I asked this question of a communication group that I facilitate at my office on Friday mornings. One member said she needed to get home to finish cleaning a messy room. I reminded the group that, according to Nonviolent Communication principles (www.cnvc.org), cleaning a messy room is a strategy to meet a need and not the need itself.
"Hmmm," she said. "I don't know what my need is there."
As we explored her situation a bit further, it became clear that she had a few underlying needs that her proposed strategy could meet. Not only did cleaning the room meet needs for order and cleanliness, but it created more space for her and freedom to engage in some leisure activities for fun.
Also, it would give her a place to connect with a friend to watch movies together, and it would also meet a need for comfort and ease at the same time.
We went around the room and others identified needs such as emotional and financial security, self-worth and acknowledgement.
As we continued to discuss the differences between needs and strategies, I cautioned the group to be careful about getting "addicted" to a strategy. Doing so actually shrinks our worldview and we close ourselves off to options and develop tunnel vision. Our bodies go into a fight or flight stance as we become tense, and our minds start to see scarcity all around.
As a friend of mine once said, fear is about not getting something we want or of losing something we already have. Remember, the key to conflict resolution is in considering all of the needs involved before you look for strategies or solutions.
As a reminder, needs are common to all human beings and do not make reference to any specific person or action. Abraham Maslow was a social psychologist who studied successful people who had achieved what he termed "self-actualization." He proposed a theory of higher-order needs. He believed that in addition to basic physical and survival needs, humans have psychological and spiritual needs, such as security, belonging and love, self-esteem and purpose.
According to Nonviolent Communication, we can use our feelings as signals or messengers of our needs. Positive feelings are a signal that needs are being met and negative feelings signal unmet needs.
It is a built-in, foolproof system. All we need to do is to recognize/identify our feelings, understand the message they bring us, and then consider strategies to get these needs met. Sounds easy? Well, actually it involves retraining our habitual ways of discounting our feelings or blaming negative feelings on ourselves or others.
It involves "answering the phone" when it rings with these words, "Hello, what needs are calling?"
I believe that we all want at a deep level to act and live in integrity -- that is, in harmony with our values. Today, I invite you to consider the question: What is my greatest need/value today and what actions can I take to meet it?
-- Send questions about communication and relationships or comments about my column to: Ask Dr. Donna, P.O. Box 2204, Payson, AZ, 85547 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.