but it’s also good for your health. When you show consideration for others, the brain’s reward center is triggered, which elevates the feel-good chemicals dopamine, oxytocin, and endogenous opioids. This gives you a great feeling, which is similar to what’s known as “runner’s high,” and all that oxytocin is good for your heart.
All this is well and good, but how practical is it? How do you become more considerate when you have so many other things competing for your finite mental energy? Here are some thoughts:
Show up on time. Sure, sometimes things happen, but always showing up late sends a very clear message that you think your time is more important than everyone else’s, and that is just rude. Even if you really do think that your time is more important, you don’t have to broadcast that belief to the world. Instead, be considerate and show up when you said you would.
Be deliberately empathic. It’s one thing to feel empathy for other people, but putting that feeling into action is another matter entirely. It is great to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. In fact, it’s essential, but that does not necessarily translate into being considerate. To be deliberately empathic, you have to let your ability to walk in their shoes change what you do. This could range from changing your behavior to accommodate their feelings, or providing tangible help in a tough situation.
Apologise when you need to (and don’t when you don’t). We all know people who are so insecure or so afraid of offending someone that they practically apologise for breathing. In such situations, apologising loses its meaning. But it’s a different matter entirely when a sincere apology is really necessary. When you’ve made a mistake, or even think you’ve made a mistake, apologising is a crucial part of being considerate.
Smile a lot. Physically, it’s easier to frown than to smile. Smiling involves 42 different muscles; however, it pays to make the extra effort, as smiling has a huge effect on other people. People naturally (and unconsciously) mirror the body language of the person they’re talking to. When you smile at people, they will unconsciously return the favour and feel good as a result.
Mind your manners. A lot of people have come to believe that not only are manners unnecessary, they’re undesirable because they’re fake. These people think that being polite means you’re acting in a way that doesn’t reflect how you actually feel, but they have got it backwards. Minding your manners is all about focusing on how the other person feels, not on how you feel. It is consciously acting in a way that puts other people at ease and makes them feel comfortable.
Be emotionally intelligent. One of the huge fallacies our culture has embraced is that feeling something is the same as acting on that feeling, and that’s just wrong, because there is this little thing called self-control. Whether it is helping out a co-worker when you are under the pump to meet your own deadline, or continuing to be pleasant with someone who is failing to return the favour, being considerate often means not acting on what you feel.
Try to find a way for everybody to win. Many people approach life as a zero-sum game. They think that somebody has to win and somebody else has to lose. Considerate people, on the other hand, try to find a way for everybody to win. While this is not always possible, but it can be the goal. If you want to be more considerate, stop thinking of every interaction with others as a win/lose scenario.
Act on your intuition when it comes to other people’s needs. Sometimes you can just tell when someone is upset or having a bad day. In such cases, being considerate means checking in with them to see if your intuition is correct. If your intuition is telling you to reach out, do it; they will appreciate your concern.
Being considerate is good for your mental and physical health, your career, and everyone around you. On top of that, it just feels good.
Think about some other ways to show consideration for others and share your thoughts with me so that I can learn just as much from you as you do from me.