Winning Conversations with ‘POISE NOW’: Step 6 - Needs

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 28 September 2016
Mary Rafferty
Consensus Mediation
Issues covered:

The ultimate goal in any difficult conversation is to get from positional polarised arguing to productive problem-solving.

“Every criticism, judgment, diagnosis, and expression of anger is the tragic expression of an unmet need.”
Visionary leader and creator of ‘Non-Violent Communication’ Marshall Rosenberg

It’s easy to get caught up in arguments and wanting to be right.

Instead we need to take time for the crucial step of making each person’s core needs, interests or concerns explicit.

You cannot resolve the problem until you know what’s really at stake for each person in the conversation

This is important for a number of reasons:

  • It’s an effective way of calming heated emotions (ours or theirs) because we get clarity on the core issues at stake for either ourselves or the other person. 
  • It helps us define more constructively what exactly the problem is we need to solve
  • Greater clarity on core needs, means you can be more flexible and creative about how the problem gets solved. 

Get clear on what’s really at stake for you:

Let’s say for example we have a concern about punctuality.

It’s easy to get focused on the problem behaviour—he’s late, he’s missing deadlines, he’s unreliable.   When we raise it with the other person, the discussion can easily drift into an argument about whether he did come late last week on the Wednesday or not.

But focusing on:

'What do I need, what’s most important in this situation' keeps us on a more constructive and future-focused track.

It can be helpful to precede that question with ’what am I most concerned about here’.

In the example above, the concern could be anything from ’the customers have to wait if Tom is late’ to ‘Tom doesn’t seem very committed to the work and I’m concerned that the project won’t get completed to standard on time’.

Each of these then translates into different needs that we can express to Tom and that throw up that throw up different issues to be explored and resolved.

For example, the first could be a need that customers have no more than 3 minutes to wait. The second could be ‘project completed on time to X standard’.

A third version could be where we interpret the unpunctual behaviour as a sign of disrespect.

By forcing ourselves to consider ‘what’s my unmet need here’, we get clear on whether it is something concrete e.g. time-keeping on Tom’s part or something more subtle such as our need to feel respected by Tom. That can take us right back to the start again - what’s my purpose in this conversation, or should I be having the discussion at all.

Get clear on what’s really at stake for the other person:

For the other person, it’s important to keep their core needs in mind too.

  • What’s at stake for them in this conversation?
  • What needs do they have that we need to draw out and acknowledge?

If we go back to Tom, perhaps there are concrete needs around lack of resources or family matters that are impacting his time-keeping.

Whether you are actually able to meet these needs and satisfy these concerns or not is less relevant at this point. At this stage your focus is to help them get clarity on what’s most important to them. It also demonstrates that you are interested in them and have concern for their needs.

In particular, if the other person is reacting emotionally, it is a clear signal that there is something at stake for them. Helping identify this will put conversation on a calmer and more focused footing.

Use tentative but probing questions e.g.

   ‘What is it that you are most annoyed about?’

   ‘Say more about what’s important to you here…’

‘What is it you want me to understand about how you see this situation…’

Use closed, reflective statements and questions then to confirm with them what it is they are most upset about or what it is that they need.

Frame this in a neutral and non-blaming way.

Closed questions help you direct and focus the discussion instead of letting the person repeat or go off on tangents.


Make notes on the following:

  • What is/are the key need(s) that you are hoping to meet in this conversation?
  • What’s at stake for you here?
  • Does what you’ve noted in ‘Purpose’ and ‘Share’ capture this accurately and adequately?
  • What might be the other person’s core needs?
  • What might be at stake for them?
This article is correct at 28/09/2016

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Mary Rafferty
Consensus Mediation

The main content of this article was provided by Mary Rafferty. Contact telephone number is +00 (353) 71 9651966 or +00 (353) 86 8252423 or email

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