Malinda Davenport-Crisp, PhD, LPC/MHSP 

Licensed Professional Counselor - Mental Health Service Provider  



Arguing: Are you getting your needs met?

Posted by MalindaDavenport on January 4, 2013 at 7:15 PM

“When we understand the needs that motivate our own and others behavior, we have no enemies.” Marshall Rosenberg


Have you noticed that even when we employ our best efforts to abide by the rules of communication, we can end conversations feeling invalidated and unheard? Those televised political debates and the social networking entanglements or diatribes, have highlighted a breakdown of magnificent proportions. It appears that judging, diagnosing, and criticizing are the typical ways we have been trained to respond to perspectives not our own. When I personally operate using those strategies, I am often ignored, misunderstood, argued against, and offended. Stranger still, I sometimes feel a strange heat of empowerment when blazing those judgmental, righteous opinions myself, especially if I can “back it up” with statistics and words like it’s about truth, God, or “right.”


During a debate or argument, at some intersection, I become lost or consumed in a fog of the other’s wrongness and my own rightness. Being right feels like a drug dispensing a promise of superiority. When arguing my rightness, I can’t imagine any other way but my own in meeting those basic universal needs. Any roadblocks on my side are minimized, and discrepancies on the other side are exaggerated in order to further validate my compulsion to be right. Finally, when I calm down, I feel a second of disgust or disillusionment, because no one won, mostly neither party was fully heard or respected.


When I point fingers, I don’t know about you, but I feel the oft heavy weight of the reality that we are all connected, and the opposite is true as well - when someone loses, in many respects, we both lose. Regarding the topic of communication , psychologist Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, stated it well:

“I would like to suggest that when our heads are filled with judgments and analyses that others are bad, greedy, irresponsible, lying, cheating, polluting the environment, valuing profit more than life, or behaving in other ways they shouldn’t, very few of them will be interested in our needs. If we want to protect the environment, and we go to a corporate executive with the attitude, “You know, you are really a killer of the planet, you have no right to abuse the land in this way,” we have severely impaired our chances of getting our needs met. It is a rare human being who can maintain focus on our needs when we are expressing them through images of their wrongness.”


I had an opportunity to test my own communication skills by being in an argument recently. In this case, I had a difficult time hearing criticism in the form of how I didn’t live up to the expectations that another had of me. There were “transgressions” on both sides (imagine that as an excuse!) since the other party had in actuality not lived up to mine either. And I told them so, which said accusation flew like a lead balloon.


What was going on? As with every argument, each person has their perspective and assertions. I saw discrepancies in what they were telling me; they were committing a transgression against me! FYI, I am no brain surgeon but I know Truth and deception, I can feel it in my bones. Yet, alas, I was set adrift into the rightness fog. God showed up I am glad to say and reminded me in that still small voice that I was not lost, I indeed had enough insight to recognize I needed to locate and use my compass.


That day, I reminded myself that all humans have more in common than we often believe we do. I found my compassion. In fact, reality is we each have the same needs. Empathy made me recognize our conflict was in how we were getting these needs met. The defensiveness came because neither one of us in the heat of the moment could see that we both could possibly work out a win-win mutually satisfying outcome. The verbalization and diagnosis of rightness and wrongness that was the fuel of the argument fire was the death nail. No more discussion.

Now maybe I wanted there to be a death nail. In that case, end of story. However, what if I wanted to work out issues for a basis of developing / maintaining a mutually workable relationship? If we had a “mulligan” or a “redo,” I would suggest that we discuss what we were feeling and what we needed to solve this problem. Rosenberg states that pain, fear, hurt and anger are tragic expressions of unmet needs.

If we ever get through the “rightness & wrongness” roadblock, we might be able to develop a plan to meet the actual need. The fear of not having the need met, or not valued, made us not ask for it to be met more clearly- “we have not, because we ask not.” Asking for what would make our lives more wonderful is hard sometimes. I don’t know if, in that moment, I could have found the words to express it. Plus what if they decide they won’t do it? That would be a hit. But if we don’t ask clearly, it most likely won’t be met. I would love to live in a world where folks can realize their needs can operate with the goal to work together for a win-win solution without beating the tar out of one another like enemies.

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