Unmet Needs – Pressure Cooker Relationships: Why Does The Lid Fly Off?

unmet needsThe original article appeared in The Jamaica Gleaner Online News Paper and was written by Trevor E. S. Smith.

“I just asked a simple question and he started ranting and raving about issues that have nothing to do with my question or even me.”

This situation is not unfamiliar to many of us. If we are perfectly honest, we might have found ourselves cast in the role of the pressure cooker.

Pressure cookers control the pressure inside by allowing the release of steam. The spewing of hot contents that results from a careless opening of the lid is an ever-present danger.

That very same principle applies to our interpersonal relationships. Your supervisor is making your life miserable. You really need this job so you put on your best imitation of Job. Up comes Angella whom you recently had a difference of opinion with. Dear Angie saunters up to you on your return from one of your ‘dental appointment’ sessions with your supervisor.

What does sweet Angie want to talk about? Well, if it isn’t that issue that we haggled about and agreed to disagree on!

Your Job mask removed, you let fly all that hot stuff that has been waiting for release. Shock, hurt, confusion, anger, bewilderment are all written across Angella’s face.

You allow yourself a few seconds to savour the release before setting about initiating damage control.

Why Is This Happening?

You usually manage your relationships well and a public demonstration of outrage is really not you. So, why this outburst with Angella?

The simple answer is unmet needs.

Conflicts may be hidden or manifested. They can also involve others or just reside internally.

Conflicts arise when a need is not met. This is a fundamental principle that impacts our relationship with others but is so often ignored.

The case above is stark, and it is clear that some conflict is brewing. If the supervisor has any emotional intelligence, she should sense that you are not exactly pleased with how she is treating you.

Here is a more subtle case that I had to address. Madge and Jerry are best friends. They are sitting a maths exam. Madge has one of the few protractors available. A few students ask to borrow her protractor and Madge obliges. Jerry now asks Madge and she refuses to lend it to him.

Jerry recounts that, for years, he did not speak to Madge. It was only after an intervention by her mother that he was willing to communicate freely with her. His argument was that Madge could lend Tom, Dick and Harry and when he – best friend – comes, she is turning him down. That was not how he understood friendship.

So, let us consider Madge in the context of the pressure cooker. She is in a challenging situation – a maths exam. She might have been grappling with concepts that are difficult for her. She is concerned about her results. Here comes someone to distract her to borrow her protractor.

“Why did Tom come without a protractor anyway? Here comes Dick … and now Harry. This is getting on my nerves. If anybody else comes …

Oh, no … not Jerry. Sorry, but I can’t do this anymore. If I don’t draw the line here, I might as well just go around the room moving my protractor around. Hopefully, Jerry understands that this is not about him.”

Unmet needs have been the source of so many challenging situations in our relationships. When we fail to identify them in ourselves and in others, they have the potential to blow the lid and cause serious damage to our relationships.

The habit of asking questions and looking below the surface helps to unearth unmet needs. Also, work to create a climate of transparency and trust that invites openness and sharing.

Pressure-Release Tips

– Add real meaning to “How are you?” Be sensitive to changes in moods.

– Share freely some of your unmet needs so that others feel safe and comfortable doing the same.

– Take an interest in the whole person – what makes them tick, ambitions, vision, goals, hurdles, etc.

– Never ever betray a confidence and only share about others with their explicit permission.

Trevor E. S. Smith is a behaviour modification coach with the Success with People Academy, which is recognised by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) to offer Professional Development Credits (PDCs) for the SHRM-CPSM or SHRM-SCPSM Certifications. Joint venture partner Extended DISC/FinxS Caribbean. Website: http://swpacademy.com.


Question – Do you see unmet needs as the key reason in breakdown of relationships or hostile behavior?

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