We all have needs, such as adequate food & shelter, connection with others, love, autonomy, and security, to name a few. Much of our lives are spent finding ways to meet those needs. Conflict often arises when we choose unsuitable ways of meeting our needs.

For example, you may crave friendship, but you’re feeling that your usual lunch buddy does not listen to you well enough. So you could ask yourself: Is this the appropriate person to meet my need for friendship? Is this the best setting? Is this the right time? Consider that maybe this friend would love to listen to you, but is uncomfortable with the public setting and limited amount of time for a deep conversation. Or maybe she would rather stay focused on work issues during lunch and getting together after work would be better.

If you find yourself in a situation in which your needs are not being met, one way to avoid further tension is to ask yourself: What do I need?

The answer may surprise you, particularly when you feel an argument about to begin. You may find you don’t even care that much about the issue being debated – you’ve just gotten swept-up in it. It is very easy to get caught-up in a disagreement over an issue that really isn’t all that important to you. Yes, your opinions may differ, but that may be less important than maintaining the relationship or limiting the amount of time spent arguing. If you discover that is the case, several options are available to you: you can stop arguing, change the subject, or leave.

But there may be times when you have a strong need that isn’t getting met in the situation and the underlying issue is important to you. That calls for exploring whether your initial response is the best way to meet that need. Our first responses often involve what we think other people should do, rather than how we could adjust.

“I need him/her to (fill-in the blank), that’s what I need!!” We’ve all heard or thought (or said) those words, usually when feeling conflict.

But trying to get someone else to conform to our expectations is only one approach for meeting our needs, and a pretty unsuccessful one, at that. We’re confusing what we need with how we go about getting it. This is a difficult distinction, because we often use the word “need” in place of “want”. The need is what we’re trying to get out of a given approach. For example, I may say, “I need her to pick up her socks off the floor”. What I’m really saying is I need order. Having her pick up her socks is my chosen strategy for meeting that need for order.

Once you’ve identified what you’re really looking for, you can ask what other ways there are of getting what you need. In the above example, other strategies for meeting my need for order would be for me to pick up the socks myself or for me to go into another, more orderly, room. If you are having trouble thinking of other options in a tense situation, enlist the help of a friend or two – they’ll have a different perspective and may be able to give you some ideas. The point is not to deny our true needs, but to seek effective ways of meeting them.