February 3rd, 2008

Distracted by faux needs?

In NVC circles, I often hear what I understand to be strategies described in “need” language. For me, the very heart and power of NVC Consciousness grows out of deep connection with Universal Needs and release of strategies. When I think I see strategy masquerading as needs, I’m concerned that the speaker and listeners are unlikely to find the sacred place, simply because they think they already have. When the speaker is someone who teaches NVC (whether certified externally, internally, or neither), my urge to speak out is especially strong, in the hope of contributing to their students’ lives as well.

Over the last few years of exploring and discussing CNVC certification, I’ve been particularly surprised and concerned when what I hear described as “needs” more often match what I understand to be strategies instead, and correspondingly how rarely I hear what I recognize as a pure & genuine Universal Need.

For concreteness, I’d like to mention a few recent examples from an NVC mailing list. I am in no way meaning to single out these two people. They just happened to provide recent examples.

One wrote:

I have a need for clarity and connection regarding the certification process and am very hopeful that my needs can be met.

I can relate to clarity and (particularly) connection as (universal) needs if taken by themselves. I strongly suspect, however, that the writer meant something specifically connected to the strategy of certification, and more specifically yet, to CNVC certification. From the place of Needs, clarity and connection can be fulfilled by means that have nothing at all to do with certification.

Because the distinction can be subtle and old habits persistent, I like to use this test: discard any qualifier following the needs, e.g., stop after “clarity and connection”, with no “regarding”, “about”, “of”, “for”, etc. Then add back an inverted/released form of the qualifier, as “and I’m totally fine with those needs being met without …”. Then listen to my body telling me whether I’ve just spoken truly or not. For example, I might say

I have a need for clarity and connection, and I’m totally fine with those needs being met without any information or forward movement on the certification process.

If my body says “Yes”, I celebrate my power, freedom, and abundance. If my body says “No”, I thank it for helping my mind out of its temporary delusion. Dropping the pretense of having found the sacred place of NVC Consciousness, I get to continue on my journey.

(Note: if you get overwhelmed or lose interest/joy in following the additional examples below, please skip to the request at the end of the post.)

For a few more examples of what I understand to be strategies masquerading as needs, here is a passage from another recent note from CNVC folks:

We have been wrestling with the balance between

the need to ensure the integrity of NVC — of who is teaching it and how it is being taught, and the need to see NVC demonstrated in the lives of the trainers


the need for consistency in standards to ensure the above two needs.


We are aware that we need more assessors world-wide and are working on this evolution of the new assessor training.

In all of these “need” descriptions, I hear strategies instead. I long for the pure Gold I’m confident lies buried — for the power, freedom, and inspiration I experience in deep exploration of underlying needs and release of strategy attachments.

In the first statement (“the need to ensure …”), I’m not sure whether the need was thought to be ensuring or integrity. “Ensuring” (applying will and effort toward) is always a strategy, in my understanding. “Integrity” I hear as a need, but then come the qualifiers: “of NVC”, “of who … and how …”. To the writers, I offer the Body-Clarity test:

I have a need for Integrity, and I’m totally fine with meeting that need independently of strategies involving the whos, hows and whats of teaching NVC.

Then ask the body for feedback. If it says “No!” then delve deeper for the Needs.

For the next one, “the need to see NVC demonstrated …”, I have a harder time confidently guessing the underlying need. Maybe it’s meant as additional strategy for the the same needs supported by strategies of who, what & how.

Next, “need for consistency in standards to ensure …”. If I took the language literally, I might think of “consistency” as the need. However, I understand consistency to be just a (useful as well as detrimental) strategy, and here there’s the additional qualifier “in standards”. The “to ensure”, confirms for me that consistency is in service of (i.e., is a strategy for supporting) the previous “needs” (what I’d describe as spoken strategies and unspoken and perhaps unidentified needs).

Finally, “we need more assessors …”. In this case, I’m guessing that the writers didn’t even intend the word “need” in the NVC sense. In case anyone was writing or reading this statement as a Need in the NVC sense, I’d suggest reconsidering assessors as a strategy to support the strategy of certification. Even within the strategy of assessment, there are naturally scalable alternatives to more specific strategy of a centralized, top-down approach. (See, e.g., the “Emergence of NVC” vision.)

Several other posts on this blog provide more background and examples of this perspective on faux needs.

