Understanding what people value is crucial to effective interactions, both personal and professional. For, if you really get what is important to someone, you will be in a better, more-informed place. You are less likely to waste time in misunderstandings and to get right to the heart of the matter. To uncover the deeper beliefs and motivations behind their words and actions.  

Cow, stork or dog? 

Seneca used the example of animals searching for food to illustrate how we can each want something different from the same thing.  

“In one and the same meadow the cow looks for grass, the dog for a hare and the stork for a lizard.” 

Crucially, what each one seeks, depends on what they value. A cow cares not for lizards, nor does a stork care for grass. So, knowing whether you are dealing with a cow or stork has implications for how you engage. For, if you are trying to feed lizards to a cow, is that not utterly useless? 

Understanding what people value also allows you to choose your interactions with more care and awareness. Because, certain things will be very important to YOU in your life, and you can become more aware of when these come into conflict or harmony with others. 

Different values at different scales 

Values can be idiosyncratic and they can be cultural. One of the most interesting and saddening insights to come out of the whole Covid experience is how some countries, usually the more developed ones, consistently prioritised “economy” over life (particularly the lives of the elderly). This, of course, is a scaled-up version of the cow and the stork. It is seeing what people tend to value at higher, group levels.  

And, understanding what people value at each scale can allow you to make more informed decisions. For example, your line manager may value employee autonomy, but the bureaucratic company culture may value obedience and strict adherence to rules. You may become a victim of the corporate machine, despite your boss’s best efforts. So, different values may operate at different scales, and they may complement or conflict with one another.  

Understanding what people value empowers you 

Really understanding what people value, individually and at higher scales, empowers you through better decisions making. It allows you to walk your own path from a place of deeper understanding about your world and those you interact with. 


life coaching londonHarsha is a 1:1 coach and independent thinker based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives — to cut through the noise, in a world so full of it. Harsha’s new book, Machine Ego: Tragedy of the Modern Mind, is now available in paperback and Kindle through Amazon.

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