Naming Your Needs

10 Barriers to Naming Your Needs at Work

Dominant culture doesn’t want regular folks to have needs at work. So, it shouldn’t surprise any of us that naming those needs is hard.
In: Naming Your Needs, archive

For many of us, naming our needs is hard, whether at home or at work. But even for folks that have figured out they're allowed to have needs (and get them met) outside of a workplace, inside the workplace is a whole other ballgame.

And we have to ask why? Why are so many people convinced that they can't have needs and a job at the same time?

My answer: because dominant culture made it so. I am referring to patriarchy, cisgender heteronormativity, the carceral system, white supremacy, and capitalism when I say dominant culture. But that seems too big to get our heads around, and we get stuck.

So let's talk about the ten specific barriers thrown up by our dominant culture that keep us from even naming our needs at work, let alone getting them met. Thank you to Patrisse Cullors (and Black Lives Matter), Tricia Hersey (The Nap Ministry), Bunny McKensie Mack, Desiree Adaway, EbonyJanice, Mia Mingus, Tema Okun, and many others whose work informs these ideas.

COMPANY PRIORITY (based in capitalism) - The idea that the company's needs must be paramount in any situation. We've all heard this. We've been conditioned that we must think of company wellbeing before our own, even when it is causing significant problems. The story we're told is that if the company is profitable, we get to keep our jobs. That's not wrong, per se. But shouldn't we want more than the bare minimum of keeping our jobs?

PERFECTIONISM (based in white supremacy culture) - The idea that we must be perfect at all times and never make a mistake. If we can't make mistakes, we can't grow. Perfect people don't have needs. They just exist without having to "burden anyone." Does that sound familiar?

INDIVIDUALISM (based in white supremacy culture) - The idea that we have to do everything alone. If we have to do everything alone, and we're rewarded for our individual contributions above our ability to collaborate, then how can we ever reach out? How can we build the support system necessary to thrive?

SCARCITY (based in capitalism) - The idea that a limited number of people can get their needs met and that resources are limited. Capitalism thrives on scarcity. It drives up prices unnecessarily.  It says, we can't all get our needs met. It makes us choose between ourselves and others. Look around; resources aren't actually scarce.

PATERNALISM (based in white supremacy culture & patriarchy) - Paternalism says that I know your needs better than you do. Or that you know my needs better than I do. It works both ways. It says you can't be trusted to make your own decisions. Paternalism is what happens when we try to make decisions for others or give away our agency.

OBJECTIVITY (based in white supremacy culture) - The idea that there is such a thing as "neutral." Spoiler alert: people can never be objective. We're always viewing the world through a lens. So, what works for some may not work for others.

PUNISHMENT (based in the carceral system) - The idea that punishment must be delivered instead of consequences when mistakes are made. Our ideas about punishment keep us from naming our needs and being accountable. If all mistakes come with punishment, how can we ever be honest with ourselves and others? How can we name our needs when we are afraid? Our modern system does not only punish folks for harm committed but also for harmless errors.

COMPETITION (based in capitalism) - The idea that competing for resources is the only way to thrive or that there must be a winner and loser. Don't get me wrong, I grew up playing sports like many folks, and I wouldn't trade that experience. But we need to separate that from the idea that competition makes everything better. If we're in constant competition, then we also cannot name our needs in space for fear of "losing."

URGENCY (based in white supremacy culture) - The idea that everything must be done immediately (if not sooner). In many situations, we need more time and space. And many workplaces exist in an urgent space because that's all they know. That's what they're used to. But what if things were different? What if we had time to build and consider? What if we made time?

SUPREMACY - The idea that one group is better and that power over is necessary. If we believe that we have to hold power over another person, we can't ever be in real relationship. Ideas of supremacy keep us all from both naming our needs and being in relationship with others in meaningful and supportive ways.

But what do we DO? Well, naming all of these pieces is a start. Remembering that it doesn't have to be this way is a start. Analyzing and amending our own behavior is a start.

I talk about these things because every single one of them plays out in my life. I'm either acting them out or dealing with them. And sometimes, both at the same time.

We can't fix what we don’t name.

I know it feels big. And I know folks would often rather talk about something else. But I believe we can bring our full humanity to work by naming our needs. And in doing so, we have a responsibility to undermine the systems that tell us we can't be whole people.

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Color Your Needs is a series of small steps that can lead to big impact. It is an invitation to think about your needs differently. Grab your favorite markers and get started.
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