How to learn about someone's core needs

Originally posted May 21, 2020

The 6 core needs that humans have at work (BICEPS) are on my mind all of the time. In the past, I’ve talked about how to use the BICEPS core needs list to:

And so on. You can also leverage your knowledge of these core needs to give successful feedback, influence others and enact positive change, pinpoint team friction, sensitively deliver bad news, the list goes on.

But first, you need to know which of the core needs is most important for the person you’re talking to. Humans are really bad at guessing which of the core needs is feeling threatened or undernourished for others, and the same stimulus can threaten any of these six core needs at any time! (Look at how desk moves can mess with all six!)

So how do you figure out which of these core needs matters the most to the person you’re talking to?

Ask these questions:

You can mix and match! Choose your own adventure:

  1. What feels most important to you about [meeting/project/process/situation]?

  2. What challenges are you most concerned with (or focused on) right now?
    Or—in an ideal world—how would we move this forward?

  3. What one thing do you wish you could change about this?

  4. I have an idea I need your advice on [share idea]

    a. What do you think I need to do to get others on board?
    b. (Or) What key concerns or goals do you think I should keep my eye on during this?

  5. If you were me, how would you handle [meeting/project/process/situation] ?
    Tell me more about what made you choose that route?

  6. If [this thing] happens, how would that impact you/your crew?

  7. What are you optimizing for?

You can follow up with more great, succinct open questions (with examples of what NOT to ask!) here.

When asking these questions:

  1. Ask them to expand on something so you can understand the underlying values and passions. If they say “I am really worried about this deadline!” ask them to expand: “Oh, say more about that…” or “Ah, which part do you think is the most likely to lead to that?”

  2. ALWAYS confirm with them if your inference is correct. “So, if you and I checked in more frequently over Slack, you would feel better about this, did I get that right?”

  3. Check your tone and nonverbal communication. There are a million ways to say any one sentence; the right tone conveys you’re listening and open to their thoughts, and you’re confident you can figure out a win-win. The wrong tone conveys you don’t actually care about their perspective, you’re going to unload your feedback and you don’t care about how they feel. One will be heard and acted upon, the other kills trust.

This resource was created in collaboration with 11:11 Supply and Paloma Medina.

Lara Hogan

Author, public speaker, and coach for managers and leaders across the tech industry.