Please try out the Body-Clarity test described in this post, and share your experience as a comment to this post (or just to me if you’d prefer more privacy). As well, please share any insights, techniques, celebrations or mournings about encountering and navigating past faux needs. With each other’s help, I believe we can get more adept at finding and living in the sacred place.


19 Responses to “Distracted by faux needs?”

  1. Bill Huston Says:

    Very interesting and thought provoking post, Conal.

    I only wish that in your examples, you could have
    gone further in showing how to translate what the
    person was asking (instead of leaving it as a fragment).

    I think what you’ve identified here is
    a deep problem in the NVC community, because
    I am quite certain I’ve heard this language
    from NVC instructors, and I’m not sure my senses
    are tuned in enough to detect this faux-need
    language when it happens. I am likely to accept as a
    premise that this strategy-well-disguised-as-a-need is
    de facto.


  2. RogerC Says:

    I see the following challenges when practicing NVC:

    1). Agreeing on which needs are universal. I’ve noticed that many people do not agree on which needs are universal. (Many of us probably have different lists of needs, and these differences may contribute to misunderstandings when discussing needs.)

    2). Because others may not acknowledge the needs we express, we may try to qualify the needs to better explain them; however, by trying to explain them, we can make them sound more like strategies than needs. For example, when we say “I have a need for clarity about the certification process,” the focus shifts from the need (clarity) to the certification process (strategy). To separate the need from the strategy, I’d prefer hearing a feeling, need, and request. In the previous example, for instance, I’d prefer hearing “I’m confused by the certification process, and I need clarity. Would you (at CNVC) be willing to explain the process step-by-step?”

  3. conal Says:

    RogerC wrote:

    To separate the need from the strategy, I’d prefer hearing a feeling, need, and request. In the previous example, for instance, I’d prefer hearing “I’m confused by the certification process, and I need clarity. Would you (at CNVC) be willing to explain the process step-by-step?”

    I want to know if, with this reframe, you’ve (internally) disentangled need from strategy and gotten free of attachment to this strategy. If you’re willing, I’d like you to do an experiment and share the result. After stating the feeling and need and before making the request, please try the Body-Clarity test on yourself. While tuning into your body, say (out loud) something like:

    … I need Clarity, and I’m totally content with reaching Clarity in the absence of any more information from CNVC or anyone else about the certification process.

    Does your body say yes or no? (Do you feel peaceful & expansive or anxious & contracted?) If you get a yes, I believe you’ll be able to make the request with no attachment to its fulfillment. Or maybe you’ll come up with a very different action in a very different direction from the original request.

    My guess is that you’ll get a no, signaling that you haven’t really identified the need. In that case, I’d suggest another trick: setting aside the current issue (certification & confusion), write down at least two strategies for Clarity (unrelated to your issue). For instance, (a) meditation, and (b) taking a math class. Be sure you have at least one strategy (preferably more) that you really would not be satisfied with for the issue at hand. Then ask what needs besides Clarity are missing in the strategy.

    In this example, I’d guess Clarity is a distant second to needs like Meaning and Connection and that clarity may be valuable in supporting a strategy (e.g., certification) for fulfilling Meaning and Connection. Do these guesses ring true in you?

  4. conal Says:

    Bill Huston wrote:

    Very interesting and thought provoking post, Conal.

    Thanks for the feedback, Bill. :)

    I only wish that in your examples, you could have gone further in showing how to translate what the person was asking (instead of leaving it as a fragment).

    Do you mean you’d like guesses as to the needs underlying what I understood as faux needs (“clarity and connection regarding the certification process”, “to ensure the integrity of NVC”, “consistency in standards”, etc)?

    If so, I’d rather leave those guesses for another conversation and keep the focus here on the first step of just recognizing whether we’ve really found Needs or we are fooling ourselves by dressing up our strategies in NVC-Need-ese. If after people perform and report on the Body-Clarity test and are stuck, then I’d love to help connect with (universal, expansive) Needs.

    I think what you’ve identified here is a deep problem in the NVC community, because I am quite certain I’ve heard this language from NVC instructors, and I’m not sure my senses are tuned in enough to detect this faux-need language when it happens. I am likely to accept as a premise that this strategy-well-disguised-as-a-need is de facto.

    That’s what I see also, and I don’t notice a lot of difference between what I hear from those with or without CNVC certification.

