One of the most helpful things in NVC is the focus on the needs beneath the strategies, feelings and thoughts we experience. Needs are actionable in a way that feelings and thoughts are not. Strategies consciously based on needs are far more effective, efficient and satisfying than scattershot strategies we employ because we feel pressure to do something or feel better without any true understanding of what is really needed.
Let’s say you’ve identified a need for trust during an exercise. What does it mean to say the quality of trust is actionable? It means that you can consciously and deliberately begin to meet your need for trust.
At this point the first thing that comes to my mind is usually a strategy: I long for a relationship/partner/friend I can trust. Or: If I just had enough money, I could trust that I would have enough to cover my medical expenses/kids’ tuition/payments, etc. You might find it helpful to remember that money and love are considered ‘super-satisfiers.’ These are strategies that we imagine will meet a lot of our needs. They show up as a first-choice strategy quite often in my experience. And they can be misleading. I like to notice when they pop up. Just a gentle reminder that I am telling myself something that may not be true or helpful.
What would be helpful? I always start with Robert Gonzales’ two ways to meet a need:
There are two meanings to the phrase “meet your needs.”
One meaning is to request something of someone, giving him or her the opportunity to do something to contribute to your well-being. This is a function of action. I (or someone else) will use a strategy –take action – to fulfill a need.
Another way to ‘meet’ your need is to get acquainted with how this need lives in you as an expression of your essence. When we do this, when we touch that need, we are touching life.
We live the quality of this need in our very being.
This is a function of attention.*
*Robert Gonzales – from notes taken by Mary Kay Reinemann
I like to begin by turning my attention to the beauty of the need I long to meet, and to carry that longing with me into every conversation, every space I enter. I become the one who brings this quality of life into the room. What would it be like to embody trust? How could I bring trust into this moment? How does trust live in this moment? Is it a longing? Is it present? Can I offer it to myself? Trust myself? Can I offer it to another? Am I trust-worthy? What does that mean? How does it look?
What is the actual quality of trust as it lives in me in this moment? Complete honesty is needed here. Perhaps you cannot feel trust at all. Now you can trust yourself to acknowledge that you aren’t feeling it. This opens the door.
This focus on attention does not preclude action. I may choose to act by spending more time with people who share my values or situations in which I can trust myself not to abandon my own interests and values. I may join an organization to meet more people, some of whom may share my longing for trust. If I were single and wanted a partner, I might sign up with a dating service or matchmaker. If money is a strategy that would work for me, I might go to business school or prepare for work that would pay more. I take the first step, and all the while, I am using my needs and longings as the compass for my direction. Is this working? In this moment, as I actually live my life, what’s alive in me?
I hold my longing passionately and my strategies lightly. I intend to become the person who will bring trust into the room – no matter what. I may bring it as a longing, I may bring it as a confidence that I can trust myself. I may bring it as someone who is trustworthy in relationship in this moment. This is an exploration and an experiment. Let me know what you discover!