Mark Blasini


Needs and wants


A curious consequence of the tactical living approach is that we tend to have a peculiar way of relating to other people. This way of relating often leaves us feeling frustrated or asking the wrong questions when it comes to trying to influence or gain cooperation from others, especially those we love.

As I've written about before, with the tactical mindset, we tend to focus on problems and results. What this means in terms of relationships is that we tend to focus on two things:

  1. What we need - i.e. for a problem to stop or a result to happen.
  2. What the other person wants - i.e. usually to do something that causes our problem or could help us achieve our result.

Let's take a simple example: your child is acting up, yelling or jumping around, and not listening. In this situation, we tend to focus on two things:

  1. What we need - i.e. peace and quiet.
  2. What the child wants - i.e. to yell and jump around.

To get what we need, we'll try a number of tactics:

The idea is to get the child to stop the behavior (satisfying our need) - either by trying to change what the child wants or thinks he or she wants, or by simply overriding what he or she wants.

The problem with the tactical approach is that satisfying your need doesn't necessarily satisfy your child's needs, which are the drives for his or her behavior. It doesn't matter if we're able to solve our problem (momentarily) if the source of the problem doesn't get addressed.

The strategic approach works in reverse. Instead of focusing on what you need and what the other person wants, the idea is to focus on

  1. What the other person needs - i.e. why the person is acting in a specific way
  2. What you want - i.e. control and cooperation.

If we take the example above, what the child wants (yelling and jumping) is just a symptom of an underlying need - e.g. the need to let out pent-up energy or get attention.

What you want is not simply peace and quiet, but for the child to play in a much calmer way (control) without a big struggle (cooperation).

In order for the child to get to a calmer state (what you want), you have to address their underlying need. This can be done using a number of strategies, depending on the situation:

This may be an oversimplified example, but hopefully the concept gets across: it is by addressing other people's needs that you gain their cooperation and, consequently, an increased level of control over the situation.

And it is this increased level of control that allows you to get what you ultimately want.