What do you think of when you think of honest self-expression? Do you think of telling people exactly what you think? Do you think of telling people what you want them to do? These forms of communication may sound honest, but they often skirt and confuse the real issues. Our needs for honesty take us to another level altogether. They have less to do with what we think and want and more to do with what we feel and need. Being honest at that level holds great potential for making life more wonderful, and I hope this Provision will show you a way to make it so.
As the weeks go by in this series, I continue to learn much about how best to express our universal needs. One way to keep an eye on how that is emerging is to visit one of our companion websites,www.CelebrateEmpathy.com, on a regular basis. The now 4-page handout, Understanding Needs & Feelings, includes my own constantly-evolving Wheel of Needs as well as a condensed summary of Manfred Max-Neef’s model of Human Scale Development. Instead of evaluating wealth solely in financial terms, Max-Neef, who hails from Chile, is one of those economists who asks larger questions about how well a society is meeting the needs of its people.
Max-Neef understands needs in the same, broad scope as we have been exploring in this series of Provisions. They are certainly far broader than money, which is actually a strategy for meeting needs rather than a need itself. Money is an invention of human society, and not that old of an invention at that (only a few thousand years). For the vast majority of human history and pre-history, needs were met without the use of money through bartering and sharing. At times like these, during economic recessions and depressions, people are rediscovering these ancient practices as we search for new strategies to meet our needs.
That’s what needs do: they motivate human behavior. When needs are being met, they generate positive emotions and motivate appreciative behaviors. When needs are not being met, they generate negative emotions and motivate acquisitive behaviors. Something there is that doesn’t love an unmet need.
Over the past five weeks, I have reviewed the first half of my Wheel of Needs diagram. We have considered our subsistence needs, as well as our needs for safety, community, empathy, and work. Those are pretty basic, when you think about it. If we don’t feel safe, either personally or in society, then it circumscribes the realm of the possible. If we don’t have others upon whom we can depend and trust to share power with, then we come up short more often than not. If those others blame, judge, evaluate, and criticize our efforts and our way of being in the world, then it’s hard to develop a happy and life-giving relationship with either ourselves or others. And if we do no work, then our bodies, minds, and spirits will suffer.
Now we come around the horn and begin to review those needs that are on the opposite sides of the wheel from the needs we have already covered. That is no accident. The needs are arranged on the wheel in ways the illuminate a variety of relationships. The needs that are next to each other on the wheel share the same energies and support the same ends. It’s hard to meet our subsistence needs, for example, without meeting our needs for work and safety. Life takes work whether it comes to putting food on the table or securing our environment against possible threats.
That’s the way all the needs work as you move around the wheel. Pick any one need and look at the two needs on either side. A little reflection will begin to tease out new insights as to how the needs are related and how best to meet your needs when one or another is lacking.
Needs on opposite sides of the wheel represent opposite ends of a spectrum. Their energies are different and they challenge us to come from different perspectives and positions. It’s not that they are opposed to the needs on the other side of the wheel, it’s rather that they pull us in opposite directions. Understanding, appreciating, and navigating that pull is the secret of life.
How’s that for a nice gift! The secret of life, revealed, and you didn’t even have to hike to the top of a mountain to consult with a guru. Getting our needs met, not just some of our needs but all of our needs, is the secret of life. The fact that that secret eludes so many people does not change the secret. When one or more needs are not being fully met, there is a hole that won’t leave us alone. We cannot be whole with holes.
The pull on the other end of the spectrum from empathy is honesty. Simply put, empathy is receiving respectfully what’s alive with someone else. Honesty is expressing respectfully what’s alive with us. Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum! Both are needed, both are essential, but they are very different movements on the trek of life.
From moment to moment, it’s always a judgment call as to which movement we take. And it’s not always clear as to which movement will be the most in any given situation. Do I seek to understand where someone else is coming from (empathy)? Or do I seek to express where I am coming from (honesty)? The movement represents a dance and it takes mindfulness as well as practice to get the steps right.
Most of the time, in my experience, it’s better to lead with empathy. I say in my experience because most of the time, when I impulsively lead with honesty, I end up in trouble. I get my motor caught in deep weeds and its hard, if not impossible, to get out. So I have learned, the hard way, that it’s better to lead with empathy.
