Monday, January 5, 2009

Unmet Needs

One of the nuggets of wisdom I learned from Marshall Rosenberg's book, Nonviolent Communication, is that a person who is behaving badly has a need that is not being met.

When I say a person is behaving "badly," this could mean mildly negative behaviour, like pouting or rolling their eyes at what you're saying. At the other end of the spectrum, it could mean they're holding a knife to your throat.

But, wherever their behaviour is on that continuum, they have an unmet need.

Since I have become aware of this, I have found that it has taken a lot of discipline for me to remember it when someone has been ranting at me. But, wow, it sure improves the outcome of the conversation!

When I have been able to listen to someone and let them finish venting, they eventually have calmed down, and we have gone on to have a rewarding interaction.

Recently my son asked me about the main insights I'd gained from the consensus decision making workshop I'd participated in and my reading of the book on nonviolent communication. I cited the recognition of unmet needs as one of them.

My son then asked, "Well, what has that enabled you to do? Have you recognized what the other person's unmet need is, and what have you been able to do with that information?"

I responded that I had not always been able to recognize what the other person's unmet need was. Sometimes all I had been able to do was say to myself, "S/he is ranting. Therefore s/he has an unmet need."

I told my son that, if nothing else, this helped me to avoid getting caught up in the other person's drama. At a minimum, I was able to stay calm, and listen. This bought me time. I felt that that alone was valuable.

But, later in a conversation, when my initial feeling of defensiveness has quietened down, I often have been able to detect what the other person's unmet need has been. Then I have been able to acknowledge it and, together, we have been able to discuss how the need could be addressed.

My point, though, is that this insight has been valuable to me even when I have failed to recognize exactly what the unmet need has been. Just reminding myself of the existence of the unmet need in itself has been useful.

With that having been said, I do not want to sound as if I am discounting the amount of commitment and self control that are required to implement this strategy. At times, the effort needed to do this is huge.


Allium said...

I wonder if it would be help to focus on your own feelings and unmet needs that arise when you are listening to a person rant at/to you? This could be a first step, which in time will help you recognise the feelings and needs of others more easily. At the very least, it could help you move past initial defensive feelings you might immediately feel.

Acknowledging that someone has unmet needs and it's the reason they are so unhappy in the moment is a great way to maintain compassion for them instead of being dragged into those same feelings, don't you think?! :)

Nice to find your blog and I'm always excited to see others into NVC. I've been watching the progress of the Pacific Gardens with interest! If we were going to be living here in Nanaimo long term, I'd be eager to join myself!

Judy Roberts said...

Lovely to "meet" you, Allium. I love your blog, and have added it to my blog list.