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Ury's Basic Needs


Explanations > Needs > Ury's Basic Needs

Safety or survival | Food, drink, and other life's necessities | Belonging and love | Respect and meaning | Freedom and control over one's fate |  So what?


Ury (2007) briefly describes five basic needs. These are similar to Maslow's Hierarchy and can be viewed at least as a partial hierarchy. They are each discussed further below.

Safety or survival

Perhaps our most basic need is for survival. We are strongly driven to fight off the threat of death, even lying on a safe deathbed where we desperately struggle for one last breath. More immediately, we seek to build an environment of safety, where we are protected from everyday threats and will generally gravitate towards a safer environment rather than stay in a position of danger.

Food, drink, and other life's necessities

Beyond any immediate survival needs, we need to sustain our bodies with food, drink and air. For many animals, the search for sustenance takes up much of the day. Even in recent centuries, most people worked in agriculture and food production. It is only recently that we have automated so much of our food service that we can turn to other things.

Life's 'necessities' is a fairly broad category and can stray from basic propagation of the genes into less necessary 'wants', which are easily driven by advertising and social pressures more than fundamental needs.

Belonging and love

One of our discoveries along the evolutionary way has been that living with others is more likely to keep us safe. We have hence developed a need for a sense of belonging, that drives us to connect and join with others.

Love is a complex and powerful emotion, designed to cement our connection, especially to our family. It also has a broader spectrum and we can love friends and even strangers, albeit not in a filial or possessive way.

Respect and meaning

When we have connected and gain a sense of belonging, it then becomes important that others think well of us. Indeed, our self-image is often strongly connected to how others view us. We hence seek respect, esteem and consequent status that both makes us feel good and also gives us greater power within the community.

At an even deeper level, we seek meaning in our lives, that we have purpose and consequently might even transcend the more basic drives that influence us.

Freedom and control over one's fate

Back at the more fundamental level, we have greater control over our lives if we have the freedom to act autonomously, pursuing our purpose and acting to satisfy other needs. Much of the democratic world would claim to cherish freedom as a basic right, although this is always within strict laws and regulations. Our employers hence only offer freedom within job descriptions and employment policies, and it is not a surprise to find that many people leave their jobs when they feel they lack the freedom to achieve their objectives.

So what?

Understanding such needs helps us to explain and predict how people will behave. A way you can discover the underlying driving needs is to keep asking 'why' people are doing as they do. Eventually they will get down to the needs above, or those in other parts of this section on needs.

See also

Maslow's Hierarchy, Evolution


Ury, W. (2007). The Power of a Positive No (How to Say Now and Still Get to Yes), London: Hodder Headline


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