NVC starts with the assumption that all behavior is a reflection of strategies we’re using to get our needs met. We all share needs – there is a helpful list of some at the CNVC site (and here is a PDF version of the feelings & needs inventory). Specific needs might not be universal but the fact that we all have needs is. And the priority of needs is certainly different for each person and even within ourselves across time. Whenever a need is met or not met, we have a feeling reaction. Our feelings, thus, provide us feedback on whether our needs are met. Of course that assumes that we are in touch with our feelings! Something many of us aren’t, at least in Western societies… So, this is something we need to learn and, again, consulting a list might help. Looking at our feelings helps us figure out whether a need is met or not. Once we’ve done that, we can look at the (un)met need. Most of our work will be when needs are unmet – but let’s not forget the times when our needs are met! That calls for a celebration (not necessarily something elaborate but acknowledging it is a great idea).
So, we discovered a feeling that is tied to an unmet need. Now what? What did we do or what were we planning to do to meet that need? That’s our strategy. Now, often it might be easier to go backwards: We observe a certain strategy, look for the need we might be attempting to meet, and use the feeling to find out if the strategy is working or not.
Now, will this always work? Will we always find a strategy that is as good (or maybe even better!) than the one inherited from culture? No, of course not. Sometimes other things might be going on. There might be some dragons lurking around that make it difficult for us to let go of one strategy and be satisfied with another. But whenever we want a need to be met with one strategy and one strategy only, it is best to step back and look at what’s going on. Sure, some strategies might be better than others (though we could probably explore what “better” means in this context) but there rarely, if ever, is only one strategy that can meet a particular need.
Let me give an example that hopefully clarifies all of this. Our cultural strategy for living a happy life is to get married. Yupp, that’s what this is: a strategy. Now, if we would like to let go of the couplemania, we could come up with new strategies! For that, though, we first have to figure out the underlying needs. While it might seem like one, “happiness” is not on the needs list… Let’s pick a few that are: connection, affection, touch, and intimacy. Since the one i consciously worked with is “touch,” i will continue my example using that as the need. Not being in a seepy relationship, i had trouble getting all my touch needs met! I realized that my upbringing got in the way: I was not at all used to giving hugs. So, i made the conscious decision to learn to hug people. I started with the easy ones: Giving hugs to friends who are big huggers is easy. I found it easier to hug women, so i began my hugucation with hugging women friends. Now, i’ve worked my way up to hugging certain male friends. Is my need being met? Well, based on my feelings it sure is (like happy, nurtured, thankful…). I still hesitate more often than i want to, and often regret not reaching out for a hug. But overall, i am getting much better! And i don’t have to be in a seepy relationship to get touched!
The idea here is not to demand that we replace certain strategies with others. The idea is to open ourselves up to possibilities! It can be a lot of fun to realize that we can get our needs met in ways we didn’t even think of before we started exploring strategies.