Article written by Amy Shepley
We were talking Birkman around the office last week (as we frequently do), and the topic of Needs and Stressors came up. A Birkman SME (subject matter expert) made the comment that the only time we are really conscious and aware of our Needs is when they go unmet. It seems obvious but for some reason, the statement stuck with me. We don’t go around thinking about breathing unless we are out-of-breath. We don’t think about our need for water until we are thirsty. Even then, consider the colloquial term we use when we are parched, "I’m dying of thirst.” Dying, really? Yet, I’ve been there. I have been so thirsty that I literally felt a desperation to drink that I would equate to dying.
Birkman Needs operate in the same way. We tend to be almost completely unaware of our Needs on a day to day basis, if, and that is a big IF, we are getting our Needs met. This is why Needs scores that fall in the middle bandwidth (40-60) tend not to be a big deal for most people (of course, that is not always the case). Unless people are operating on the fringes of a Component score, there is a good chance people are showing up in a way that feels comfortable.
However, put a person in a situation where their Needs are not consistently being met, and it won’t be long before this Need that normally lies dormant, surfaces and becomes obvious, visceral—even desperate.
In almost every Birkman conversation there is at least one Component where the individual connects with this moment from their past. I have had people tell me about a situation that happened twenty years ago, and their energy and pain around that event is still palpable. This demonstrates how disconcerting it is for us when we are left in a situation where our Needs are not met. It is why, I believe, a Birkman conversation sticks with people long after they are able to remember any of the Component names. “It pegged me”, they say—because the Birkman articulated something so perfectly that the individual could never quite explain using their own language.
Take a moment to reflect on your own Birkman Needs. Which ones have the potential to trigger you and throw you into your Stress Behavior. For me, it is my Assertiveness Need. In the absence of a person who appears to be in charge, I feel lost, I feel chaotic, I feel like everything is falling apart. However, when there is a person leading the charge, my Assertiveness Need is not something I give a second thought.
This is a great way to approach a Birkman conversation around Needs and Stress, especially with people who balk at the thought of being labeled ‘needy’. Instead, talk about the Need like it is switch—when is this switch off and when does it get turned on, making us more susceptible to venture into our unproductive Stress Behaviors. Follow me over to the Birkman LinkedIn Group and share your story with me. We all benefit when we share and learn from each other.