top of page

9: Emotional Alignment Practice #1 - Consider Feelings and Needs

This series considers the importance of developing that intra- and inter-personal harmony by offering holistic practice considerations. They are intended as regular practices to support being in ‘right-relationship’ with yourself and with others. However, they are not prescriptions so much as offerings from which you may choose, modify or replace as you see fit.

The emphasis here is on the interconnected whole that is each of us and that surrounds us. As you read through these, please take time to reflect on how you experience these interconnections to enhance your consciousness.

For an an understanding of the intent and context this blog post, please visit the blog series introduction.

To comment on this post, please scroll to the bottom of the web-page.


When you are confronted with a difficult situation with others, rather than react, then consider the feelings and needs of the other person as well as those of yourself.

“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

- Stephen R. Covey (Habit #5)

We spend much of our life working through what others did wrong or what we did wrong, assigning blame when and where it protects us or shames us, often unconsciously. Dwelling on the past or concerned about the future. Making meaning based on assumptions. It is the social nature of the human brain, a self-protection and self-judgment mechanism, that has been further cemented by years of social conditioning.

Underneath all of our posturing and protective exteriors, most human beings (and mammals for that matter) have similar underlying needs: sustenance, security, respect, connection, belonging and acceptance, to name just a few. Yet each person has also more unique needs based on individual experiences and preferences that impact their feelings. How we acknowledge and honor these needs is about showing real empathy for others and support for ourselves.

When our own needs aren’t being met, our efforts to communicate the disappointment, often show up as blame. Even when we are simply trying to provide feedback. By highlighting specific behaviours and their impact, it can be perceived as an attack by the other person. The reaction by that person can then be one of defensive counter-blame, which is then received by the first person as a counter-attack. This ‘vicious cycle’ or reinforcing feedback loop is called ‘Escalation’ in Systems Thinking. These are sensitive moments – even among the thickest of skins.

What sits underneath all of the blame and counter-blame are expressions of feelings and needs, improperly stated, simply because we’ve never learned how to express ourselves or understand others this way. It’s just not how we have done it, but it is much needed.

So how can we find ways to respect our feelings and needs and understand those of others?

Due to the self-consumed nature of today's society, this can be a challenge at first. It takes some work to put aside our own reactive programming to see through this lens, but once you do, it can be a liberating experience. Freedom from the attachments we hold for an outcome that in the end often has less value than we imagine or expect.

Key considerations include:

- Stopping to listen fully to what is being communicated both verbally and non-verbally

- Observe without evaluating

- To put aside judgments of right or wrong, guilt or innocence, of both others and ourselves

- Recognise we are responsible for our own thoughts, feelings and actions

- To not compare ourselves and others to anyone else (it can make everyone miserable)

- To bring forward a compassionate sense of curiosity for others and ourselves, knowing that we all have the same basic needs that get expressed differently at times.

"The ability to observe without evaluating

is the highest form of intelligence."

- Jiddu Krishnamurti

Consider this:

Think about a situation where there is a conflict or strong feelings or differences with someone else.

- How are you feeling as you imagine the conflict/difference? What is missing for you that might be driving those feelings? Is it a level of certainty? Is it a sense of respect? Is it that something didn’t meet your expectations?

- What does this say about your specific needs in this situation? What did you need from that other person – really need at a deeper level? Was it to have been listened to? To be given a sense that the person cares about what you think? To feel more certainty? To feel a sense of connection?

- What are the assumptions you are making about the other person that have been generated by those feelings, thoughts and needs? Are they true? What other alternatives may be true?

Consider their needs and feelings.

- Put yourself in their position, as the person that you know them to be. How might you feel and what might you need?

- If helpful, ask them with curiosity and care about how they are feeling and what they are ultimately needing from you to help them.

Now consider both of your feelings and needs together. The next step is to work together physically or imaginatively side by side to a solution about the issue or challenge you are both facing together, not from opposite positions. This way the focus isn’t on them or you, but about what can be done to identify and resolve the underlying issue, while considering both of your needs in the situation. You may find that your and/or their needs were based on misperception and simply fall away upon dialogue and understanding.

Make requests positive and specific. When you find yourself needing to make a request based on your needs, there are a few simple considerations to make.

- The first is to frame it in positive language of what you want. If you pose the statement as something you do NOT want, it creates ambiguity as to what you are actually asking for.

For example, if I say to someone, “I would appreciate it if you could refrain from telling me what to do,” as nicely put as that is, the person will likely be unclear as to what it is they should be doing instead.

- It will also help someone be able to act on a request if you use concrete action terms that can be completed. Usually this would include expressing your feelings and needs to provide the context and using language that can be received well.

Using my above example: “It’s important for me to know that I can work through these challenges to build confidence, so instead of telling me what to do, would you please wait until I complete it on my own and advise me if I request the help?”

