Pattern #42

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Grounding in Fundamental Needs

Positions and demands impede consensus, whereas addressing deep needs makes true consensus possible. Deep needs are universal and can be satisfied in many ways, opening up possibilities. So help people clarify and meet the deep needs of all parties and to understand the addictive, shallow nature of pseudo-satisfiers and their manipulative power.

Some related patterns:   1 All Concerns Addressed   33 Feeling Heard
37 Fullness of Choice   63 Power of Listening   69 Quality of Life Indicators
71 Realizing Essential Aspirations   96 Working With Feelings

  • How can we dig beneath our positions and demands to understand the deeper needs we are trying to meet when we press those positions and demands so passionately?
  • What do you really want, deep inside, that I could satisfy without violating my own deep-seated needs and values?
  • How are we being manipulated by people triggering desires in us that won’t really be satisfied by what they offer us?
  • What needs do we both (or all) have that we can work together to satisfy (at least to show us what’s possible as we launch this collaboration)?
  • How could society be set up so that truly satisfying universal needs was the foundation for most of what was going on?

Going deeper …

This is an edited version of the video on this page.

There are different layers to what’s going on in a conversation, particularly when we’re dealing with an issue where people have a stake.  There is a surface phenomena of proposals or ideas. Under that are the emotions that people are bringing to it, and under that their needs.

Now, the analysis that I’m offering here depends heavily on the ideas underlying Nonviolent Communication, which have some very broad applications. I use NVC’s perspective a lot when I think about needs.

First of all, the kind of needs we are talking about are not what we normally think of as needs being big wants, like “I need an apple pie right now!” That is a want. The need in this case is for nourishment or for enjoyable taste. These are needs.  And what makes them “needs” – from the NVC perspective – is that they are virtually universal. Everybody needs food, everybody needs air, everybody needs community and care and joy. These are basic needs. They are universal.

And one of the other things that characterizes a basic need is that it can be satisfied in many different ways. If I need food, heaven knows, there hundreds of different kinds of food. Even if I need to drink something, there are all these different kinds of drink. So a deep need is not only universal, it can be satisfied in many different ways.

So when someone pushes a particular position or demand, they have felt certain needs and have come up with something that they think will satisfy those needs. And they are stuck in that level of positions and demands. It is really hard to get around that stuck attention. When you try to address the position or demand, you often end up fighting or giving in or getting bogged down in bargaining and trade-offs – if you do this, I will do this – rather than just getting clear on what you truly need and what they truly need – or, in the language of the famous book “Getting to Yes“, clarifying what are your legitimate interests and what are theirs.

If we clarify these things, then both of us together can try to figure out how to meet those needs, how to satisfy those legitimate interests. Suddenly we become part of a team solving a problem together instead of being opponents fighting about who is going to get their needs met while the other isn’t. That is why I say positions and demands can impede consensus, while addressing deep needs is essential for consensus. When you can go to that deep level of needs and legitimate interests, it opens up new possibilities. There may be – and usually is – some way we can deal with our situation that will satisfy you AND satisfy me. We would never find that unless and until we get down to that place where our real satisfaction – or lack of satisfaction – resides, that deep place in us where our true needs and values and life energy live, the place from which our motivations arise.  That is a place where we can truly connect with each other and find our way together.

This has broad social implications.  Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef observed that in a consumer economy, most companies don’t actually want to satisfy your real needs. If those needs were deeply satisfied we wouldn’t need to keep buying those companies’ products and services. So having a need-situation in which you can’t really satisfy your needs is better for the companies. You buy a car in order to get a sense of sexual satisfaction, but that doesn’t actually work even though there was a beautiful woman in the car advertisement. So you need another car so you can get satisfied there, one that has more sexy power, one you can drive faster to attract more sexy women, and on and on.

Whereas if people are really satisfied there is no need for this consumerist game.  They are not addicted to it, they have a deeper sense of satisfaction so they don’t consume so much.

This dynamic is going on now in the politics of many countries: We are told if we can stop immigration we can have our sense of job security back. Well, that is a pseudo-satisfier. We might be able to stop immigration but we still wouldn’t have that sense of job security. It is a different level that needs to be addressed. But if we can create an “other” – like the immigrant – as an enemy, and then that “othering” is a good source to manipulate people. Get rid of the “other” and your needs will be fulfilled.  But they won’t be.  The world of needs, values, pseudo-satisfiers, and all that is also part of the world of PR and manipulation, as well.

This is another reason why it is important to get down to the real needs of people. In the heart of the pattern we find the phrase “once understood“. That phrase is there because what we want to do in many conversations is get clear early on about what kinds of needs people are sensing, and to realize that their emotions come out of those needs being fulfilled or not. The vast majority of emotions have that connection to the fulfillment or non-fulfillment of needs. So attending to that level of human life allows us to be more productive and creative without so much of the friction of dysfunctional emotions messing us up from that deep place of unmet needs.

Video Introduction (7 min)

After reading the 50-word pattern heart Tom Atlee will elaborate on the pattern.

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