When we are going to work or connecting with friends, we rarely assume that we have to help them to fulfill their basic needs.
One reason being, that we automatically consider them, partly because we care for the others as we do for ourselves. When inviting friends over, we’ll usually attend to physiological and safety needs in some ways. Doing so is within our cultural norms.
As culture evolved, it attended to the growing ease to integrate the different needs described in Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You’ll note it for example by comparing the safety rules for cars some 10 years ago and today. Or the growing demand for data protection.
As needs change, values also transform themselves. Looking at consumers in different industries, Bain developed a pyramid. It has four levels, within which they distributed the 30 elements of value determined by their research. Values look at needs from a different perspective, they search for those elements which are important for us and important for the community, i.e. also the market.
Needs, on the other hand, drive what’s important. Physiological and safety needs will always remain more important than other needs, but the ease to feed them allowed other higher level needs to become relevant.
What culture sometimes fails to see, is how we are sometimes driven into action to feed our needs or defend our values.
That is where Eric Berne offered yet another lens, which he called hungers. He described them as fundamental drivers that push us into action. When a need is not served enough, it creates a reaction. It is this reaction which Berne called hunger.
One can describe them with the three S, Stimulus, Strokes and Structure. They are basic experiences we look for. We can even observe how they become active second by second in the way we talk and act.
With stimulus, we look at all kinds of stimulations we look for. It can be all kind of sensory, intellectual and emotional stimulation. The boring meeting you almost fell asleep in? Count on a lack of stimulation. Especially if you start to feel more awake when you stand up and engage in an interesting conversation with others right after that meeting and find yourself wide awake again.
With structure, we describe a hunger which we constantly experience since we were born. There is the day rhythm, the regularity of being fed and going to sleep which go along with the existing structure in time we experience. And it goes further, we organize our data, define hierarchies, organize our work in processes and have many more ways to implement structure.
With strokes, Berne talked about the “fundamental unit of social action”. Basically, it is a unit of recognition. As children it started with actual strokes, that is sensual connections with caretakers helping children to feel seen, cared for. As we grow up, strokes become the need to be seen, respected and recognized.
All three build on each other and are interconnected. Thus there isn’t always a clear cut distinction between one or the other. Using the categories helps to make them visible and gain a better understanding of some reactions we experience when we encounter difficulties in building our teams for example.
The hungers are there to serve our needs and meet our values in everyday situations. If needs aren’t satisfied or values not lived, the hungers become active and impact the situation and relationship.
We might not be responsible to care for people’s basic needs, but we’ll regularly be confronted with hungers.
It helps to see them.