#1 – Certainty (The First in a Series of Needs)
If you’ve read any number of my previous articles, you’ll know that I’m convinced that Perspective, Awareness and Clarity are the keys to successful communication (and therefore business and relationships). The power of perspective cannot be underestimated and I hope to add to yours today. I also write much about the fact that our individual perspectives mean we each have a unique set of values that we operate by and that govern us at our deepest levels of decision making. The various values within a team can be what pull it in different directions and cohesion is based on establishing where the shared values overlap lies. Aside from the unique set of values that comes from our individual experience, as human beings we have a number of shared, over-arching needs (or things we value) that have come to be known as the 6 Core Human Needs.
As leaders, team mates, and self-aware individuals, part of our ability to operate ourselves well and to understand the needs of those around us hinges on our understanding and meeting of these needs. Tony Robbins put it beautifully when he said:
Whatever emotion you’re after, whatever vehicle you pursue — building a business, getting married, raising a family, traveling the world — whatever you think your nirvana is, there are six basic, universal needs that make us tick and drive all human behaviour. Combined, they are the force behind the crazy things (other) people do and the great things we do. 😉 We all have the same six needs, but how we value those needs and in what order, determines the direction of our life.– Tony Robbins
6 needs that we each seek as human beings, whether we realise it or not. 6 needs that govern the decisions we make and how we feel about the way life treats us. 6 needs that, if unmet, can cause major disruption to a team as a whole and elicit undesirable behaviour from the most rational human being. Interestingly, very few of these needs require or can be satisfied by money – which is why people are more likely to leave teams because of people issues rather than pay issues.
So in the name of Perspective, Awareness and Clarity, over the next 6 weeks, we’re going to touch on each of these 6 needs so that you can consider them for yourself, consider them for your team, and make sure that they are being met.
The first Core Human Need is CERTAINTY.
Meeting the Need for Certainty
Certainty is the first of 4 needs of the Personality. Put another way, it’s our need for comfort, control, security, predictability, to know something for sure. We all have a need to be able to breath out, to feel calm and to feel like we can relax. Certainty is what keeps us sane and the cortisol levels (the stress hormone) within a manageable range. Our need for certainty is what determines how we handle risk – whether we are risk-seeking / comfortable with risk, or risk-averse.
Life, like aviation, is about balancing what we can control versus what we can’t, and maintaining a healthy version of reality about that balance. Our routine in aviation is super important to us. We take comfort in obtaining the relevant information from the various sources – weather, flight operations, information on our aircraft, the flight plan, the fuel state, the number of passengers and cargo. We plan each flight meticulously down to the last litre of fuel, each minute of time, each degree of heading. We spend hours of our lives studying the procedures that will help us deal with any possible problem that may present itself because it makes us proficient and gives us a immediate control. We try and keep our thinking “5 minutes ahead of the aircraft” so that we’re never caught on the back foot when the next required step arrives. We have our next headings, radio frequencies, altitudes, actions all programmed in and ready for us to flip a switch when needed. Our visual scan of our instruments in flight gathers constant feedback that corresponds to our expectation of how the aircraft is flying. As a pilot, it’s one of your worst nightmares when the feedback doesn’t correspond with expectation and we sadistically joke about asking each other “What’s it doing now?” as if the aircraft has more control than we do.
In less obvious ways, this need for certainty leaks into other areas of our lives. Many of us dress a certain way so that we feel precise, ready and professional. We keep our cars, our houses, our cars, our computers “just so” so that we can find things and so that we maintain a feeling of control and order where we can. It’s human nature to seek a level of certainty and security and only when we feel that we have it in the desired areas, can we relax in other areas and “let go”.
The human need for certainty is why our biggest need in relationship with one another is trust. Regardless of the nature of the relationship, it cannot continue unless there is at least some basis for trust, and the level of that trust determines the level of success of the relationship. Trust means that we know something for sure. We can make certain calculations based on what we feel are the parameters of that relationship and this makes us feel secure. The greatest destroyer of relationship (be it business or personal) is a betrayal of trust. Regardless of the way in which the trust was betrayed, it shakes the foundation of certainty, and therefore hits at one of our greatest core needs and calls everything into question.
Our need for certainty is why more people prefer to earn a steady pay-check than become an entrepreneur. Most people like to know for sure what their capacity at the end of the month will be. Those who follow entrepreneurship seek a different kind of certainty. Predominantly, they seek the certainty of dictating their own terms and value it over the certainty of a steady pay-check – control of their time, control of their value, control of the other remaining human needs we’ll come to discuss.
