Mar 17, 2009

Family Connection: Uncovering Hidden Needs

In everyday life, if you interact with other humans, you are well aware that conflicts arise. The reason we find ourselves in conflict is typically due to one or more of our needs not being met.

Over the last couple of months, the Family Connection has discussed  the problems that power, permissiveness, and compromise create in our relationships. We have seen that all three of these approaches to resolving conflict can cause hurt feelings, anger, resentment, mistrust, sadness, and frustration. 

We also closely examined Dr. Gordon’s No-Lose Conflict Resolution, Method III, the problem-solving alternative to Method I (Authoritarian), Method II (Permissive) and Compromise. Instead of creating feelings of resentment, frustration, anger, or sadness, Method III creates a safe environment in which all parties involved in a conflict work together to meet everyone’s needs, in turn, resolving the conflict.

Recall the six steps of Method III:

1. Define Needs
2. Brainstorm Solutions
3. Evaluate Solutions
4. Choose Solution
5. Implement Solution
6. Check Results

Most of the time, Method I, Method II and Compromise begin immediately with the parent and child (or other) trying to impose, sell or trade solutions. Step 1—Defining Needs—sets Method III apart from Method I, Method II and Compromise. 

While Defining Needs is an essential ingredient of Method III, it is also the most difficult of the Six Steps. Identifying real needs is often challenging.

Frequently, we unconsciously offer our preconceived solutions that will meet our need rather than expressing the need itself.

If the underlying needs of the parent and of the child are not clearly understood and expressed, all subsequent steps of Method III will be misdirected and the conflict will not be resolved.

Separating needs from solutions can be very difficult. Even when people use the word “need,” what they are saying is often a solution. Also, keep an eye out for “wants,” as most “wants” are solutions.

For example, your child might say: “I need my own room.”  This is actually a solution, not a need. What will having his/her own room do for the child? It would provide privacy or a feeling of having his/her own space or quiet, etc. These are the needs; a room of his/her own is a solution.

Active Listening is an essential skill to use when determining what is a need vs. what is a solution. From the example given above, if your child says “I need my own room,” a little bit of Active Listening can go a long way towards uncovering what his/her real needs are. Maybe you can say, “You would really like your own space--can you say more about that?” and in turn your child reveals that s/he feels like it’s noisy all the time and s/he can’t concentrate. You have now defined your child's need for more quiet, and you can both start on Step 2 and brainstorm for possible solutions to help meet his/her need for quiet time. 

Your child (or other) may not know right away why s/he feels s/he needs his own room (this of course applies to any solution that is being presented as a need). While Active Listening is the major skill to use in separating needs from solutions, the question, "What will that do for me? (or you?)" can also be an extremely helpful one. For example, if you say “I need a new car,” is that a need or a solution? Ask the question, “What will that do for me?” Possible answers might be: 

• “I’ll get to work safely.” 
• “I’ll feel good about my image/myself.”
• “I’ll save money since my old car uses a lot of gas and requires lots of repairs.” 

These answers are the needs; a new car is the solution.

When you use this clarifying question, “What will that do for you?” avoid overdoing it or using a probing or pushy tone of voice. This question is intended as a gentle way of helping others to find the need behind a solution. Active Listening is still the skill of choice when it is difficult to identify a child’s/other’s needs.

When you express your own needs use I-Language. In essence, this means you need to Active Listen to yourself first to be sure you have identified your need and not just your solution. Asking yourself the same clarifying question, “What will that do for me?” can also be helpful.

The key to clearly understanding needs is:

For a parent - expressing needs in congruent I-Messages. This involves the parent in Active Listening to herself/himself to understand what is really wanted or needed as opposed to the question of how to get it—then expressing these needs in I-Messages. 

For a child- the parent needs to Active Listen to the child, especially if the child’s messages seem unclear or coded (masking some deeper need). 

Active Listening will aid the child to express her/his needs in I-Messages as well.

For more information on defining needs, see the P.E.T. Blog’s post “Defining Needs with Maslow’s Hierarchy.”

Mar 12, 2009

Defining Needs with Maslow's Hierarchy

While Defining Needs is an essential ingredient of Method III, it is also often the most difficult of the Six Steps. Identifying real needs can prove to be very tricky.

