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How you can better influence people

(MoneyWatch) COMMENTARY I've always been fascinated by FBI profilers. Those are the folks who get inside the heads of criminals to try to figure out why they do what they do. There is a great deal of power that comes from being able to quickly analyze someone to determine what they are all about, and there are numerous tools and techniques to help you analyze someone. Popular ones include the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and DISC Assessment, where you try to classify someone's personality. Then there are numerous books on interpreting body language, analyzing eye movement, and even decoding handwriting.

The most accurate method I've discovered for assessing what drives another person is based on "human needs psychology," a theory of human behavior developed by Tony Robbins. Yes, that Tony Robbins -- the one who has directly impacted more than 50 million people through his books, tools, and live events (watch Oprah Winfrey do a firewalk at a Tony Robbins event).

Human needs psychology provides an answer to the elusive question, "Why do human beings do the things they do?" The theory says that there are six fundamental needs that everyone has in common (Every person includes your mother-in-law, President Obama, terrorists, you, and everyone else.) And here's the best part -- because we all share these same needs, once you can decipher which top two needs someone values more than the others, it instantly gives you an edge in knowing what drives them and how to influence them. 

Here are what Robbins's theory postulates as the six human needs:

1. Certainty. The need for stability, security, comfort, and to feel confident you can avoid pain and gain pleasure.

2. Uncertainty/variety. The need for change, new stimuli, and for the unknown.

3. Significance. The need to feel important, special, unique, or needed.

4. Love/connection. The need to belong and to feel closeness with someone or something.

5. Growth. The need to expand, learn, and grow.

6. Contribution. The need to give beyond oneself and to support others.

Do you think you should communicate differently with someone whose No. 1 need is "certainty" than if his or her top need is "significance?" If your goal is to build rapport, nail that interview, or get funding for your venture, I sure hope so.

The question becomes, "How can you discover someone's top needs?" To answer that, we go to Mark Peysha, CEO of Robbins-Madanes Coach Training, an online company that teaches leaders, therapists, and others how to quickly and efficiently create lasting change with their clients or employees. The training is based on a framework created by Robbins and Cloe Madanes, a renowned teacher, one of the originators, of the strategic approach to family therapy. 

According to Mark, there are three basic ways to understand another person's top needs:

1. Ask them. This is obviously the most straightforward approach. People are fascinated by the concept of the six human needs, and they love an opportunity to talk about what matters most to them and how they perceive what's important.

2. Observe what they focus on. Is the person focused on safety and comfort, or are they more driven by the need to stand out? Do they seem to crave connection, or do they crave variety and entertainment? Listen to what they communicate and watch for what they value. You can learn a lot by the process of elimination.

3. Contextual. It's best to observe someone in more than one environment. When people go into certain situations, you can learn a great deal from how they respond -- their top needs will often rise to the surface.

So how can you use human needs psychology? Get practice profiling people you already know. Look at their communication and behavior through the lens of these six needs. Ask yourself which needs are most important to this person. Get practice looking for and identifying needs in others so it becomes a habit and so you can get the edge in knowing what drives them and how to influence them.

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