This core need is why people’s money is one of the most deeply reactive things that you can “play with”. This is why, if salaries are paid a day late, the reaction is so strong. Why as soon as you wish to discuss finances with someone, things get awkward and their guard goes up. Money is the most basic way that people understand that they have certainty. It is far from being the only or the most healthy way to gain certainty – we all know someone with plenty of moola who doesn’t feel calm and in control. Money provides the illusion of control. Sometimes, meeting these basic human needs means giving money away. Always, meeting the needs has more to do with the feeling derived from the action rather than the presence or use of money. Some of the calmest and most certain people in this world don’t have two cents to rub together. Money alone cannot buy you certainty.
The Unmet Need for Certainty
You don’t have to go very far to find the behaviour that marks this need not being met. We all lie somewhere on the spectrum – some of us need more control than others to feel safe, and some of us are able to relax with relatively low levels of certainty. We all know someone who’d be described as “highly strung” as well as their laid-back compatriot who never seems to get off the couch. The only difference between these two people is that one overtly seeks control / security / certainty over as much as possible, whilst the other may feel they have so little control that they seek it where they can – in their own decision to not get off the couch which they will defend and reason to the death.
This human need for certainty is what sends a 3-year old into a spiral if you don’t cut their sandwiches the right way. It’s what destabilises only children when they become a sibling. It’s what rattles our cages when we feel competition, have our offices, responsibilities or routines moved or messed with, can’t get the things we previously took for granted (like water, electricity, fuel and cash), or don’t know where our lives are headed over the next immediate period of time. This need is why we behave badly when people let us down, queue jump, or act in ways that we deem to be short-sighted.
When we lose control or perceive that we’re out of control in one area, we (often subconsciously) try and gain control in another area to maintain balance. Grown adults whose certainty has been threatened may turn into children as their emotions overflow and they act out. If you’ve ever had a child new to boarding school, you may have experienced their “push back” on the weekends as they rebel against the control of the week and expand their own free will all over your home and boundaries once back in their own space. Addiction can be the result of seeking certainty where you have none – even when that certainty is that you know how to make the feelings you can’t process go away.
When we packed up our lives and moved country many years ago, my then nearly-two-year-old stopped talking for a year. When your whole life seems to have disappeared and be out of your control, you control what you can – even if that happens on a deeply psychological level and through extraordinary will power. Our bodies display the symptoms of uncertainty in many ways on a daily basis and if you’ve lacked certainly for an extended period, these symptoms can become chronic and debilitating. How many of you come through a tough day or personal crisis with a stiff neck, headache, or sore back?
The reason the Boeing Max 8 crashes of Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines hit at the core of us all lies largely in this human need for certainty. If you’re a passenger, you need to know that the people sitting in the pointy end of your aircraft are competent and in control. When that certainty is taken away from both passengers and crew, no one wants to get airborne. As crew, we dedicate our lives to intricately knowing with certainty how our systems, procedures and equipment work so that we can operate with certainty on those levels. The work we do to gain and maintain this certainty is what balances the factors we can’t control like the weather, and allow us to stay confident in our ability to perform our duties well. When the certainty of our systems, procedures and equipment is compromised, the balance tips towards a ratio we’re unable to reconcile. It is a massive betrayal of trust – to play with that certainty – to play with “what we know for sure”.
To end off this first part of our 6 part series, that right there is THE question. What do you know for sure? It’s the first line of a routine of communication I established with my son when he was first old enough to talk which we maintain to this day, and the belief in our answers is profoundly stabilising. It’s a foundational question, and we all need at least one thing that we know for sure when all else fails. It is a Core Human Need. For many, it’s faith. Faith that there is a higher being who knows what the plan is, even when you’re unsure. For some, it’s family – the belief that you are part of a team or community who have your back and who would come for you if you needed them to. Some have only themselves to believe in and out of this pool of people are born some of history’s greats – because they are shaken by little when they are genuinely certain of their core.
What are you sure of? In what ways do you need to feel certain, how is that currently being challenged and how can you find balance? In what ways do your team need to feel certain? Can you have a discussion with them about their individual and team needs for certainty? What behaviours may be a sign that someone feels uncertain and is seeking control and how can you empathise and support them? What small measures can you implement to ensure there is always something you and your team know for sure, because from this foundation we can venture forth with confidence, inquisitiveness and innovation.
by Christen Killick
June 17th, 2019
Next articles in The 6 Core Human Needs series:
#2 – UNcertainty
#3 – The Need For Significance
#4 – The Need For Love & Connection
#5 – The Need For Growth
#6 – The Need For Contribution
6 Core Human Needs – The Bottom Line
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