Photo by Keith on Flickr licensed under Creative Commons

Needs 101: What are needs?

Max St John
Dec 8, 2016 · 3 min read

This is the first of a series of snippets from my ebook ‘Working with Needs’. You can download the full version or get it free with a set of Needs Cards — the tool for instant understanding and connection.

Needs are the building blocks of human well-being.

When our needs are met, we feel a set of emotions people might find pleasant.

If I need rest and someone gives me the day off, I might feel grateful, for example.

When our needs are unmet, we feel ‘difficult’ emotions.

If I need rest and I find myself working five, 12-hour days in a row, I might feel exhausted.

Needs are:

  • universal — they are relevant to all human beings. We will all have a need for warmth, or support, or community etc, at some point in our lives.
  • contextual — they change depending on circumstance. You cross the road quickly because you have a need for efficiency. But when the bus comes hurtling towards you, you’ll have a strong need for safety.
  • personal — they come from within individual human beings. They are a result of our past experiences and beliefs, and mean something slightly different to each of us.

Needs are the spark for everything we do. They are the urge inside that causes us to act. To start a conversation, ask for help, to shout, dance or bang our fist on the table.

Needs underpin our thoughts, feelings and behaviour. While we look outside of ourselves for the source of our feelings, the reality is these are just triggers for our needs (more on this later).

At work today — and in wider society — we are largely disconnected from our needs.

This means that what we do rarely satisfies us, feels unproductive and like we’re continually chasing our tails — on an individual, organisational and even societal level.

By simply becoming aware that we have needs, we can choose how to use our time, energy and relationships in a way that moves us in a more fulfilling and productive direction.

This language and the mental models around needs comes from the work of Marshall Rosenberg and Nonviolent Communication (NVC).

He developed NVC through his experiences as a psychotherapist and facilitator working in the middle of racial tension in 1970s America.

Since then, his work has been shared around the world and used in conflict resolution, organisational development, family therapy and much more.

Using the cards #1: Spread your Needs Cards (or look over this needs list) in front of you, taking a moment to see which words stand out. Try not to think about it, simply notice which cards feel most important right now. Pick them up and just be curious — ask yourself: “Why might I have chosen these cards today, right now?”

You can download and read the full book, get a set of Needs Cards or join my course on healthy conflict if you’d like to learn more.

Like this? Want more? Show me some love and hit the green heart below ❤

The Needs Work

Showing the way to a world where everyone’s needs matter.

Max St John

Written by

Showing people the way home by connecting to what’s there and working with what is. Get clear, fight well, move naturally. www.maxstjohn.com

The Needs Work

Showing the way to a world where everyone’s needs matter.

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