Understanding Human Behaviour

Sandy Perrin

June 18, 2021
Understanding human behaviour – Why we do what we do…

Human behaviour is complex. Trying to understand what others do and why they do it can be very confusing and frustrating.

The good news is that there is a “formula” for understanding why people do what they do. The concept is not new and the theory was first realised by psychologists, Abraham Maslow & Carl Rogers in the 1950s and further developed by American psychologist, mediator, author and teacher, Marshall Rosenberg.

The idea is to look beyond what people actually do or say, by focusing on understanding what is motivating their behaviour.

To do this, you need to know that behind everything we do is a human need. Human needs range from basic, tangible needs of survival (need for nourishment, rest, shelter, etc.) to more complex emotional needs that are important for our psychological well-being (such as a need for love, respect, belonging etc.).

The trick is to embrace the idea that we always strive to fulfil our needs consciously or unconsciously. In daily life this means that when we don’t understand what others are doing, instead of judging, blaming and criticising “the other”, we have another choice:

Focus on finding out what needs, core values or deeper longings they are trying to meet with their words or actions.

For example, if your boss hasn’t given you a raise for two years, you might judge him to be unsupportive or incompetent. But have you ever tried to look at what might be a need of his in this situation?

Can you guess?

Of course, we are guessing out of context here, but the boss in this situation might try to meet a need for financial sustainability or simply ease because giving you a raise might require him to have some difficult conversations with his boss.

The goal is not to guess the “right” need but to develop curiosity and the ability to understand and listen for needs and longings beyond what others do or say.

The cool thing is that you can do the same “guessing” for yourself too! Because when you are unsatisfied with a specific situation you can also ask yourself what needs or longings are underneath my judgment, blame or criticism. Helpful questions to do this are:

“What do I care about; what matters to me; what do I wish for or really value here?”

In the example above, you might have an unmet need for support or you long for recognition.

Imagine how you would like to address the above issue with your boss. In such a challenging conversation, many tend to focus on what is wrong with the other person or situation instead of saying what they need. For example, you might say to your boss: “You just don’t value my work!” instead of expressing your need or longing: “I want to trust that my work and effort is valued and recognised. As the boss, which of the two sentences inspires you to want to hear more? The second version right?

Being able to explore and name what is important for us and the other person at the level of needs is the major game changer for difficult conversations. Not only is it much easier for the other person to hear our concerns without feeling criticised, but also they are much more likely to hear our concerns with empathy when we can express what needs were not met by their actions.

Life makes itself known to us through our human needs. 

Our inclinations and desires are what drives us to do and feel the way we do.  So at any moment, you can ask yourself what is it that I am really needing or wanting right now?

By investigating deeper you will find and become aware of the most vibrant and immediate need that makes you feel the way you do. This is wonderful because once you are more conscious of your needs, instead of reacting blindly to your feelings, you will have more choice over your reactions.

Allowing you to say and do things that move you closer to what you need or want at any given moment.

In summary, identifying, understanding and connecting with needs, really helps us to understand ourselves and others. This way we can improve our relationships and define behaviours and actions that’s more in alignment with our needs.

Do you believe it’s possible to understand everyone at a profound and significant level where you can find out what truly matters to them, even if they are different from you?


I have created printable guide here to help you clarify what needs might be important in a specific situation.

Download your printable guide below.

Understanding Human Behaviour

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