Beyond Maslow

If you’ve gone through training with NAI you’ve no doubt been exposed to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  It is most often portrayed as a pyramid with your most basic needs at the bottom and higher needs at the top.  The basic needs must be met before you can move up the pyramid to the higher needs such as belongingness and self-actualization.  A common example given is that if you have to use the restroom, you can’t focus on a program you’re attending.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a hypothetical construct that allows us to take complex human behavior and see it in a way that we can understand.  I remember the first time I heard about it.  I was a graduate student studying how people use technology and I had one of those genuine “A-ha” moments.  It’s not perfect and like any model trying to describe human behavior, it can generalize too much.

But the Hierarchy of Needs is a useful tool.  With that said, it is typically limited in how it’s applied.  If we just focus on the basic needs, we treat our visitors no differently than we would cattle.  Of course, our visitors are not cattle. So what do I mean?

Here’s an example.  My family and I recently visited Europe.  One of our tour stops was Paris, France. (Not to be confused with Paris, Tennessee.)  We were on a tour bus that made several stops around town.  The local guide knew her material and pointed out restrooms and places for refreshment.  However, on two occasions, people were left behind.  She did point out the meeting place and time.  Those individuals were responsible for their own actions.  BUT, I did not get a sense that it bothered her in the least that folks missed the bus.  Once she stated, without much emotion, “I hope they can get a taxi.”

While it sometimes feels like we’re herding cattle, we’re not.  We’re dealing with people, human beings with human needs and emotions. Yes, some of our visitors are difficult to deal with. But it’s all part of our job, a job that changes lives. Beyond pointing out the restrooms and water fountains, we choose to care for the whole person. We take the time to make a human connection. Why? Because that’s our job. And it’s worth doing well.

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