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3.3 Why People Join Groups

PLEASE NOTE: This book is currently in draft form; material is not final.

Learning Objective

  1. Understand the role of interpersonal needs in the communication process.

“What are you doing?” You may have had no problem answering the question, and simply pulled a couple of lines from yesterday’s Twitter or reviewed your BlackBerry calendar. But if you had to compose an entirely original answer, would it prove to be a challenge? Perhaps at first this might appear to be a simple task. You have to work and your job required your participation in a meeting, or you care about someone and met him or her for lunch.

Both scenarios make sense on the surface, but we have to consider the why with more depth. Why that meeting, and why that partner? Why not another job, or a lunch date with someone else? If we consider the question long enough, we’ll come around to the conclusion that we communicate with others in order to meet basic needs, and our meetings, interactions, and relationships help us meet those needs. We may also recognize that not all of our needs are met by any one person, job, experience, or context; instead, we diversify our communication interactions in order to meet our needs. At first you may be skeptical of the idea that we communicate to meet our basic needs, but let’s consider a theory on the subject and see how well it predicts, describes, and anticipate our tendency to interact.

William SchutzSchutz, W. (1966). The interpersonal underworld. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books. offers an alternate version of interpersonal needs. Like Maslow, he considers the universal aspects of our needs, but he outlines how they operate within a range or continuum for each person. According to Schutz, the need for affectionRelated to the need for appreciation., or appreciation, is basic to all humans. We all need to be recognized and feel like we belong, but may have differing levels of expectations to meet that need. When part of the merger process is announced and the news of layoffs comes, those co-workers who have never been particularly outgoing and have largely kept to themselves may become even more withdrawn. Schutz describes underpersonalsPeople who seek limited interaction. as people who seek limited interaction. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may know people where you work that are often seeking attention and affirmation. Schutz describes overpersonalsPeople who have a strong need to be liked and constantly seek attention from others. as people who have a strong need to be liked and constantly seek attention from others. The person who strikes a healthy balance is called a personal individualThe person who strikes a healthy balance in terms of human interaction..

Humans also have a need for controlThe ability to influence people and events., or the ability to influence people and events. But that need may vary by the context, environment, and sense of security. You may have already researched similar mergers, as well as the forecasts for the new organization, and come to realize that your position and your department are central to the current business model. You may have also of taken steps to prioritize your budget, assess your transferable skills, and look for opportunities beyond your current context. Schutz would describe your efforts to control your situation as autocraticSelf-directed in terms of control., or self-directed. At the same time there may be several employees who have not taken similar steps who look to you and others for leadership, in effect abdicating their responsibility. AbdicratsPeople who shift the burn of responsibility from themselves to others. shift the burn of responsibility from themselves to others, looking to others for a sense of control. DemocratsPeople who share the need for control between the individual and the group. share the need between the individual and the group, and may try to hold a departmental meeting to gather information and share.

Finally, Schutz echoes Maslow in his assertion that belonging is a basic interpersonal need, but notes that it exists within a range or continuum, where some need more and others less. UndersocialsPeople who are less likely to seek interaction, may prefer smaller groups, and will generally not be found on center stage. may be less likely to seek interaction, may prefer smaller groups, and will generally not be found on center stage. OversocialsPeople who crave the spotlight of attention and are highly motivated to seek belonging., however, crave the spotlight of attention and are highly motivated to seek belonging. A social personPerson who strikes a healthy balance between being withdrawn and being the constant center of attention. is one who strikes a healthy balance between being withdrawn and being the constant center of attention.

Schutz describes these three interpersonal needs of affection, control, and belonging as interdependent and variable. In one context an individual may have a high need for control, while in others he or she may not perceive the same level of motivation or compulsion to meet that need. Both Maslow and Schutz offer us two related versions of interpersonal needs that begin to address the central question: why communicate?

We communicate with each other to meet our needs, regardless how we define those needs. From the time you are a newborn infant crying for food or the time you are a toddler learning to say “please” when requesting a cup of milk, to the time you are a adult learning the rituals of the job interview and the conference room, you learn to communicate in order to gain a sense of self within the group or community, meeting your basic needs as you grow and learn.

Key Takeaway

  • Through communication, we meet universal human needs.


  1. Review the types of individuals from Schutz’s theory described in this section. Which types do you think fit you? Which types fit some of your co-workers or classmates? Why? Share your opinions with your classmates and compare your self-assessment with the types they believe describe you.
  2. Think of two or more different situations and how you might express your personal needs differently from one situation to the other. Have you observed similar variations in personal needs in other people from one situation to another? Discuss your thoughts with a classmate.