My kids came home from school proudly telling me they had learnt the difference between a need and a want. This is great. My son now knows he wants a play station, he does not need one and, to his great regret, he won’t get one. This is a distinction we make easily as adults: I want a VW camper; I don’t need it.
Yet when it comes to conflict in the workplace (and elsewhere), we tend to stipulate what we want more than what we need: “I want a promotion. I want my employer to uphold my grievance. I want a pay rise. I want my colleague sacked.”
An employer faced with a long list of wants can then be quick to conclude that the employee is unreasonable and there is no point discussing this as we won’t get anywhere. That’s missing a trick or two.
Look at the difference:
- I want a promotion. Actually I really need to be told I did a great job.
- I want my employer to uphold my grievance. I really need to be heard.
Of course distinguishing between wants and needs is not always easy but it’s always worthwhile asking yourself whether this is just one way of meeting a deeper need. Opening up this discussion obviously requires a desire to explore a solution, real listening and an understanding of what we, as people, need, such as belonging, recognition, personal growth.
I dealt with a case not long ago of a woman who had been on long term sick leave and was about to sue her employer for race discrimination. What she said she wanted was: her grievance to be upheld or the court to tell her she was right. In fact, what she really needed was her employer to acknowledge they had handled the restructure badly and allow her a way to return to work with her pride intact.
So next time an employee appears unreasonable in their demands, as Marvin Gaye would have sung: stop, look, listen to your heart, hear what it’s saying. Or in other words, take time to see whether there is a need behind that demand that you can meet in a different way before giving up on negotiation.
If you want to speak about conflict resolution in the workplace, give us a call. We love talking about that stuff!