NVC Question #9

Not quite a question, more of a prompt for discussion: 

I find it very interesting to say “We don’t talk except to meet our needs.” At one level it’s trivially true because you don’t do anything without a reason. At another, it’s not as true. Often the need in question is ‘fill dead air’ or ‘satisfy appropriate social convention’ or other things that suggest there might not be a ‘point’ to saying what we are saying, so it’s kind of half right. Or of course, as he points out, we might be mad and want to express that without actually needing a remedy as such. As a response one might say that this isn’t a productive thing to do and one would benefit if they only had this conversation with a concrete end in mind, which opens up the question of enforcing incentive patterns or other such less tangible goals. It also raises a point that I missed while reading, which is that the word need here seems to be overloaded in the sense that he’s using it to mean something distinct from its ordinary English meaning, although it includes ordinary needs. He doesn’t say so outright, but he implies that what he calls needs includes what I would usually call wants. It’s a vague distinction in English along a gradient, but certainly when he refers to needs he’s talking about something far less strong than most people do when they say they need something. I’ve been told that “need is a strong word” could be considered one of my catch phrases. (Reminds me of George Carlin: ” ‘My needs aren’t being met.’ Drop some of your needs!) 


I am in general interested in better understanding what is meant by NVC needs. I think what distinguishes needs from strategies (which are more like wants) is that with strategies you can ask “why do you want that” and get something more fundamental as an answer, but with needs you can’t. Well, maybe not exactly, since you can certainly answer “why do you need food?” with “so I don’t die”. But I think it’s a decent heuristic. And something is a need instead of a strategy if you are going to keep experiencing a negative emotion until you get it met one way or the other. I agree with you completely that “need is a strong word”, and I’m still okay with using it for NVC-type needs since they’re so general, and they never depend on a specific other person doing anything. So if I need to “be heard” and you don’t feel like listening I can always listen to myself for find someone else to listen to me, filling the need that way. And I think it’s fair to say that if I’m never “heard” about anything I’ll probably keep being unhappy about it.

When I think about what needs people are (subconsciously) trying to meet with dead-air conversations, I’d guess connection, community, acceptance, appreciation, emotional safety, empathy, reassurance, respect, understanding, fun, inspiration etc. probably do play into motivation, but that this type of conversation typically doesn’t end up meeting anyone’s needs. NVC says that we’re much more likely to actually get these needs met if we’re aware of them in the moment. So part of what I got from NVC is that regardless of what other people typically do, it’s in my interest to be aware of what needs I’m trying to meet whenever I do anything, certainly including communicating with other people. So the “we only talk to get our needs met” point I was making is trivially true for people in general, but is perhaps better read as a recommendation—make it more than trivially true for yourself and some of the questions about “how do I say X with NVC” will resolve themselves, since the answer is that saying X won’t actually meet your needs. I get the impression that you understand this point.

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