Echoing St. Francis’ prayer, Stephen Covey pegs this as the fifth habit in his bestselling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.” Covey writes, “‘Seek first to understand’ involves a very deep shift in paradigm. We typically seek first to be understood. Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply. They’re either speaking or preparing to speak. They’re filtering everything through their own paradigms, reading their autobiography into other people’s lives” (p. 239).
After we express empathy, after we connect with respect, after we understand the feelings and needs of others, then we can express what’s alive with us • and, at that point, it often comes out in totally different ways than if we had gone first. Once we hear where someone else is coming from, we can reframe where we are coming from and express it with clarity, courage, and compassion. That’s the connection between empathy and honesty. The better we are at one, the better we will become at the other.
Honesty is not about giving someone a piece of our mind. Honesty is not about being rude, opinionated, and judgmental. Honesty is about walking the talk, sharing our needs, and making requests. When we can do those three things with clarity, courage, and compassion, we really are making life more wonderful both for ourselves and for others.
Walking the Talk. Honesty starts with integrity. If we are not honest with ourselves, then we cannot be honest with others. If we are out of step and out of sync with our values, then others will not want to hear what we have to say. How many leaders have fallen out of favor in just this way! It has happened so often that people are no longer surprised when another prominent person bites the dust in this way. We just roll our eyes as if to say, “You can’t trust anyone anymore.” But honesty requires trust and trust requires integrity.
Sharing our Needs. This is probably the most overlooked part of honest self-expression. We go right to what we think would make us feel better • “I want you to stop talking that way.” • rather than to what needs are being stimulated when someone talks that way • “I need respect, consideration, and affirmation”. Remember the Wheel of Needs. By sharing our needs without immediately sharing our ideas as to what people should do to meet those needs, we give people the chance to understand us better and to express empathy.
People are more likely to do that if, after we honestly express our needs using the language on the Wheel of Needs chart, we stop talking and allow those needs to sink in. If we rush to put forward whatever we think the other should start or stop doing to make the situation better, the other will often take issue with the strategy without appreciating and connecting with needs. When it comes to arguing about strategies there is no end! When it comes to understanding needs, however, there is a common bond of experience and humanity.
Making Requests. One way to allow the needs to sink in before you start figuring out solutions is to state the needs that are alive for you and then to ask, “Would you be willing to tell me what you heard me say?” That’s what Nonviolent Communication refers to as a connection request. It’s a way of pausing the conversation and of checking in with how your honest self-expression is being received before moving on to action requests. Action requests will come, but they will go better and you will have more courage if you take time to first connect at the level of feelings and needs.
Action requests can involve all sorts of things. One of the beauties about getting clear and connected around the needs is that all kinds of new ideas emerge as to how those needs could be better met. This isn’t about comprising your ideas or sacrificing your boundaries, this is about generating better ideas through facilitating understanding, openness, and respect. Once people hear that you are not demanding “my way or the highway”, once your honest self-expression is about meeting needs rather than throwing your weight around, then they become partners in the search solutions. That is the key to making things work.
We all need honesty, both from ourselves and from others. Unfortunately, it gets compromised in countless situations and ways. If we take this Provision to heart, however, we may find an approach that can increase the incidence of honesty in our lives and in our world. It’s not about being rude and pushy to get our own ways. It’s rather about being integral and whole, sharing our needs and making requests, until those proverbial win-win solutions rise to the top.
Coaching Inquiries: How would you rate the honesty quotient in your life? What would assist you to express your needs more fully? How can you avoid coming across as self-centered and demanding? What opportunities exist for you to express honesty in new ways and places in the week ahead? How will you make it so?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
I am so enjoying your weekly Provisions. This week’s horse whisperer story is no exception. You have a gift of tapping into ideas, resources and information from very varied, rich and sometimes unexpected sources. Thank you.
Often an issue is one I like to keep in my computer files so I will do a cut and paste in Word. It’s a bit cumbersome. So I have one request: can you set it up so we can hit a “print” button” to get a printable version? And perhaps a “send” button to make it easy to forward? Similar to other newsletters and magazines out there. (Ed. Note: We don’t have that capacity right now, but the most printer-friendly edition can be found at our AvantGo site. Hope that helps.)
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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