We all have needs. And those needs go far beyond just air, food, water, and shelter.
We need love, warmth, acceptance, community, friendship, honesty, respect, connection, and the list goes on and on and on. The Center for Nonviolent Communication has created a wonderful list of potential needs. This list is not meant to be all inclusive, but it gives you an idea of all the various things we need.
Our needs are truly the signposts of our souls. To unpack that statement I first need to be clear on the difference between needs and desires. There is a helpful acronym: P.L.A.T.O. which stands for “person, location, action, time, and object”. If at any point you are thinking about or asking for a specific person, location, action, time or object then you are talking about a desire rather than a need.
For example: “I need you to stop talking so I can get this work done.” That example is an expression of a desire not a need. The statement includes a specific person (“you”), doing a specific action (“stop talking”) and presumably at a specific time (“now”). So the real needs that lie under that statement may be things like “focus”, “help”, “quiet”, or “peace”.
But isn’t that just splitting hairs? No, and this is where the signpost comes in, because YOUR needs are a sign for YOU of what YOU need.
In the example of “I need you to stop talking” the focus is on the other person. Even though the sentence starts with the word “I”, the underlying message is “you need to stop talking.” But in fact the other person doesn’t need to stop talking! Clearly their inner most self is desiring maybe “connection”, “partnership”, or “play” so what they need is to talk. The speaker’s inner most self is needing “focus” or maybe “quiet”. Do you see that difference?
In this way we often project our needs onto others. So going back to the example, if the person who needs “focus” or “quiet” owns their need, and doesn’t project those needs onto the other person, then they now have the power to take care of themselves. Instead of relying upon this other person to “get with the program” they can take steps to meet their own needs for “focus” or “quiet.”
Of course, one strategy to get those needs met might be to ask this person to stop talking. But when I own my needs, and don’t put them on other people, then all I can do is ask them to help me, not demand it. So instead of “I need you to stop talking”, it might look like “Could we talk at a later time? I’d love to connect with you, but right now I really need some focus so I can get my work done.”
But if the person says no, if I’ve owned that my need for “focus” is a sign to me of what I need then I can go about finding other ways to get it met. Maybe I suggest to this other person “hey, let’s take a walk and chat, but when we get back I really need to focus” or “hey, I really need to focus so I can’t talk right now. I’ll go back into the study/bedroom/living room/etc, and maybe you can call your friend to chat.”
You see our needs are messages, signposts, from our inner most self, our soul, telling us what we need. They are not messages about what other people should, ought, or need to do.