Conflicts between training professionals, their teams, or the employees they work with can be a challenge to navigate, especially if the conflict is intense or volatile. Managed well, however, conflict provides a powerful opportunity for clarity and solutions. I propose that knowing and understanding our core desires and the desires of others with whom we may be in conflict is the key to effective leadership, peace, and productivity.
Labels and Conflict
Within each of our brains is a complex survival mechanism that has evolved over many millennia called the reticular activating system. This system is responsible for the primitive “fight or flight” mechanism that’s activated each time we feel threatened in some way. When the fight/flight operating system is activated, the brain begins to scan our environment through the lens of danger. When the threat is perceived, the brain identifies (labels) the threat, and a reaction to either attack or flee the threat is made. In the workplace, this survival mechanism rarely brings about optimal outcomes for anybody.
The Six Core Human Desires and Understanding
Life coach Anthony Robbins has done much work in identifying the six fundamental human needs that are consistent regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, age, etc. According to Robbins, the six essential core desires of human beings are:
1. Certainty: A sensation and awareness of being grounded and safe.
2. Uncertainty: A sensation of freedom, newness, and possibility.
3. Significance: A sensation of importance, competence, and self-worth.
4. Love and Connection: A sensation of intimate connection and acceptance.
5. Growth: A sensation of personal evolution and development.
6. Contribution: An altruistic desire to make the world a better place and add value for the betterment of society.
Applying the Six Human Desires to Conflict
In my work as a life coach, I’ve observed that whenever a person can recognize what their own core motivations are, they gain the ability to see that the distress they may be feeling in a situation is actually connected to the perception of lack in one or more of their own core desires. This awareness creates an opportunity for internal introspection and processing of emotion, as opposed to immediate reactive conflict with another. I’ve yet to witness a conflict or experience a conflict that wasn’t directly associated with one or more of the core human desires being affected in some way.
Several years ago, I was employed as a corrections officer in a state penitentiary. One day, an inmate was transferred to my cell block (let’s call him Larry for discussion purposes). Larry was known for being belligerent and violent. During each shift, the corrections officer on duty would conduct a log of the shift and mark in the log book with a bright yellow highlighter the name of any inmate who had been a problem to give the following shift officer a heads up. Each shift, I would see that Larry’s behavior was highlighted from the previous shift.
Though the environment might be different, you probably have encountered a “Larry” in your workplace. This is where understanding the six core human desires can help. I realized that Larry felt disrespected in life (insignificant), and as a result, he projected this same sense of insignificance toward everyone he interacted with. So when Larry treated me (the staff) in an insignificant and disrespectful manner, it had nothing to do with me but with his own sense of insignificance.
On one particular day, before interacting with Larry, I took time to ground myself in my own internal sense of significance and security. As a result, I began to engage him in conversation. This led to a surprising conversation about his life. I enjoyed the conversation and even felt a measure of empathy for him as I could relate to his own struggles in life. I concluded that Larry wasn’t so different than any of us.
I’ll never forget what happened the following day. When I came into work, the previous outgoing officer gave me a rundown of his shift. When he showed me his shift log, he said this:
“Strangely, there are no yellow marks for any inmate today. Not even Larry. That’s a first. Not sure what’s gotten into him.”
Amazingly, Larry remained calm on my shift that evening, and he never received a yellow highlight mark from any shift officer after that. This was a tremendous transformation in behavior in a short period of time for one simple reason. I reflected back to Larry on what he needed the most. A sense of significance. This is a core human desire we all have.
Think about the various workplace conflicts or tensions you’ve experienced. When you reflect upon them, can you identify what core human desire(s) you or the other party might have been struggling with? What about the conflicts you face today? What might you do differently to bring people together and come to a solution?
The gasoline of any conflict, so to speak, is the faulty perception that the other is fundamentally different than we are. Whenever we begin to see that the other party has the same desires for certainty, freedom, significance, and acceptance that we have, the ability to castigate or demonize them is taken away, leading to understanding and, eventually, empathy. This is the beginning of the end of the conflict.
For training leaders in any capacity, it is essential that we understand what drives and motivates those we seek to influence. In Larry’s case, acknowledging his core human desire resulted in a literal overnight change for the better. Not all conflict resolution will be that straightforward; in your work, you may need to hold a few conversations or periodically reassess with the other party. But by understanding ourselves and those we work with, we better position ourselves to resolve conflict successfully and achieve a more healthy, productive, and inclusive culture.