The Four Needs Theory: Building on McClelland

McClelland had formulated a theory of three basic needs: Need for achievement, need for affiliation and need for power. He had related this to work context, though these needs are generally applicable. While the need for achievement is all about accomplishments, be it in comparison to other people,  or in comparison to one’s own standards,  need for affiliation is about relating with others and being a part of a group; while need for power is  the need to influence others or the group in a desire to make an impact.

In the last post we had seen that achievement goals/ needs can be bifurcated into Performance needs (looking good and comparing with others) and Mastery needs (getting better and comparing with oneself); both of which can be further bifurcated along approach/ avoidance lines. This post will build from there and include Affiliation and Power needs in the framework.

A survey of literature shows that Affiliation needs can also be bifurcated into two correlated factors: one factor is the need for intimacy and can be considered approach directed, in the sense we are motivated by the hope of achieving interpersonal closeness. The other may be be called need for affiliation-avoidance type, which is primarily motivated by a fear of rejection; you want to become a part of the group as you fear that if the group rejects you, you are no good – so you want to avoid being rejected by the group to maintain your self image and hence are motivated to seek contact. Taken together these needs for affiliation ensure cooperation in the group.

Affiliation needs have their root in childhood attachment. Securely attached people have a affiliation- approach need and seek intimacy. Insecurely attached seek affiliation from a fear of rejection.

Another survey of literature on power needs shows that Power needs are also of two types:  Personal power (where the focus is on personal strength and avoiding appearing weak) ans institutional power (where power is sought to make an impact).

To sum up, there are four primary needs or motives, each with two sub types:

  1.  Performance : need for results. Success orientation.  Breeds competition.  Corresponding SDT need – Autonomy.
    1. performance-avoidance: comparison with others (either just ahead of us, or miles ahead of us, the former case is of keeping with the Jonses, the latter case is to explain our inevitable failures) .
    2. performance- approach: comparison with others who are somewhat better than us, goal is of medium challenge.
  2. Mastery: need for self improvement. Happiness orientation. Breeds Excellence. Corresponding SDT need – mastery.
    1.   mastery-avoidance: comparison with an ought self guide (either insignificant ought discrepancy or a major gaping hole in ought self guide, the latter to justify the gap and our failure to bridge it)
    2. mastery- approach: comparison with an ideal self guide  – something within reach and inspiring.
  3. Affiliation: need for closeness and group membership: Morality orientation. Breeds cooperation. Corresponding SDT need – relatedness.
    1. affiliation- avoidance: fear of rejection instrumental here. One approaches either a very easily available person (dependent/ clingy) or a very distant person (avoidant)
    2. affiliation- approach: hope of acceptance is instrumental here. Ones target is someone who is decently difficult to  approach (securely attached)
  4.   Power: need for influence and impact: Meaning orientation. Breeds leadership. Corresponding need : Purpose.
    1. power- avoidance: fear of personal weakness drives this. One either seeks power over easily dominated person or over an indomitable person/ group.
    2. power- approach: drive to make an impact.  One seeks power over a group for the benefit of the group.

Of course, the above needs can be correlated to personality traits. In the last post we saw correlations iwth OCEAN for the Achievement needs. We will refer to the HEXACO model in this post:

Performance- avoidance: E (Emotionality)

Performance- approach: C (Conscientiousness)

Mastery – avoidance (eXtraversion)

Mastery – approach: (Openness)

Affiliation- avoidance ( Agreeableness)

Affiliation – approach ( Honesty-Humility)

I believe time has come to merge emotions and motives (needs) and fold them into a common theory of personality that is steeped in traits. I m hopeful of this approach. Hope you too concur.

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