I often hear from NVC folks (including externally certified trainers) phrases of the form “That doesn’t meet my need for XYZ”, where XYZ might be “respect”, (emotional) “safety”, “honesty”, “integrity”, “mutuality”, “autonomy”, “appreciation”, “consideration”, “accountability”, “trust”, “being valued”, etc. Occasionally the needs might even be “learning”, “connection”, “order”. Most of the time, especially with the former list of “needs”, I do not believe the speaker is really connected with her or his needs and speaking from needs consciousness (in the NVC sense). Instead of needs, I hear vague demands.
The energy of an NVC expression of need differs fundamentally from that of demand. With demand, the statement is directed at another person. For instance, “That doesn’t meet my need for respect” directed with anger at another person, as if the other person should be meeting that need for the speaker. Or directed in fear, as if the other person is in any way necessary for the fulfillment of the need. In contrast, when I connect deeply with my need, I know that the need can be met in an infinite number of ways. With that understanding, I release any illusion of dependence on another person’s actions.
It is possible that a statement like “That doesn’t meet my need for XYZ” is simply an inner observation, with no blame, demand, or expectation. In that case, the speaker’s energy (conveyed in voice tone, facial expression, and body language) would be quite different.
Here’s a simple test to distinguish an inner observation from a “vague demand”. Follow the phrase “That doesn’t meet my need for XYZ” with the phrase “… and I’m totally fine with meeting that need in other ways.” See if this combination rings true and has a sense of spaciousness around ways to get the need met and peaceful acceptance of the other person’s action. Otherwise, dig deeper for the need until the other person and his/her actions play no role, and try the test again.
Why did I give two lists of “need” words above? Because I almost always hear the words in the first list as vague demands rather than needs. I’ve heard the term “extrinsic needs” vs “intrinsic needs” for the distinction I’m describing. I prefer the descriptiveness of “vague demand”, reserving the word “need” for the NVC sense of universal needs, unattached to any strategy (person or action). As with “vague requests”, the listener doesn’t know what actions could help meet the need, and as with “demands”, the listener is unlikely to feel inspired to want to help.