An important theory about the nature of human needs was developed by the famous psychologist, Abraham Maslow.

He researched very “healthy” and productive people, people like Eleanor Roosevelt, Lincoln, Ruth Benedict, Albert Schweitzer and others. He found that these individuals had many common characteristics.

Among these were a zest for life, creative energy, a sense of humor, and higher and more frequent “peak” experiences. He called the possession of these characteristics Self-Actualization, the full and complete use of one’s potential.

Maslow essentially discovered that all people have five levels of needs. Self-Actualized people are those who get them met.
Maslow found that people are limited in their personal growth and development when deprived of needs-satisfaction at any level.

This is a good model for helping to provide a definition of what a need is since in everyday language, what are called “needs” are often really solutions.

Maslow’s Hierarchy is also a good tool for identifying personal needs and values, and for helping to set priorities to satisfy unmet needs.

Here is a simple story to illustrate how the hierarchy works:

Hungry (Level I) caveman disregards safety (Level II) and hunts dangerous game to get food. When hunger is satisfied, he takes care of security (Level II) by stashing the rest of the carcass in the back of his cave. What does he do then? He invites friends over for dinner and get-together for socializing (Level III). He throws the best outdoor barbecue his part of the forest has ever seen; quite an accomplishment (Level IV). Following this success, caveman becomes a gourmet cook and writes a cookbook which is promptly bought by every cave family in the forest. Caveman has reached his full potential. Having risen to a state of self-actualization (Level V), he becomes known as the wild Julia Child!

Let’s take a more in-depth look at why we need to satisfy each level of Maslow’s hierarchy in order to move up the ladder to reach Level V.

1. Level I Needs. Physical Survival: The “lowest” or most basic of the needs in the Maslow hierarchy has to do with our biological survival, those things that we cannot do without: food, air, water, etc.

Maslow found that people deprived of their Level I needs had a strong drive to meet these needs, often at the sacrifice of everything else.

2. Level II Needs. Security: If these biological needs are temporarily met, another set of needs emerges into consciousness: feeling safe, free of fear. 

We all have a need to feel safe in the world. Physically, we need to feel free from fear of illness, injury and premature death.

Equally, we all need to feel safe psychologically, free from the threat of ridicule and embarrassment.

3. Level III Needs. Social, Relationships: Level III needs result from the fact that we are all social creatures. We need relationships with others. Some of these relationship needs include:
  • Familial or belonging
  • Acceptance and understanding
  • Loving and affection
  • Intimacy
4. Level IV Needs. Success/Achievement, Esteem: Once our social and relationship needs are met, another set of needs emerges into consciousness-needs you and I and all of us have-the needs for productivity, achievement and accomplishment.

These can also be called esteem needs, in that the only continuous source of our feelings of self-worth, respect and esteem is our own satisfactory achievements.

5. Level V Needs: Self-Actualization: Maslow found that individuals who were getting their needs met at Levels I through IV experienced a drive to become what he called Self-Actualized.

Some of the characteristics of self-actualization are heightened awareness of living, completeness, wholeness, joyfulness, transcendent, unforgettable moments or periods of joy, unity and understanding.

Maslow discovered that self-actualizing people were continually meeting their basic needs for survival and security. They had satisfying, loving, long-lasting friendships. They had intimate and loving relationships with a few special people. They had a life’s work that was very important and gratifying to them.

It’s easier to meet our needs if we have a framework in which to recognize and organize them.

Our society tends to judge people at Level IV (Success, Achievement) without considering possible effects of deprivation at Levels I, II and III. When we consider how deprivation at these levels may be affecting others, it combats our view of people as essentially lazy, needing to be prodded to be productive, etc.

It’s easier to understand and accept shortcomings of ourselves and of others if they are seen as results of “needfulness” rather than “badness” or “laziness.”

The only way for the self or others to become self-actualized is to avoid developing a serious crippling of needs in the lower levels. 

Most segments of our society are okay on Levels I and II. Most serious deficits now occur at Level III (social needs) through inadequately satisfying relationships. The philosophy and methods of the P.E.T. course have their greatest impact here through systematically upgrading participants’ interactive skills to much higher levels than general culture, thus producing superior relationships. P.E.T. helps both parties in a relationship move upward in Maslow’s Hierarchy.