You “want” or you “need”? Knowing the difference to resolve conflicts

The findings of my research and studies on human behaviour indicate that though we get motivated by various stimuli, at different times and at varying levels of intensity, we all share fundamental motivational factors or “shared human needs”.

Different Directions Want_Need

In fact, many mediators and counselors rely on the identification of these needs to create common grounds between individuals involved in conflicts. Generally, they do not start their process by addressing what people “want”. Their first aim is to uncover the deeper concerns or needs of each party. “Wants’ are only strategies to meet those deeper needs, and mediators and counsellors address these much later in the process.


Let me give you a simple example. A couple of years ago, shortly after our two beloved cats died, I suggested to my husband that we should get a dog. He wasn’t too keen on the idea given that we travel a lot and that a dog would need walking, daily care, and so on. I was starting to dig in my heels with my “want a dog idea” when my husband asked me: “What is your core need? “ (By the way, I’m the one who studied communication based on needs and who was supposed to ask these types of questions, but my husband kindly said that my skills have robbed off on him over time, hence his questioning. He got two brownie points for that recognition!)


When I heard the word “need”, I knew immediately that this was the right question to ask. I almost magically shifted my “wanting” a dog, towards trying to identify why I wanted it and what was my deeper or core need. I discovered that what I was really needing was to nurture and care for living creatures.


It’s only then that strategies to meet my needs emerged, and there were many, e.g.: become a volunteer to rescue wildlife or volunteer at an animal shelter or volunteer to help other human beings, which I opted to do in the end. The beauty in finding my deeper need is that multiple strategies unfolded. In addition, we were more likely to find one that would meet both our respective needs: my need for nurturing and my husband’s need for peace of mind whilst travelling and for his own care for animals (the poor dog would be lonely and spend days after days at the shelter. Instead of being divided, we united in both sharing our deep care for animals even though we expressed it differently! We now have two lovely kittens that we both adore. I also volunteer one day per week in suicide prevention, which I find extremely fulfilling and that truly meet my needs for care.




1. When facing conflicting “wants” with others (or even within yourself), ask yourself what deeper need(s) are you trying to achieve. Some common deep needs include belonging, connection, honesty, meaning, autonomy, joy, well-being and peace.


2. Ask the other person the same thing, i.e.: If you were getting what you “want” what deep need of yours would be met? Go to the “core”.


3. You know that you have gotten to both your “core needs”, when what you come up with is shared by all other human beings on the planet! For example, we ALL have needs for belonging, connection, peace, and so on. If what you come up with is not something shared by all human beings, you are still at the “want” level, which limits your possible strategies.


4. Discuss the many strategies that could get your core needs E.g.: How can we both meet our need for “care” and “peace”?


5. Agree on a strategy and put into place.


Copyright © 2015 by Sylvie Vanasse. All rights reserved