In Oren Jay Sofer’s new book, Say What You Mean, he reintroduces our problem with communication and offers a beautiful solution. In short, the problem we have is that we communicate with power language. We act as though there are limited resources and we must compete for them. Becoming aggressive or competitively confrontational is the American way. This is our favorite mode of communicating - we respect those whom are willing to “win” arguments and quickly raise them to the status of lawyer or politician. Conflict avoidance is a personal favorite of mine. If conflict is too scary or intense, we utilize changing the subject or not showing up. I have a bad habit of not answering the phone before thinking about how the conversation will play out and if the person will be confrontational with me. The real reason that I avoid is because I have an underlying habit of communicating passivity. Passivity is a yielding to conflict or acquiescing to the other. In so doing, we give up our own needs and typically lose touch with who we are and where our limits are. The fourth mode is passive aggression. In this mode of communication one is hostile in a subtle fashion, all the while pretending that there is not a conflict. None of us are married to these four modes of communication but may find that we alternate between the four depending on the person we are talking to or the situation at hand.
Instead of conflict, I have been trying to establish the habit of understanding needs. We all have needs - and they are numerous. Each conflict is born out of an essential need. Oren provides numerous mindful techniques for us to get in touch with our own needs as well as hear the needs of the other. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has become, for me, a practical tool for assessing what it is I am really after in each conversation I have. We all need food, water, shelter and rest. These are not wants and they are not selfish to desire. Once these needs are met, we need security and safety - a sense that our physical and psychological health are and will be stable. Next, (and this is where I often get stuck), we need belongingness. I find that in almost all conversations I have, there is a need to be heard, validated and accepted. This does not mean that the other must agree but instead, we need to be included and accepted - not rejected. Again - this is a need. It is not selfish. To be included, not marginalized, and instead folded into the family, team, or organization is a basic human need. If one group rejects us we will invariably search for another.
Moving from power-based language to needs-based language is not just a shift in language. It’s first a shift in perspective and how we see the world. It helps us me to see, for instance, that people are not acting in a hurtful manner simply with the purpose of transgressing, offending, or causing hurt. From a needs-based perspective, people hurt me and I may hurt them because we are needing something - not because one party has done something to deserve it. Hurt people hurt. And it’s not personal. Someone is acting hurtful toward you because they are attempting to heal. It’s not an effective way to heal but it is tried and true, and American; we seek justice by creating hurt against the source of hurt. It’s the role of our courts and it’s the role of our psyches: locate the source of hurt and punish it. And if we cannot locate the source, find a scapegoat. A needs-based approach offers us a true way to heal - by removing blame toward the other and seeking sources of recovery, health, and wellness. Instead of revenge, we locate the wound within and find out what will help it heal. Hint: most healing involves vulnerability with other humans. Yes, hurt people hurt but healed people heal. Find those that have healed and they will show you the way.