Soften Your Perspective. When you are feeling either disappointed or defensive, understanding feelings and needs can seem impossible. Here are some key things you can do to help adopt this lens:

1) Breathe. Deeply. Thrice. It helps to reduce the tension in your muscles, slow your heart rate and lower the production of cortisol, a damaging stress hormone. As you do, focus on your breath and feel its depth and quality, just for three breaths.

2) When you feel some composure: Repeat back the facts of what they said, in a way that follows their logic, even if word for word. Avoid communicating any judgments or opinions that you have or even that they made. By repeating back what they said, you will short-circuit the story being made in your head about what it all means. It will also allow that person to feel that you are hearing them and not reacting to them. And when they hear their own approximate words they might realise that what they’ve said isn’t what they mean to say.

It might sound like this: “May I ask a question to help make sure I’m clear about what you are trying to tell me? What I’m hearing here is that I told you I was going leave at 3:30pm from the office to meet you by 4pm, but I did not arrive until 5pm. Is that correct.”

You are checking to make sure you are clear, but doing so from a state of curiosity and openness. And with that you can then express how they might be feeling:

“I can imagine you might be feeling rather disappointed because you expected me to be home by 4pm.”

3) As you take a moment to express your next thoughts, consider what it is that you are feeling and why – what needs of yours aren’t being met? What concern do you have? It might be that you need some understanding and support about what you were dealing with at work that delayed you from leaving on time or at least some benefit of their doubt.

Then think about the other person. What is their underlying need? Try to explore what their need is by asking about it with whatever seems right and compassionate:

“I understand and hear your disappointment. Is it that were you worried about me and need to feel secure that I am safe?” Or to take it even deeper: “Are you disappointed because you need to know that our relationship is important to me?”

You may hear back then that isn’t what they need, and you may need to ask them to tell you what it is that they need from you. Or you may need to simply ask “What do you feel you need right now that would be helpful?”

This is most definitely an art over science and these are just my own suggestions. It takes practice to overcome our reactive and defensive programming and be open and curious about what is happening for them emotionally, regardless of what words they may be uttering. Doing so will help you move forward with a better understanding of each other and avoid the destructive conflict that typically escalates.

My approach:

I work to apply what I have learned in my readings from Marshall Rosenberg’s book “Non-Violent Communication”, which is a practical and meaningful book that has shifted many people’s approach to how they relate to themselves and others. In fact, Marshall Rosenberg has been involved in helping people around the world from resolving personal relationship challenges and large scale ethnic conflict.

I find it beneficial to take time, pause, and consider what I have observed of myself and then of others, before responding. I’m certainly not doing so as frequently as I would like – there are many challenges, especially when I am tired, distracted or hungry and my ability to filter the limbic response that can occur. But with patience, acceptance and practice, it becomes easier.

More than anything else, I use the methodology to reframe my own experience of life, acknowledging and addressing how I feel and what I need from myself, whether the issue is current or in the past. This is around self-responsibility and recognizing that no one else creates meaning for me or defines my experience of life. It's also helpful in my efforts to learn about who I am, how I have been and to think about how I want to be.

This approach has benefited my coaching clients who are often dealing with various levels of conflict and misunderstandings in their lives. Lastly, the book by Marshall Rosenberg has some specific approaches related to mediating disputes, which also serves my practice.


After years of coaching and mediating disputes, I have observed how limited is our ability to see ourselves or other people. We quickly generate stories and make assumptions in our heads that others can’t know or understand. Yet they often determine how we respond. The same goes for other people’s responses to us. These are driven by feelings that, if left unaddressed, can spoil relationships both with others and within ourselves.

The key is to shift our perception from someone blaming or yelling at us to expressions of feelings and needs. We then no longer need to 'win' an argument, as is predominantly our culture. To ‘win’ becomes to understand what they are communicating, how they feel and what they need, while taking our own feelings and needs into consideration, no matter how much we may initially judge them as being unfair, wrong or inhuman.

Doing this not only reduces levels of stress in our lives, it also helps us be more alive ato maintain relationships that could be lost, develop creative solutions, and/or helps free us from the mental/emotional constraints of our own making. We no longer waste the time or emotional energy that is sucked from our lives from unnecessary conflicts, so we can focus on the things that would make, as Marshall Rosenberg says, "life more wonderful for ourselves".

Be patient with yourself, it is not easy to change your conditioning and programming, but it is entirely possible, and worth it. There is so much more richness to Non-Violent Communication that you can find through either the book or YouTube narration by Marshall Rosenberg, listed below.



Rosenberg, Marshall (2003), “Non-Violent Communication” (Puddle Dancer Press)

A wonderful reading on Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg:

To comment on this post, please scroll to the bottom of the web-page.


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page