In last week’s blog we covered one of our human needs: identity. This week we talk more generally about human needs and how they impact conflict’s existence and our individual approach to conflict engagement. As well, we cover how to communicate your needs in a way that reduces resentment, improves relationships, and resolves conflict more effectively.
As Mayer (2012) discusses, human needs drive people’s actions, including their approach to conflict. Maslow’s (1954) hierarchy of human needs suggested that before we can focus our awareness son attaining higher-level needs, more basic needs must be met. His hierarchy is often expressed as a pyramid, with our most basic needs such as food, clothing and shelter at the bottom, followed by security needs, social needs and finally the need for esteem and self-esteem, or self-actualization.
Mayer (2012) argues that Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs doesn’t account for instances where human needs don’t line up with a neat hierarchy. Instead, he suggests three overlapping types of needs to help conceptualize what motivates people in conflict. These include survival needs, identity needs and interests.
Survival needs include our fundamental concerns about safety and security, as well as concerns over food, shelter and clothing.
Identity needs are those that we all have to preserve a sense of self – of who we are and our place in the world. There are four elements of identity, including meaning, community, intimacy and autonomy. Some conflicts can’t be resolved unless identity needs are addressed.
Finally, interests are often the most easily accessible or observable type of need and lie at the heart of most negotiations. These are the practical concerns that drive participants in most conflicts. We all have different types of interests – short-term, long-term, individual and group, outcome-based interests, process interests, conscious and unconscious interests. These types of interests can be further broken down into substantive (concerns about tangible benefits), procedural (concerns about a process for interacting, communicating or decision-making) and psychological (concerns about how one is treated, respected or acknowledged) interests.
Communicating our Needs
To increase the chance of having our needs met and reduce the chance of unhealthy conflict, we need to effectively communicate these needs to others. When we communicate our needs, we want to connect it to a feeling that it stimulates in us.
Formula for Communicating Needs
Feeling + Need that isn’t being met + Request for Need (action or change needed)
"I'm feeling exhausted"
Need not being met:
"Because my workload is too high right now"
Request for need:
"Could I take tomorrow off?" (I need a day off) or
"Could I have support with “x” item?" (I need support with my work)
By expressing how we are feeling, we can reduce resentment, improve relationships by expressing vulnerability and resolve conflicts more effectively (Rosenberg, 2003).
Human needs are a key to the conflict puzzle. Needs drive people’s actions, including the ways in which they engage in conflict. By addressing and communicating about needs, we can reduce conflict with others and improve our working relationships.
Mayer, B. S. (2012). The Dynamics of Conflict: A Guide to Engagement and Intervention. John Wiley & Sons.
Rosenberg, M. B., & Chopra, D. (2015). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life: Life-Changing Tools for Healthy Relationships. PuddleDancer Press.