  5. Eric Says:

    HI Conal,

    I’m very intrigued and somewhat torn in reading on this topic of faux needs. I love the depth to which you are exploring needs and the potential greater aliveness in living in that depth in myself and with others. I’m torn because I’m telling myself that it requires more work and attention and this is already a process that can be difficult to practice – my need is something around an accessible starting place for people to begin practicing NVC, this is a faux need I realize and it’s a starting place for finding the gold. The golden needs may be support, compassion, trust. Is there anyway to express trust as a need not attached to a strategy? What do we mean by trust? To me it means that something will happen – predictability. What I want to trust is that I and others will not give up on practicing NVC because it is too difficult, too much work. So, if people didn’t give up, that would meet my need for support and co-creation of the world I want to live in – peace.

    Also, I like the exercise of asking the body, and finding two other strategies to meet the need you think you have, and then seeing what need would not be met by those strategies. I could see another to add: Once you have come to your golden need, think of some other strategies that would really meet this need as well. I imagine that you could then make a very unattached request of another.
    I’m guessing that this is some of what you did in your visioning journey, which I am becoming increasingly inspired by.

    With Gratitude for your contribution

  6. Terry Says:

    Hi Conal,

    Needing as always to contribute, and someday I’ll get to the bottom of that need : )
    We talked on the phone before, and this thread is related to that conversation.
    I like body awareness as a test much better than labeling certain words “not real needs” as others have done, and as experienced you doing before (though you may have seen your actions differently.)

    What do you advise when someone is stuck– hasn’t got to the root need and the body relaxation/opening?

    From experience I know the root need for me is often trust– in myself, in the universe, in myself with help from the universe.

    I really really REALLY need acceptance/nonjudgment, for everyone, for everything including NVC, and I’ll take it where I can get it, and I’ll jackal about it where I can’t, and if you’d like to give me empathy for this, I’ll take it, but you better not tell me it’s not a need. (I hope you are hearing a playful tone in this email.)

    My ongoing challenge is to model the acceptance I so treasure when training in NVC. In order to do this, the best strategy I can find is to check body awareness (I experience it as “heart opening”) in myself constantly, and to invite “is there a deeper need behind that?” and give empathy as someone is going through the process of uncovering deeper needs, part of that empathy is asking them to have body awareness. And offering acceptance (to myself and them) when someone is “stuck” in judgment and I want the group to move on. Any talk about faux needs invariably has produced anxiety in newbies about “doing it right” which pretty much torpedos the consciousness we are supporting.

    I noticed in NVCLIVE clips a dramatic difference in how trainers addressed “faux needs” and other “corrections” — and in how my need for acceptance was or was not met as I experienced their different approaches. Memorable trigger (quoting from memory): “I don’t care who has it on their list of needs, to me that is not a need.” What works for me (various examples): “I worry when I hear that need…” “I like it when I say…” “Would you like to hear…”

  7. RogerC Says:

    I tried the body-clarity test, and “yes” I made it without any attachment to the outcome (no single-mindedness of purpose–no expectation of an answer). If I get an answer to my request, great! If not, I’m OK with that, too. (Perhaps I’ll find the clarity/understanding I need in another way.)

    From this exercise, I’m realizing that I may have two tiers of needs: negotiable and nonnegotiable–those that I would like to have met and those that I must have met. (Some may call the negotiable ones wants–not needs.) Your thoughts?

  8. conal Says:

    Hi Roger,

    I’d guess your “negotiable needs” are playing the role of partial strategies, i.e., are serving in support of (deeper) needs. I suspect, and maybe you do too, that you haven’t really gotten to the core need(s) yet. How about trying the alternative-strategies game? For instance, “I can achieve understanding by reading a random encyclopedia article”. I’m intentionally picking an absurd strategy, to help you shift off of clarity/understanding onto another track. If Understanding were really the (universal) need, I wouldn’t expect to see it attached to any particular object of understanding. Same for Clarity. I don’t think you’d especially care what you understood or what you had clarity about.

    What might your universal & non-negotiable needs be that your strategies of clarity & understanding & inquiries-to-cnvc are trying to serve?

  9. Peter Eigler Says:

    I enjoy the openess and the deepness of this discussion and would like to add: when i read, is a need universal or not, I feel frustrated as it comes up within me a right or wrong question.
    I ask myself very often, what is really important for me in my life and a lot of answers arrise in form of needs and i dont ask myself are these needs universal.I feel its important to let go the right wrong feeling and start to be conscious that whatever need comes up will be ok, as long its not depending from a person or a situation. A lot of pain arises by sticking to certain strategies instead of letting go an for me to have in my consciousness the knowledge, that all what exists in this world is transient helps to let this strategies go.

