Let’s say you are willing to make the effort to manage the difficult people in your life and help them get the feeling they are missing, the feeling that causes them to behave the way they do. How can you tell what is the feeling they really need?
Needs are a complex issue. They are feelings that are so strong that you believe you cannot live without them. Each person’s needs are very individual, but they definitely get them out of control. If you can control a need, it is no longer a need but more of a preference.
Many people confuse wishes, desires, preferences, values and needs. Although they all have something in common, they differ in intensity.
Try this activity to understand the difference between them:
- Make a list of 10 things you wish. Start each sentence with “I wish…” and include things you want, but do nothing to achieve. For example, “I wish I had time off to go see my new nephews who live overseas”.
- Make a list of 10 things you want. Start each sentence with “I want…” and include concrete things you actually intend to achieve. For example, “I want to go on a cruise during the next school holiday”.
- Make a list of 10 things you prefer. Start each sentence with “I prefer… and state two options, one of which you find better than the other. For example, “I prefer a cruise that leaves from the Gold Coast to one that leaves from Airlie Beach”.
- Make a list of 10 things that are important to you and that you value. Start each sentence with “It’s very important for me to…” and include things that help you make decisions and prioritize your life. For example, “It’s very important for me to have dinner with my kids every evening”.
- Make a list of 10 things you need and must have in your life. Start each sentence with “I need…” and include things you cannot compromise on. For example, “I need to get 8 hours of sleep every night”.
If you look at your own lists, you will find that needs create a small sense of panic. They make you think something like, “I must have/do this or…”
If you have a discussion or an interaction with a difficult person and you feel their demands are a bit too strong and that they are having a little panic about their request, ask them, “What will happen if you don’t get it?” or “What will happen if things don’t happen the way you want them?” or “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”
This question creates a loop in their brain and the answer does not matter. Their subconscious will answer itself and lower the difficult person’s tension from “I absolutely must have it” to “OK, well, I won’t die without it, so maybe it’s not the end of the world after all”.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow presented the basic human needs as a hierarchy that we fulfill gradually as we evolve and develop. We need to satisfy our basic needs and only then can we focus on other things.
Not all feelings can be easily analyzed based on these needs, partly because they mix physical and emotion items (like sex) and because the order of fulfillment in real life does not match the hierarchy. Anthony Robbins separated the emotional areas from the physical and reworked them into 6 needs, of which 4 are more basic than the others.
All people have 4 basic emotional needs that they will do anything, and I mean anything, to get. A need is something we think we must have and this is why we will do anything to get it, even if that thing is not good for us, not healthy, is going to get us into trouble and might ruin our life. That is why it is a need – a small panic attack about losing something we think we cannot live without.
Difficult people cannot satisfy some emotional need they think they cannot live without by themselves, which is why they are so “needy”.
The Top 4 Emotional Needs
- Certainty – A sense of security, safety and comfort in the world
- Variety – A sense of change, interest and adventure
- Significance – A sense of uniqueness, individuality and being special
- Love & Connection – A sense of acceptance, belonging and support
You can take every behavior and map it to these four needs. Remember, difficult people have a missing feeling that they “must” fulfill. When you are managing a difficult person, instead of judging them (which will get you nowhere), ask yourself “What is the feeling he/she is missing? Is it Certainty, Variety, Significance or Love & Connection?”
Mapping difficult behavior to needs
- Exhibitionists – since they want people to see them and pay attention to them by being different, they are missing significance.
- Experts – wanting acknowledgment for their knowledge and abilities it is a sign they are missing significance. An expert wants to be special and is looking for recognition.
- Jokers – those who do it for the fun, probably need variety, but jokers, particularly those who are sarcastic, are missing a feeling of significance.
- Hijackers – they can have more than one missing need. They may try to have some connection with others and compel others to stay in contact with them. They may lack significance and try to be in the center. They may even certainty and satisfy their need by controlling the conversation and sorting out their thoughts and issues in others’ presence.
- Party poopers – negativity and complaining can be done to fulfill one or two needs. It can done to express a lack of certainty (“The world is not functioning the way it should be and I must protest about it”) or to gain significance (“I am unique, I am different to you, you are all having fun without me and I am miserable”).
- Devil’s advocates – they try to stick out from the crowd, which means they need significance.
- Puppies – these people need others’ approvals and will do anything to gain love & connection.
- Dinosaurs – they are afraid of new things, they want things to stay the same and variety threatens them. What they seek is certainty.
- Hostile – these people lack certainty too. Any state of war is a sign that this person is not secure and perceives the situation as being unsafe and unstable.
- Nitpickers – they behave this way for one or a mix of two missing feelings. The first one is certainty. They need life to follow the rules and procedures in order for them to function. If things are not the way they need to be, they have little panic attacks and nitpick to make others follow the same guidelines and keep life secure and stable. The other missing feeling can be significance. They may be nitpicking to show how knowledgeable and special they are.
- Show offs – they are usually not satisfied with the level of their achievements and they need others to tell them that they are achievers, so they need significance.
- Non-stick or Teflon-coated – these people are afraid of change and prefer stability and security. They behave the way they do to gain certainty and minimize risk.
- Shy – much like the Teflon-coated, they do not want to take risks. They prefer the safe approach and search for certainty. When others rush to their aid and speak for them, it also makes them feel supported, which is a form of love & connection.
- Astronauts and Loners – they have a smaller tank of love and connection and they gain certainty and significance from doing their own thing. They may also gain variety from daydreaming in the midst of a life that bores them.
- Competitors – they behave that way for one or a mix of two reasons. Sometimes they seek variety and adventure. They like a competition for the excitement of the competition. However, if winning matters to them more than anything else, they want significance.
- Troublemakers – these people seek attention. They can do it from lack of love & connection or lack of significance.
- Gossips – they usually feel weak and use information as a weapon to gain significance. Sometimes, they use that information to gain love & connection too, if they think it will make the person they gossip with like them more.
- Two-faced or Vague – these people are have a false belief that if they change their position to what they think the other person wants to hear, they will be more accepted. Their behavior seeks love & connection. If they have grown up in a bullying environment, they may be trying to avoid punishment and gain certainty.
- The “special one” – any desire to be special is a sign that this person is lacking a sense of significance.
- Approval seekers – these people want others to like them and approve of their behavior. They seek love & connection with the false belief that others can give them that feeling.
Join me next week for some ideas to help a difficult person and tips on how to give a difficult person what they need.
Have an easy, fulfilling day,
This post is part of the series How to Manage Difficult People:
- How to manage difficult people: Energy Consumers
- How to manage difficult people: Types of difficulties
- How to Manage Difficult People: More Difficult People
- How to Manage Difficult People: Who is Not Difficult
- How to Manage Difficult People: What are They Missing?
- How to Manage Difficult People: What They Really Need
- How to Manage Difficult People: Helping a Difficult Person
- How to Manage Difficult People Using "Why?" and "What?"
- How to Manage Difficult People: A Holistic Approach