The NVC model: step 3, Needs

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, you just might find
You get what you need
(Mick Jagger, You can’t always get what you want, 1968)

What matters

‘Needs’ in  NVC and NbC represent the urges which underlie our behaviour and which motivate us in every aspect of life. Words like ‘longing’, ‘desire’ and ‘wish’ may also point to needs, but needs are at a deeper level than ‘wants’. Needs are abstract and unspecific, not concrete and particular: we cannot escape our needs, but we have many choices as to how we meet them.

The universality and indeed the urgency of human needs is obvious in some cases, such as getting a glass of water when we’re thirsty or finding shelter when it’s raining. In other situations, different people meet different needs with the same action. For one person, applying for a job in a city office might be about security, while buying a motorbike would meet needs for excitement, whereas for another person the job could represent excitement while the motorbike offered security (e.g. for getting home when you can’t rely on the trains!). So needs are also something very personal.

There is a limited number of words available for describing our needs, and I value using them precisely and with restraint in order to maximise clarity of communication. A constant re-examination of our supposed needs often reveals layer upon layer of meaning. “Is this really a need in itself, or is it a way of meeting a deeper need?” is a useful question to ask when compiling your own list of needs (itself a very worthwhile exercise!).

Many people have tried to make hierarchies and categories of needs, none with great success in my opinion. For example it seems obvious that ‘survival’ needs such as food and warmth are basic and very pressing, and that without enough sleep it can get very hard to meet more ‘optional’ needs such as play and learning.  It’s tempting to place these in a group of their own, until we remember that for some people in some situations, it becomes more important to meditate on the breath (connection with the spirit within) than to eat, or by contrast more meaningful to die in battle (freedom from enslavement, perhaps) than to sleep. So I make my needs lists with a sense of curiosity and exploration, and revise them often!

It’s possible to live an entire lifetime without getting one’s needs for, say, belonging or adventure fully met. However, it won’t be such a wonderful life as it might have been. The more of our needs we can connect with, the richer our lives and the more we contribute to the richness of other people’s lives.

If you can’t put your finger on what particular need is alive for you in a given situation, it may help to browse a list of human needs.  Remember also that needs can always be paired with feelings. It has been said that the feelings guide us to the needs as the fragrance guides us to the flower. For example, you might feel angry when your need for autonomy is denied, or delighted when your need for companionship is fulfilled. Note, though, that each person has their own linkages between needs and feelings, and these change according to circumstances anyway, so we can’t make fixed rules.

For more about what is and is not a need, go here. As an aid to learning and awareness I have highlighted ‘needs words’ in blue wherever I have noticed them throughout the texts in this website.

Go back to the previous step in the model:  Feelings
Go on to the next step in the model:             Requests

Go to NVC model overview