  10. Joseph Mitchell Says:

    dear Conal,

    I appreciate your careful thinking/analysis around the communication of needs and faux needs. I especially appreciate the “body test”. That connection between what we are thinking and the “yes” or “no” of our body is so radically important.

    I am inspired to experience my needs at this very basic level. I am experiencing my needs more at this level.

    thank you,


  11. Markus Says:

    Dear Conal,
    I highly appreciate your postings and deep analysis of core NVC elements. I totally agree with you that there is always a danger of confusion needs and strategies (again), still on a “deeper” level. The “body test” you described might / or might not work well for some. I am sort of skeptical “who” replies when you do the body test – for me, as a matter of fact, to put it simple, it’s your brain that can say “no” and it’s your body that feels tight, warm, hard or whatever…

    So to me the important point is not where the “No” comes from but whether the person carries in mind that “it’s all about strategies”. You know, we all have the same needs, there is no room for negotiations there (but for connection). If people start saying “I have a need for … ” I nearly almost suspect they are just putting a strategy into need language because they hope this might sound “better” (“nvc-correct”) and that this would help to get what they want. It rarely produces the connection I am longing for.

    As long as I feel connected there is NO need to use any need language in my opinion. Speaking “needs-language” (sometimes) helps on the deep level of human connection, to overcome our jackal-images etc. but NEVER on a “negotiation level” about what strategies might serve best. There we just have to be as honest and open as possible with our “jackal” thoughts. And on the “need level”, as you wrote, the most important thing seems to me that people get really inside BEFORE they speak/write, check deeply what feelings arise, exploring those feelings, getting in touch with some beautiful needs, then … silence … and then the connection is established without any words about needs (or strategies).
    With warm greetings from cold Germany
    Markus Sikor

  12. Eric Says:

    Hi Conal,

    It sounds like you are suggesting that we will know we have found our deepest need when our body tells us we are fine with not having it met in a particular way. Am I understanding you correctly?

    If this is what you are suggesting, I would say that we can find our deepest need and still be attached to having it met in a particular way. I believe I have experienced this in myself and seen it in others. Or would you say that if this attachment to a particular strategy is still there, then our deepest need is to trust that the universe is abundant with other strategies to meet our needs?

    your thoughts?


  13. Itara O\'Connell Says:

    I enjoyed learning about the body tests- heart open/closed, and “I’m happy with this need met in other ways” test. I too was intrigued by the discussion of faux needs (and your website). This stimulated in me more awareness. Having experienced all that you shared I was agreement and feeling grateful for further awareness.

    As the day went on, I starting thinking about the times this demand energy lives in me. The times when stimulation/trigger(implying intensity)lives in me as a demand- and the expression of “needs” is an extension of that demand energy, I am more easily able to shift this demand energy in my request- and include more transparency. When given a message that is hard to hear, I feel flooded with energy, story, and sort it out enough to say “When I hear that, I’m upset and want comfort. Would you be willing to hear how that landed in me?” or “I’m feeling demand energy in me when you say that, and need grounding before I respond, would you be willing…..”
    I wonder if this is a half step toward the path of self connection as well as connection with others. Aren’t all needs strategies toward comfort?

    Thanks, Itara

  14. Niklas Says:

    Hey Conal!

    Very interesting discussion. I’m really enthused! Your article (and your whole blog btw.) helps me to see how there are still many opportunities to meet my need to contribute and have meaning by clarifying NVC-theory.

    The point I’d like to add about faux needs is this: One thing that can happen easily in the process of trying to clarify for myself what’s going on in me, is that my head is trying to get “the right words” for what “might” go on. That is, I intellectually analyze the situation and by association come up with fitting nvc-speak. Sometimes this even helps. But most of the time it doesn’t, because it’s trying to put something into words to which I haven’t connected yet. At the same time, a lot of the times, in which I really get triggered by something I see myself confronted with this “emotional mess” of anxiety and hopelessness. And I see myself very far from finding the gold. So this intellectual help is to remind me, that there indeed IS gold to be found. This gives me at least the courage to not distract myself but really look at it. But of course it cannot stop there.

    So my suggestion in the case of getting triggered by something is to look, whether what I see there or hear is in conflict with a strategy I trust to meet core needs of mine. I find this helpful since I do want to acknowledge my limitations before moving on to finding new possibilities to meeting my needs. What’s important to me too is to be clear about the fact that these are strategies, not needs. So the needs themselves are not endangered and can be taken care of differently. Still these strategies can be very important to me, since I don’t know any better way. And surely I want to stick to the strategy that in my eyes works best for meeting as many needs as possible.

