The Human Givens Approach by Roderic Yapp

We have an expectation that people should understand us.

Understand our perspective, our reasoning and our expectations from other people.

The problem with this is that we rarely know ourselves.

We don’t often know what we want out of life. We don’t know what makes us happy. And we rarely know why we behave in certain ways.

If you disagree, can you answer the questions above?

Not many can. These are the difficult questions that people rarely reflect on. In a world where everyone wants the answer in 280 characters or wants the ‘executive summary’, these are the questions we don’t sit and think about.

The Human Givens approach outlines what humans need in order to survive and thrive. We are all different so we are likely to need the following in differing amounts.

The approach was created by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrell who went on to found the Human Givens Institute. They postulated the question, ‘What is a Human Being?’ answering that it is a living entity that requires nourishment from its environment in order to thrive.

The simplest way I can explain this is through the simple plant metaphor. A plant requires water, soil nutrients, carbon dioxide and sunlight in order to thrive. If it compromises on any of these inputs it will limit its growth and potential.

Physically, humans are the same.

We require water, nutritious food, oxygen, sleep and exercise in order to keep us healthy.

Yet how many of us really pay attention to these basic physical needs? Which one do you compromise on and do you know what is ‘limiting you’ from a purely physical perspective? What behaviour do you need to change in order to improve?

The western world has developed to the extent that the majority of our physical needs are met.

Instead of dying from starvation, people are more likely to die from heart-related illnesses – often contributed to by a sedentary lifestyle and poor diet. It is an unfortunate state of affairs that we have developed to such an extent we are killing ourselves due to ‘having too much’ rather than ‘not having enough’.

Humans are far more complex than plants though.

We have emotional needs that must be met in order to survive. They include the following:

Security – a safe place and environment is essential if we are to develop fully. If security is a concern, we will focus on our own safety until the problem is resolved. Our ancestors will have survived to pass on their genes by prioritising this instinct.  A violent and aggressive partner/parent or the constant threat of redundancy or being fired are just a few threats to our security in the modern world.

Attention – attention makes us feel safe by reminding us that we are not alone. Again, our ancestor’s survival depends on them remaining part of the pack. Being excluded for whatever reason was a death sentence. Historically, in many societies, this acted as the ultimate stick to modify behaviour. Putting your own needs before the needs of the group had the potential to get you killed.

The sense of Autonomy and Control – We all need to have control and a sense of being self-directed. I think this is one of the reasons entrepreneurship is so popular at the moment. It gives you control over your life. The flip side is that it comes with some pretty hefty responsibilities. There is no place to hide when people pay directly for a product or service that you provide and you don’t have the capacity to work on things that don’t directly add value to the business.

Emotional Intimacy – We need to be able to connect with other people and build rapport. Research has shown that whether or not a Doctor gets sued, has nothing to do with competence. It’s more likely to be due to the lack of intimacy or rapport that they’ve built with their patient. The majority of people won’t sue someone who has made a mistake if they like them. If that connection doesn’t exist though, they are more likely to sue.

Community – We are social animals and like to be together. Our ancestors survived because they worked together in packs. In the modern world, people might go to the Church, support a Football Team or join Trade Unions to maintain a sense of community. I believe that this is one of the reasons CrossFit has been so successful. People gather together to work hard with other people. It really is that simple and  I believe that ‘meeting the community need’ has significantly contributed to its success.

Privacy – We all need privacy and solitude to some extent, but I think that typically this need is stronger amongst men. The ‘garden shed’ is the classic environment for the elder male to escape to. Often they go fishing or happily play a round of golf on their own. This need for privacy is about having a part of your life that you don’t share.

The sense of Status amongst our social groupings – Status can show itself in many ways. We all know people who enjoy the executive perks – the nice cars, the corner office etc. But people meet this need in different ways, some less obvious than others. A lot of graffiti is ‘signed’ and many criminals will brag about their achievements when they feel secure in their social grouping. This sometimes catches them out! It doesn’t matter what group or tribe you socialise with, we all seek respect and a sense of social standing amongst people we identify with.

The sense of Competence and Achievement – In a nutshell, this is why people play musical instruments or do crosswords. They enjoy ‘getting better at something’ and the feeling that they get when they achieve something. Social status and a sense of achievement are closely linked. Many people have become Royal Marines because others said they couldn’t.

Meaning and Purpose – We all want our lives to have meaning, a sense of purpose to make it all worthwhile. Victor Frankl discovered this in the holocaust and Simon Sinek built on it with his highly popular TEDx talk. Purpose is a major driver that gives us the reason to endure whatever we may be faced with.

These are the needs that humans must meet in order to be happy and fulfilled. The Human Givens approach argues that when one of these is ‘not being met’ it creates frustration and unhappiness.

Mental health is an issue that is increasingly finding itself on top of the agenda. One of the best ways you can help yourself is by understanding what you need in order to thrive. Once you know what you need, you can work out how to meet it.

The Human Givens Institute provides an Emotional Needs Audit which gives you an idea of what you need and the extent to which they’re being met.

It’s a useful first step in understanding yourself and what you need in life.


The Business Transformation Network has posted this article in partnership with the Leadership Forces blog


Roderic Yapp is a specialist leadership consultant and accredited coach. He supports major business transformations by improving the capability of leaders so that they can execute the transformation strategy.

Roderic is an International Coaching Federation professionally accredited coach who has specialist experience in developing people in sectors where ‘leadership failure’ usually results in death or critical injury.

He has significant experience in leadership development, major business transformations and operational excellence with companies such as Deloitte, Fidelity, HSBC, the John Lewis Group, Jaguar Land Rover, Urenco and the NHS.

Roderic Yapp