#3 – The Need For Significance

Welcome to Week 3 of our series on the 6 Core Human Needs – the human needs we all share the need for, which govern every decision we make, and which are responsible for some fairly interesting behaviour when they’re not being met!  The first two needs were Certainty, and UNcertainty – and if you missed those, you can follow the links to catch up.  This week, we’re examining the 3rd Core Human Need – that of Significance.

We all need to feel important, to stand out, to feel special, unique, or needed.  As human beings, we chart our progress and existence by measuring ourselves against others, and this takes various different forms.  Our relationships with others help us plot the course of our lives; whether those relationships are our relationship with family, life long or new friends, business relationships, or on the world stage.  Our impact on the world and the people that live in it is reflected back to us through our actions and interactions, and these reflections help us measure our significance.  We all want to be of consequence somehow, and we’ll go to great pains to make ourselves feel significant.

Meeting the Need For Significance

When we strive to meet our need for significance, we do it in one of two ways: productive means or destructive means.  When we use productive means to meet this need, it calls us to stand up for what we believe in, what we accomplish and for the value that we bring to the world we live in.  We all want to count for something, whether that’s within our family, in the work we do, or in society at large.

For many years, I flew aircraft in a uniform where the number of bars on my shoulders represented my significance within that field.  I stood strong in the authority that those bars gave me because I knew I’d earned them, because I loved what I did, and because I did it well.  For those years, my significance in that environment was trusted – a done deal – no matter whether I flew your average citizen, politicians, sportsmen, or business people at the height of their careers.  In that environment, my significance was secured – they needed me to do a job they couldn’t do and nobody questioned my ability to do that job.  Because I’d never known any difference, it was an interesting walk when I initially stepped out of that uniform and into business dressed “only” as a woman.  The significance I didn’t know I and others had placed on my uniform was gone and I had to re-establish myself and my value without the indicators which had previously spoken for me.  Now, I measure my significance in the joy and productivity gained by the team members I work with when we streamline a business through their communication and strategy.  I see teams walk that process and come out the other end with renewed vision, energy and focus.  I see them building new things in new ways with determination that before was scattered or worn down, and creating renewed relationship and understanding with each other where before there was division and lack of clarity.

We all seek to satisfy feeling effective and our relationships (both at home and at work) suffer when we fail to meet this need.  Mostly, this need is for each of us to individually satisfy, and the problem arises when we ask others to satisfy it for us.  When we KNOW we are working to our greatest potential, contributing everything we can in a way that makes us feel joyful, then we feel secure in our value.  When we are uncertain or somehow prevented from contributing fully, then we doubt our value and look to others to reaffirm it for us.  This is where some of the less positive ways of asserting our significance come in.

The Unmet Need For Significance

When we fail to assert and measure our significance / value / importance in healthy ways that allow us to fully contribute and be appreciated for that contribution, we find less positive ways to fulfil this need.  We may create noise, discomfort or disorganisation for others in our plea to be acknowledged.  We may stand our ground in the middle of a business day over the most simple of steps in a process – defending our right to do it a certain way or emphasising the time and energy needed for us to contribute what is required of us.  We may withhold information that stops someone else being able to do their job – all in an attempt to satisfy our unmet and unrecognised need for significance.

The unmet need for significance is where the bullies hang out – whether in the playground, on the sports field, or in our adult versions of life.  We have a subconscious need to fit into the tribe, and if we can’t lead it, then we’ll undermine it.  At its extremes, the subconscious need for significance can result in self-harm, or emotional or physical harm to others.  In less extreme measures, this need accounts for the majority of tattoos, unconventional dress codes and off-the-wall character traits.  Sometimes, we feel significant just by creating significant problems.

As much as we’ve sworn we’ll be positive today and only speak good and worthy thoughts, the very first conversation we have may descend quickly into a comparison of problems and general evils inflicted on us.  There are no shortage of things to complain about in Zimbabwe at present, and our need to feel valued is as evident in our indignation as it is in the destruction caused by those seeking significance in the running of our country.

We all seek to differentiate ourselves, and when the circumstances surrounding us and the way we think about them curtail our ability to do so, we start to die internally.  Regaining our significance lies in how we fight that, and as discussed, we can choose positive or negative ways to fight for our need.

How significant do you feel today?  Are you meeting your own need for significance and if not, how can you do so in positive ways?  Can you learn something new?  Can you build something more?  Can you help a friend?  Where do you see others trying to meet their need for significance?  How many of the people you’ve judged because they are loud, dress differently, interact differently or withhold what you need from them may be seeking significance themselves?  Are there gentle ways that you can help reflect their significance to them?

I guarantee you we’re all significant, evidenced only by the fact that we’re here.  My faith tells me that we’re all uniquely wonderful – powerful even – and that we’re built for a unique purpose.  I am significant to the greater plan.  So are you.  So is that person who irritates the hell out of you.  When was the last time you explained to your team how each of them specifically is significant to achieving the greater plan – how each of them is not only necessary, but valued?  If you haven’t done that in a while, perhaps it’s time to have that conversation.  Acknowledge each player on your team for the position they take and the skills they bring.  And then go home and do it round the dinner table tonight too.  It’s stunningly easy to make someone feel significant – sometimes all it takes is a smile.

by Christen Killick

July 1st, 2019

Next articles in The 6 Core Human Needs series:
#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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