Needs (as qualities)

We want to get what we need and there are different kinds or levels of needs but it is even a bit more complicated than that. There at least three distinctly different phenomena which we refer to as needs. 1) There are strategies or choices. 2) There are events or occurrences. And 3) there are qualities or ways of being. We mentioned this back in Chapter One but we have to understand these differences if we are to most deeply know what we need such that we can make the choices which construct those needs.


"But what should I do?" is a question I often hear very early in a conversation I have with a new client. Or maybe I will be told, "There is nothing I can do, I have tried everything." Or if I have been reflecting hope to someone who knows there is no hope I may hear, "Okay, so what do you think I should do?" offered with the implied tone which adds, "so, I can prove to you that it won't work." We want to know what to do but sometimes we also believe we have already tried everything.

Ultimately we must do something different if we are going to construct a change in our circumstances. But this is the place to end up, not the place to start. If we start by trying to figure out what to do, we tend to do what we have always done, and thus get what we have always gotten. What I ultimately do arises as a 2° [Personal-material: choice] strategy. But if what I am doing isn't working, if I am going to construct a new way of being, I need to have access to some higher order perspectives.


Because the fact we are not getting what we need becomes apparent to us out of the awareness that the current events of our lives are not getting us what we need, the natural assumption is that what I need is for the current circumstances to be different, in the way I want them to be. When I tell my son to clean his room and his room isn't clean, what I need is for him to clean his room. What I need is an event in which I become satisfied.

This shift from attention to strategy (I just need to...) to attention to event (I just need for others to...) hinders our ability to respond creatively as it focuses on what we cannot change (the behavior of others) and takes our attention off our own ability to act differently. Nevertheless, there are some ways this formulation of what we need as an event is an improvement over the idea of a need as a strategy as it moves our awareness off of an impulse to react and brings to our attention the cause of our distress; both the event which caused it and the awareness we have of what it is about this event which we find bothersome.

Let's look at an example in the lives of the Johnsons to help us see how this works. You remember that Joe told three year old Jack not to ride his tricycle in the street and then, upon returning from the store, saw Jack ride into the street and Jack saw his dad see him. This is the event which alerted Joe to the fact that he was not getting what he needed. So what does he need?

At the level of a strategy, Joe needs to send Jack to his room in fulfillment of the consequence which Joe constructed for Jack when he initially confronted him about riding in the street. But Joe also needs to put away the stuff he has just bought and he needs a happy relationship with Jack. He doesn't want to always be yelling at Jack and he wants to show Jane that he can contain his anger. There are many things here which Joe needs.

At the level of event then Joe needs for Jack to put his tricycle away and go to his room. He needs the supplies put away. He needs smiles from Jack and praise from Jane.

Qualities in the Relationship

These events, if they should happen, will be evidence to Joe that there are certain qualities present not only in his relationships with Jack and Jane, but also with himself. It is these qualities which are the most durable goal for his striving as they are aspects of his relationships which are completely within his control to create and which are evidence that he is getting what he needs.

If Jack puts his tricycle away, Joe knows that he is consistent in his relationship with Jack and that they have a relationship in which his authority is secure. If the supplies get put away, Joe knows he is responsible for completing his tasks and is conscientious. If Jack smiles at him, he knows there is admiration and affection. And if Jane praises him, he knows he has approval. These are all valid and appropriate needs.

If Joe is able to discover out front the qualities he needs in his relationship with himself and his family he is able to act easily to create those qualities. If he knows he needs to be someone who is conscientious and consistent he will both put the supplies away and address Jack's transgression to ensure Jack knows what is and is not allowed. He needs admiration and affection so he will do it in a way which doesn't shame or belittle Jack and assures Jack that he is loved. And when he is able to do that he creates approval of his own behavior whether Jane sees it or knows of it. He is not waiting to get it from Jane but is creating it for himself.

The way I have laid out here the three perspectives on needs--strategies, events and qualities--make it seem as though they are three discrete things. As we explore them more deeply we discover they are more likes stages in a continuum of understanding. As we look at what strategies we might invoke, we look to what events we hope to create. As we look to what events we would like to see we discover the qualities we hope such events would generate.

You may recall back at the end of Chapter Seven when Larry was steamed because his mother forgot his birthday. Larry didn't know that he needed certain qualities in his relationship with his mother but could only see how he wanted her to be different. Since he couldn't change her but didn't want to feel powerless, he chose to act in a way that created the opposite of what he needs. He chose to have nothing to do with her. "See how powerful I am," he seemed to say, "I can create distance in my relationship with my mom."

Larry's story is a vivid example of something nearly everyone does from time to time. We all make choices which get us the opposite of what we need. So let's use this progression from strategy to event to quality to event to strategy to look at how we can act more powerfully to construct what we need.

Original Event: I had a birthday and got no acknowledgement from my mom.

Impulsive Strategy: I will write her off and have nothing to do with her.

Desired Event: I want to have my mom honor me on my special day.

Missing Quality: I need a relationship in which we feel appreciated by each other and know that we honor each other.

Expanded Event: I want us to give honor to each other and to show our appreciation.

Responsive Strategy: I will honor my mother with a phone call of appreciation.

What we don't have in this sequence is anything about what is going on with Larry's mother. All we know is that she didn't call. She might be ill. Or maybe she is just angry. She may have noticed a pattern in her relationship with Larry that the only time he calls her is when he needs something. She may be so fed up with his taking her for granted that she has decided not to call on his birthday. He doesn't like what she is doing. She doesn't like what he is doing.

But while neither one likes the strategy the other is choosing, they are both looking for the same quality in their relationship with the other. They both want a relationship in which they feel honored and appreciated.

Conflicts arise over strategies, not over qualities. This is a very important point which helps us as we look for ways to resolve conflict creatively. We have conflicts about the strategies we propose, not about the qualities we need. As long as the focus of our attention is on the strategies, we are looking at the source of the conflict. We have to move our attention to the qualities we are seeking to create if we are going to construct the solutions.

This problem arises all the time in legislative bodies. Legislation is about passing bills. The bill says, "This is what we will do." They are strategies. Some legislators think we should pay more taxes and some think we should pay less. There is a conflict between strategies. All agree that we want a lean government which does for the community those things which are best done collectively and that such action should be as efficient and effective as possible. There is no conflict about the qualities we are trying to create. The only question is how we will get do we act to create those qualities?

So we ultimately want to come together on a strategy. After all, if we only do what we have always done we will only get what we have always gotten. But before we figure out what we are going to do, let's be sure we know what we need.

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