Biases You Don’t Know You Have

While I was writing my book, Choosing Me Now, I discovered something that surprised me: we all have some sort of built-in need-strength bias. To understand what this means, you might want a rudimentary understanding of Choice Theory, the psychological theory developed by the late Dr. William Glasser. Choice Theory teaches that we are born with the same five basic needs, but each of us experiences them to varying degrees, depending on our genetic instructions. These five needs are: survival (safety & security), love & belonging (connection), power (significance), freedom and fun (joy). The words in parentheses are the words I prefer instead of Dr. Glasser’s names for the needs. I will continue using the names I prefer.

Each of us has our own unique need-strength profile, which informs us about the things that motivate us and what’s important to us. I have high needs in Freedom and Connection, a moderately high need for Significance and lower needs for Safety & Security and Joy. I see the world through my Freedom and Connection lenses, while someone else might see the world through their lens of Significance and another person may see through their lenses of Joy or Safety & Security.

In my life, Freedom and Connection motivate almost everything I do. I am either working to strengthen a relationship or I am working to avoid external control from others and circumstances. I have a good friend who is motivated by Safety & Security and Joy, particularly humor. Her behavior is often motivated by a need to be prepared and safe, but she laughs her way through difficult situations. On the surface, we shouldn’t be friends as our different motivations lead us to want different things. My freedom need tells me to explore, while her Safety & Security need tells her no, not yet… you don’t know if it’s safe. My high need for Connection urges me to spend a lot of time with people, while her need for Safety & Security drives her preference to be alone or with people she is familiar with. Because we understand without judging each other’s motivations, the relationship works.

When you understand the needs, you can understand why you choose annoyance with those who value different things. It is no different than the mistrust between Democrats and Republicans, Christians and Muslims, and blacks and whites. We have an inherent bias to be mistrustful and judgmental toward differences, which typically comes from a place of limited understanding. For example, as a Connection person, it’s difficult for me to understand people who prefer to be alone. I, personally, can’t think of a situation where I would prefer solitude over companionship. As a Freedom person, it is challenging to understand why someone wouldn’t stand up for things matter. I am strongly against injustice and speak out every chance I get. I have been labelled a rebel at work. I will never understand the phrase, “Go along to get along,” but I am working on understanding it in others without bias—it is difficult!

What follows is not meant to be an absolute truth nor stereotyping based on need-strength. Rather, it describes a general pattern of behavior many of us follow. There will always be exceptions and some extraordinary people who seem to have no bias or have learned to overcome it.

When you are a Connection-driven person, you tend to judge people with your incompatible need strengths of Significance and Freedom. If you are high in Connection describing a person high in Significance, you will likely describe the painful parts about the Significance need. You won’t mention how driven, goal-oriented and focused a Significance person is. You will likely refer to their need to control things, to forge ahead without input and to always have the last word. When describing Freedom-driven people, you tend to focus on their selfishness, irresponsibility and isolationist/privacy habits. You wouldn’t see them as flexible, creative and challengers of the status quo.

When you are a Freedom-driven person, you will likely have challenges with people high in Significance, Connection and Safety & Security. Through the Freedom lens, Significance keeps its aforementioned Connection-lens description.  Describing Connection-driven people, you likely won’t indicate their desire to support and encourage people, to sense distress in others or to help others feel welcome. It’s more likely you’ll speak about their violations of privacy, their constant chatter and their people-pleasing tendencies. Safety & Security-driven people will be described as inflexible, scared of everything and cheap. They won’t be viewed as being prepared, saving for the future and keeping others safe by urging others to follow rules and standard practices.

If you are a Safety & Security-driven person, you will often struggle with Freedom- and Joy-driven people. As for Freedom-driven people, you will describe them as Connection-driven people do: selfish, irresponsible and distant. Describing Joy-driven people, you may call them lazy (the relationship type), silly, unable to be serious (play type) or too intellectual (learning type). You wouldn’t think to describe them as present, knowledge-seeking, or fun-loving.

If you are a Significance-driven person, you might struggle with Freedom- and Joy-driven people, both of whom you would classify as not hard-working enough, as well as everything listed above. Joy-driven people would have trouble appreciating Significance- or Safety & Security-driven people and would describe them as above.

As a Joy-driven person, your incompatible need-strengths will be Significance and Safety & Security. You would find the Significance-driven person controlling and authoritarian, while the Safety & Security-driven person would be viewed as boring or the proverbial ‘stick in the mud.’

After disclosing in a presentation that I am a Connection-driven person, someone with a high Significance need asked me, since I was so high in Connection, didn’t I really just want other people to like me? I remember being initially insulted! I felt completely misunderstood; then I remembered, I was being misunderstood. It is difficult for a Significance-driven person to see a Connection-driven person in a positive light.

I have four purposes in writing this information:

  1. Our need-strength profile affects how we view the world
  2. All needs have positive and negative qualities associated with them, depending on your perception
  3. We are biased toward people with incompatible need-strengths to our own
  4. We can overcome our bias through motivation, commitment and genuine effort to understand those who are different

The good news is that people do not experience just one need. We each experience varying levels and combinations of all the needs, which provides us our unique challenges and strengths. This information was presented as if you are one need to the exclusion of others. That is not accurate or realistic. Hopefully, you can gain some insight from the general patterns and realize how your need-strength compatibility is why you get along with certain people and not so much with others.

Use the Choice Theory tool of self-evaluation to ascertain your bias level; put in the effort to really listen to those you don’t understand to help you see their positive qualities. When you think something judgmental toward someone, ask yourself, “Is there another way to view this? Can I imagine this scenario with positive intent?” I always say, “If I don’t like you very much, I must need to get to know you better.” … but, then again, I’m a Connection-driven person, so wanting to know people I initially judge is inherently easy for me. Understanding how your need-strength profile determines what is “inherently easy” or difficult for you is a strong tool as you practice implementing Choice Theory in your daily life.

Learn more about Reality Therapy & Choice Theory.

One Response

  1. This understanding of needs-strength bias is eye opening on so many levels! I look forward to applying this in my relationships and finding ways to understand others more fully, without judgement. Thank you!~

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