How to know what you need (when all you need is for other people to not be jerks)

I had an argument recently with my husband in which he was being a complete jerk. At some point in the argument, I paused and asked myself, what do I really need in this situation? The answer was easy: I need for him to stop being a jerk. Having decided that, he and I continued yelling at each other until we were both too frustrated to even bother any more.

Later, once I had calmed down, I made myself dig a little deeper into that question: what did I really need? On its surface, the argument was about the color of the walls in our house. Generally speaking, wall color is not something that either of us cares much about. On a deeper level, though, the argument was about our lives together. Our preferences for painting the walls, as silly as it sounds, represented how we determine value in our lives and who we think gets to determine what “looks nice.”

  • I needed assurance: I needed to know that he isn’t trying to keep the house “market-ready” because he dislikes the life that we are building together
  • I needed to be valued: I needed to know that I matter to him (preferably more than a color specialist at a paint company who determines what colors are “in” this year)
  • I needed creativity: I needed my surroundings to reflect my creativity and personal aesthetic

Once I had calmed down even more, I tried to look at it from my husband’s perspective. What did he need in this argument?

  • He needed assurance: he needed to know that I took our investment in our house seriously
  • He needed to be respected: he needed to know that our house would be one that was worthy of other people’s respect

So what?

At the core of all human behavior is an ongoing effort to see that our needs are met. Whether or not our needs are met determines how we feel and how we act. In other words, our needs drive our feelings and behaviors. The more clearly you can understand your needs, the better you’ll understand who you actually are.

One of the greatest benefits of looking deeper at your needs and being able to express them in terms of basic human needs, is that it opens up new solutions to problems. If you can articulate your needs and identify the needs of others, you can radically change the way you communicate.

When I was arguing with my husband, if we had each insisted that I need the walls to be alternating shades of pink and green and he needed them to be beige, there is no room for compromise. But if we look at the problem from the perspective of “I need creativity, you need respect, and we both need assurance that the other person cares,” that leaves us with a plethora of options for meeting all of our needs.

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Showing 4 comments
  • Marcie Cramsey

    Great illustration!

    • Emily

      Thanks, Marcie!

  • Kathy Davies

    I love the way that you reframed the problem to address the underlying needs in play. That reframing leaves so much more room for solutions. Thanks for sharing.

    • Emily

      Thanks! I’m glad you liked it!

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