    One personal example is what I’ve discovered in regard to my ex-girlfriend. I’ve found out that just the image of me being together with her meets my need for self-love. So everything that interfers with that image, is in conflict with one of the best strategies I know to meet my need for self-love. Certainly I see that there are other ways. I’m not always thinking of that image and I like myself anyway. Still, I don’t know very much which gives me such an excited and warm feeling but the image of being together with her. Although this strategy has serious disadvantages, since I know no way of bringing this about or let it happen, it gives me the glimpse of a hope that a lot of needs might get met by it. This tells me too that there other needs involved, like the one for connection and intimacy. The more needs at the same time a strategy meets, the more difficult I find it to let go of it. And I suspect that I haven’t even connected to all of the needs yet that are adressed by this issue.

    So, what do you think? Is this helpful in clarifying the process which leads us to confuse needs with faux needs?


  15. Markus Pallo Says:

    Hi Conal,

    i enjoyed reading your posting and especially the “Body-Clarity” test, it sounds very simple and ease to test, will try to integrate in my test suite :-)
    It remembers me somehow to “The Work” of Byron Katie(Is it true, that person x has to do y to meet my need ?) or Is it true that i have the need) by checking inside with questions. And also check the result again.

    I also appreciate the comment of Markus Sikor, the answers of myself are very often produced out of my “head” and i really have to make some effort to identify where i am (at which place). I try to figure out how long i can pay attention to observations inside of me, or around without telling me as much stories. So i check every single movement in detail and pay attention to where my mind is going to.

    great work, looking forward to continue reading on your blog


  16. conal Says:

    The whole discussion of the faux needs being served by CNVC in its certification process seems distorted. All “needs” of an institution are false in that institutions do not have needs as we in NVC define needs.
    Needs are the province of the individual not the social structure.
    The only way it makes sense to look at “needs” faux or not in terms of CNVC is to look at the needs of individuals who are affected by the institution.

    I guess you have a more limiting view of needs than I do. I see NVC’s current focus on needs of individuals as merely a developental (evolutionary) stage, rather than an inherent limitation. I suspect that there are indeed useful notions of needs that apply to institutions/organizations, and I’m openly curious about what those notions might be. I hope others are openly curious as well, because I expect discoveries to come from those who look rather than those convinced that there’s nothing to look for.

    All “needs” of an institution are false in that institutions do not have needs as we in NVC define needs. Where is the heart or the body or the mind of an institution to sense whether a need resonates truly or falsely with any test, not matter how useful.

    My interpretation is that you’re posing your lack of answers as an argument that answers don’t exist. I think you’re confusing existence with a particular method of observation. If I understand your argument, it’s that (a) you don’t foresee how to apply your current favorite accuracy test for needs-guessing in this situation, thus (b) no test exists, and therefore (c) the need itself doesn’t exist.

  17. conal Says:

    So I request that we [...] look to how we can protect the public in its various relationships to CNVC and NVC. How can CNVC assure itself that people they are blessing with the title of Certified CNVC Trainer are within the bounds of what they consider to be appropriate cohesiveness with the model Marshall developed.

    This question doesn’t interest me, since the whole strategy of blessing by a centralized, authorized institution is just a strategy, and a problematic one at that. For alternatives, see Emergence of NVC a Life-inspired, self-organizing vision to support learning, living, sharing, and evolving Nonviolent Communication.

    I’d also like to remind you and others of the topic of the post, which is noticing and clearing away faux needs and finding the real thing. I’d like replies to address that topic.

  18. NVC Evolves » Discussion group description Says:

    [...] and what detracts from clarity and connection.  For instance, what I’ve discussed as faux needs (or “vague demands“) and the Body-Clarity [...]

  19. Julie Lawrence Says:

    Thank you so much for this!! I’ve often noticed that when people express needs, it appears to me to be a strategy, even when needs words are being used. For example, in a workshop recently a participant was discussing some frustration with her children, and identified “companionship” as the need, which I saw as being a strategy for decreasing her frustration, not the unmet need which is causing the feelings. I think maybe people (especially new to NVC), when looking for the need, sometimes look from the point of view of “if my need for X was met, would it make this feeling go away?” rather than “is this the unmet need that’s giving rise to these feelings?”.

    Certification candidate

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