What's Behind Our Emotions? - Boostalab

In school, we learn colour names. We learn to read, to write, to identify historical facts and to locate major world powers on a map. We learn to observe and name many things that go on outside of ourselves, and very little about what’s going on inside. You may think it normal: our inner world is intangible, and therefore more difficult to understand. Yet, this inner world is ever-present. Every day, we experience innumerable emotions, and we tend to dismiss them as if they were temporary and uninteresting passengers. In fact, they’re strong signals on our personal dashboard that let us know if our needs are being met or not.

Needs are what we value in the present moment, what’s important for us, what appears crucial. Needs are universal: they’re what all humans have in common. What humans do, they do to meet their needs.

Why do we need to acknowledge and identify our needs? So that we can express them clearly. Because when our needs are met with attentive and respectful listening, new ways of fulfilling them can be created… together. But we must be able to identify what matters first.

This guide provides a frame of reference to adequately name our emotions and identify the needs that are hiding behind them. It’s not about “what to do” once these emotions and needs are identified… Recognizing and describing what’s going on is a powerful first step in any dialogue.


  • You’re experiencing a change or an event that upsets you somehow, and you want to better understand what it triggers in you.
  • You want to identify more precisely how you feel.
  • You’re at loss for words to express what matters to you.


  • You can use this tool on your own, for the sake of clarity, to identify and zero in on your emotions and needs.
  • You can also use it with empathy, to try to understand what’s going on with someone else. Empathy plays out when you make the effort to hear and understand what’s going on behind the emotion, what appears to matter to the other person at this very moment.


  • Barrett R. (2013). The Values-Driven Organization: Unleashing Human Potential. New-York : Routledge.
  • Lasater I. (2009). What We Say Matters: Practicing Nonviolent Communication. Rodmell Press.
  • Rosenberg M.B. (2003). Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life. PuddleDancer Press.
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