We make choices all the time. Some decisions are important, with long-term consequences, such as, “Shall I tell my supervisor what I really think of her?” Others aren’t as critical, such as “Will I have fries for lunch?” We can make more effective choices if we consider how they satisfy our basic needs.
In his book, Choice Theory: A New Psychology of Personal Freedom, the basic needs that Dr. William Glasser proposes as common to all (survival/security, love and belonging, power, freedom, and fun) seem to be very self-oriented. Yet, Dr. Glasser also says that society works as well as it does because most of us see that we need other people. People might not be easy to get along with, but it feels better to struggle together than to struggle alone.
How might knowing your needs help you to make choices? Consider your supervisor: Why would you tell her off? Well, that would temporarily satisfy your need for power! Unfortunately, it may also end your employment, leaving you with a diminished sense of power, plus reduced satisfaction of your survival/security need.
A more effective way to satisfy your power need could be through personal accomplishment, by improving your skills. And, becoming a more skilled person could attract a supervisor who respects you, further satisfying the power need.
Even a trivial choice, such as, “Fries with that?” has need-satisfying elements. Having fries responds to the basic survival need of wanting a full belly. If you are dieting, having fries may also satisfy your need for freedom by defying restrictions.
On the other hand, if you view fries as bad for your health, then you may avoid them as they threaten your survival. You might even perceive that having fries will make you less attractive, reducing the possibility of satisfying your need for love and belonging!
While you won’t want to analyze every choice you make in terms of its need-satisfaction, it can sometimes help. Let’s look at Larry and Harry, and how knowing their basic needs can help them make effective choices in a difficult situation.
Larry loves his workplace. He gets to work early to have coffee with the gang and he often stays late to finish a job. His coworkers have great respect for Larry’s ability to solve problems. He works enthusiastically, joking with coworkers and customers alike, many of whom have become friends. Larry’s wife, busy with her own work and social group, is genuinely happy that he enjoys his fellow workers and that he socializes with them.
Harry works at the same place and is also very good at his job. Unlike Larry, who loves a boisterous atmosphere, Harry prefers to work quietly in his corner office. He enjoys the recognition that he gets as senior person, and while he is cordial to all, he seldom socializes with the group. Harry’s home is precious to him. Every morning over breakfast he discusses news with his wife, and he spends his weekends in the garden, showing his children how he cares for his prize-winning azaleas.
What basic needs are being met? Larry’s high need for love and belonging is satisfied by his friendships with workers and customers. His need for fun is met by the positive reception to his jokes. It may surprise you to learn that Larry has a high need for power that is being met as well. His fellow workers show their respect by saying, “Got a difficult problem? Take it to Larry; if he can’t fix it, no one can.” That’s very satisfying to the power need.
Harry is also satisfying his basic needs. His high need for love and belonging is satisfied by his close relationship with his wife and children. Harry’s power need is somewhat satisfied by the recognition he gets at work, and also by the prizes he wins for his garden. Fun for Harry is seeing a new plant flourish, and nowhere does he feel more free than in his garden: designing landscapes, arranging colours, and creating his tiny piece of paradise.
Forced retirement is now about to push both Larry and Harry out of the company. What choices can they make so they’ll continue meeting their needs?
Larry’s needs were so thoroughly met at work that he’s at risk of being devastated. But it’s not necessarily so. Larry, like any of us, has the opportunity to choose. He can choose to feel hurt and cut himself off from the company he loved. Or, he can choose to continue his relationships with his friends (former coworkers and customers), and satisfy his power need in other ways.
Harry might seem better off because so many of his needs were met outside of work. However, he also has choices. If he chooses to be bitter about his treatment, he may withdraw from his family and lose interest in his garden. Or he could choose to meet his power need in other ways: by speaking at his garden club or by giving fundraising tours for a charity that he supports.
When you look at your own activities (which are, after all, the result of choices that you make), do you see how they satisfy your basic needs?
Need-satisfying work environments can help retention and improve the quality of products and services. If you’d like to learn more, visit me at the Michelin Health & Safety Fair…