In his book, Choice Theory, William Glasser introduces four basic psychological needs and explains how people make choices to meet one or more of these needs. He also elaborates on how the degree of these needs can affect behavior and in turn relationships. His work can help us better understand ourselves and our behavior as well as those of other people. It also helps us understand why conflicts rise between two people or in a certain situation.
Glasser maintains that people have four basic psychological needs apart from survival. These are the need for love and sense of belonging, the need for power, the need for freedom, and the need for fun. People with more similar degree of need in each aspect tend to be more compatible, while those with opposite degree of need are more likely to experience conflicts. Glasser states that these needs drive our behavior and guide our choices, even if we are not aware of them. Every person has their level of satisfaction for each need, and when met, they do not feel the urge to look for more.
Need for love and sense of belonging
The need for love and sense of belonging is a designed in our genes. That is why we even feel a universal love for all beings and even people we may not know. People welcome and go through hardships for their loved ones. They may even suffer and delay their happiness only to maintain relationships. Even though human beings try to avoid pain and suffering, they may tolerate them for a long time with the hope that they can become closer to others and feel better in the end.
Human beings behave in ways that they believe will eventually make them feel good. This may involve acts of kindness, enjoying something individually, or even hurt other people. Glasser provides an example where some people enjoy humiliating others, but at the expense of depriving themselves of their love and affection. We need others and go to lengths to maintain relationships so that we can meet our need for love and sense of belonging. This aspect has been introduced in Maslaw’s hierarchy of needs.
How it affects our behavior
People enjoy and sometimes prefer working, having fun, and even dining with others. This allows them to become closer and make bonds. On the other hand, there are people who look for instant enjoyment. They may seem happy and energetic, but they are unable to become close to others. Glasser warns that these people may use humor as a means to humiliate and show hate. These people are likely to have more conflicts with others. Those with a strong sense of belonging prefer to be around others more often, while for others a few gatherings every now and then may be enough. Nonetheless, closeness is an essential to relationships.
Need for Power
Glasser explains that the need for power resides in all of us and it substitutes the need for survival at an early stage. Some people cannot contain their greed for more even though they have more than enough. The need for power can go beyond achieving and obtaining new things. The need for power can seriously harm relationships. Maintaining a relationship with a power seeking person can become very challenging. Such people seek power at the expense of their relationships, therefore, never manage to keep their relationships for long. Power is also included in Hofstede’s cultural dimensions, explain how it shapes their collective behavior.
On the other hand, there are people who satisfy this need by helping others. Some try to meet their need for power by also empowering others along the way. Such behavior is more visible in team works. We need to feel seen and heard to feel empowered. People who have the ability to pay attention to others and listen to them meet their need for power and offer the same feeling to others. Working together and getting along requires listening to each other to manage conflicts and differences of opinion.
How it affects behavior
A person with a high level of need for power can work alongside people with less need for power. Those with an average or little need for power can work together without reoccurring problems. However, two people with high thirst for power are likely to spark a competing environment or constantly experience conflicts. Emotional Intelligence involves understand this level of need (self-awareness) and direct or contain it rather than being driven by it (self-management). Glasser states that we need to learn to understand and learn to live with our need for power, which leads to a world where people realize that working with others brings them more power than overpowering them.
Need for Freedom
Glasser considers the need for freedom a psychological need. The need for freedom directly affects a person’s need for independence, autonomy, and sense of responsibility. While some people need little time for themselves, others prefer being on their own rather than constantly be around others. A person with a high level of need for freedom becomes more autonomous and tends to take more responsibilities. On the other hand, those with less level of need for freedom prefer being around others and rely on others for help.
A high need for power is destructive to other people’s need for freedom. Those who are driven by power assert control over others. The more control a person poses onto others, the more they threaten their sense of freedom. Someone who values their freedom and autonomy cannot stand a person with a high need for power. A person suppressed by another does not have the freedom to express ideas and beliefs. Glasser maintains that we lose our ability to be creative when we lose our freedom. When no one allows us to express ourselves, or even when we have that freedom but we are not heard, creativity becomes damaging more than being constructive.
How it affects behavior
The more freedom we have in expressing ourselves and meeting our needs without limiting the sense of freedom in others, the better we can coexist, become creative, and serve each other. Needless to say that people who willingly give their power to others, automatically limit their own degree of freedom. Understanding our level of need for freedom helps us to better fulfil this need. It also enables us to understand other people and realize why some people prefer working on their own rather than working in groups and with teams.
Need for fun
The last psychological need is the need for fun. According to Glasser, fun is the genetic reward for learning. We enjoy having fun and playing allows us to experience fun and learn at the same time. He states that the moment fun is taken out of an experience, learning stops. Fulfilling this need seems to be the easiest. People enjoy each other’s company because they learn about and from each other. The moment the need for power or high need for freedom interrupts a relationship, fun fades.
This psychological need can be related to the child in transactional analysis. In transactional analysis (a method of psychotherapy), every person is said to have three aspects: parent, adult, and child. It is said that when two people enjoy each other’s company while having fun (even if it looks like to serious people interacting in a controlled manner), they are in fact interacting at the level of the child. When a person’s inner child is given love and attention, and when they have a chance to interact with other through activities such as learning, exploring, and venturing, they experience fun.
How it affects behavior
While fulfilling the need for fun can energize a person and lead to closeness in a relationship, a high need can become a barrier to a person’s autonomy and sense of responsibility. In an extreme case, this leads to childish behavior. Such a person needs constant support, but is not able to provide it. As long as you take care of them and manage yourself, this person will be fun to work with, but the moment you need help or give them a responsibility, problems surface. Indulgence has been included in Hofstede’s cultural dimensions to indicate the degree to which societies lean towards responsibility or prefer indulgence.
Basic psychological needs in practice
One aspect of relationships is related to our ability to understand when we need and what we want. A person who is aware of the level of their needs can fulfill them more successfully. They also realize where and to what extent they can give up their needs and wants in order to make a compromise in a relationship. Knowledge of our needs enables us to make a decision about certain boundaries and realize when it is time to step away from a relationship.
For example, a person who has an average need for power and freedom, may enjoy working with others, but if a person with high level of need for power and high need for fun attempts to transfer their responsibilities onto them, they may not tolerate it for long. If the person is aware of their needs and understands that his freedom is being limited, they can opt out at an early stage without having to deal with future conflicts. On the other hand, a person who feels a need for power can channel it to achieve better results and improve their performance rather than becoming a controlling colleague or manager. They can even create a team spirit in which everyone gets to fulfill their need for power.
Psychological Needs and EQ
In terms of social awareness and relationship management, this information helps you better understand why people behave a certain way, and how you can manage your relationships and avoid reoccurring conflicts. A team requires people who have a moderate need for power and a relatively moderate need for freedom so that they can effectively work together towards a common goal, therefore, selection of members has to be done with basic psychological needs in mind. In a situation where competition rules the environment, people with high need for power can achieve the best result and feel fulfilled at the same time. Knowledge of these needs can help better manage relationships.
People’s behaviors are driven by their basic psychological needs. The need for love and sense of belonging, power, freedom, and fun are introduced by Glasser to explain an individual’s choices and behaviors. Based on these needs, people interact and create relationships. Understanding these basic psychological needs can allow people to better understand and manage themselves, in addition to creating more effective and long lasting relationships.