Conflict Resolution: Needs And Values Vs. Strategies



In my first column I noticed an omission. I mentioned mediator and author, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg ( and his finding that any conflict can be resolved within 20 minutes. The missing phrase was this: 20 minutes from the time that all parties involved have their needs out on the table. I'd like to talk further about what this important piece involves.

I have noticed that when there is a conflict, people start right off looking for solutions. That is actually putting the cart before the horse. Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is a process of conflict resolution that fosters discovery of solutions that meet everyone's needs. It is not about compromise; it is more about collaboration.

Let's go back to the horse and cart analogy for a moment. The horse is actually the strategy or solution that drives the cart. But the cart needs a direction before we let the horse start pulling it. Do you see what I am saying? Our needs and values give us the direction in our life, and our solutions or strategies are the actions we take to achieve our goals.

I love our humanness. We are all amazing, self-organizing beings; we have an inherent ability to live ... if we will just stop and check in with ourselves ... without demands ... if we will quiet down the judgments and listen within to our values and needs, I feel confident we will find wholesome strategies to get our needs met. It's the way we were made.

Consider a baby -- it cries when it wants food. We still do this as adults, but do we hear ourselves? And do we hear ‘the other' crying? Not if we tell ourselves this ‘other' is the enemy; for then we shall fight or run; and if we have enemy images in our head about ourselves, the same response holds true (more on this subject to come in next week's column ... and just in time for 9/11).

So ... back to our needs and our inherent ability to find strategies to meet these ... I have heard needs defined in NVC as "Life energy calling to Itself." What a powerful spiritual concept. Let's look at our basic human needs that we all share, all of us on this planet. Physical needs include food, shelter, safety; emotional needs include trust, understanding, self-esteem, respect; and spiritual needs are such things as freedom, love, contribution, celebration, etc. These are what propel us each and every day, to get up and out and be participants in our world.

Sometimes I have heard people confuse the idea of having needs with ‘being needy.' There is a difference here that I would like to point out. The latter is a judgment. If you think you are ‘being too needy' well then, your need is likely to be considerate of others needs. Remember, according to NVC, all labels and judgments are the tragic expression of underlying feelings and needs. When we discover our needs and values, it is a precious and beautiful experience, because they are what puts the life in our living; that which animates and drives us forward, into our unique and individual futures. And they are also common to all of us and so they represent that which binds us all together as a human family.

So how do these ideas and concepts fit in with speedy conflict resolution? First, we must differentiate between needs and strategies. We never need anyone to do anything for us. People and the actions they take are the substance of strategy. If we tell someone we "need" them to do something for us, they will most likely hear a demand. Then they will have only two choices: submit or rebel. Any action taken from that place of consciousness will poison our relationship. So it is very important to state our needs separately from our requests. And it is equally as important to state our requests in a manner that respects the others willingness to comply; their choice to say yes or no, and shows optimum concern for their needs and values.

This week I invite you to stop and reflect the next time you are faced with a conflict, whether it is internal or external. What are all the needs involved in the situation? Write them down without judgment; put them on the table, and then watch the miracle, as the abundance of the universe comes in to support and hold you, and carries you forward, like footprints in the sand.

Please submit your relationship questions or comments to: Ask Dr Donna, P.O. Box 2204, Payson, AZ 85547-2204, or e-mail: Any reference to specific identity will not be posted for confidentiality purposes.

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