March 6th, 2007

Distinguishing needs from vague demands

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.

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6 Responses to “Distinguishing needs from vague demands”

  1. Fred Says:

    Obviously NVC used as a technique without the intention or state of presence behind it will backfire.
    I speak from personal experience. What I have learned is: Empathy when you can -Honesty when you can’t
    & we’re speaking about the ability to enter into that precious state of presence.So when someone is saying that it doesn’t meet their need for X they are already telling you have they have chosen option B,Honesty.When we make a statement like “I do not believe that the speaker is really connected with his or her needs” we are already in jackal mode,because we are not connected with that person-we are connected to our thoughts about that person. At that point you can either speak to what’s alive in you or better yet guess to whats alive in the other person

  2. The Hollosphere » Blog Archive » Sounds like NVC, must be NVC ...? Says:

    [...] What I read above is our same old habitual thinking cloaked a new formula for talking. This is an example of my least favorite form of expressing needs: “That doesn’t meet my need for…” which sounds to me like a vague demand, and is a form that also usually has some criticism wrapped up in it. In the above I hear a statement that, while less obviously ouchy than the original statement, is outwardly directed and still rooted in judgment. [...]

  3. conal Says:

    Hi Fred. Welcome, and thanks for contributing. I agree with much of what you say, particularly “Empathy when you can -Honesty when you can’t”. Where I’m not with you is the idea that “vague demands”, as I’ve called them, are expressions of honesty in the consciousness of NVC, rather than cloaked moralism. Since this issue has come up for me before and I’d like to give it an airing, I’ve written more on it in today’s post, Vague demands and “honesty”.

  4. Bren Hardt Says:

    Conal: I am grateful to you for creating this blog and for the clarity it gives me about the 4 tools rather than 4 steps… my intention is to be more conscious of the distinction between true yummy connection and “techniques”. Thank you.

  5. The Hollosphere » Blog Archive » Connecting with NVC Consciousness: It’s Not in the Words Says:

    [...] inspires compassion and what doesn’t and trust that feedback. You might enjoy Conal’s post on distinguishing needs from vague demands helpful. I encourage you to notice when you’re not fully inspired by your own or someone [...]

  6. The Hollosphere » Blog Archive » Sounds like NVC, must be NVC …? Says:

    [...] needs: “That doesn’t meet my need for…” which sounds to me like a vague demand, and is a form that also usually has some criticism wrapped up in it. In the above I hear a [...]

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