Purposes and Needs of Communication

In demonstrating the persuasive function of communication, it is necessary for the speaker to consider the needs, attitudes, and interests of his or her listeners. It is difficult to grab someone’s attention if the topic does not concern the listener. For instance, students listen intently to the teacher when he or she is discussing a topic they are interested in.

The following are theories that explain the human needs to be taken into account in delivering persuasive speech or simply engaging in the act of persuasion.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Abraham Maslow lists down the human needs to be satisfied by the speaker to receive a favorable response from the listener. His hierarchy of needs suggests that it is easier to persuade people whose needs have not yet been met. The hierarchy implies that the lower-order needs must be satisfied first before the higher-order needs. A good persuasive speaker must be able to tap into the audience’s interests and immediate needs. The following needs motivate us to engage in communication and these needs also reflect our response to persuasion.

  1. Physiological needs are basic human needs necessary for survival. These include food, water, air, and rest. People communicate to satisfy these basic needs, such as when one purchases food or buys a house. Political candidates often deliver speeches that contain promises to satisfy voters’ physiological needs.
  2. Safety needs are needs pertaining to physical and emotional safety. This involves living in a society with law and order, free from the fear of threats, danger, or instability. Someone operating on this stage must have what is called “peace of mind” and feel secure from the dangers of an impending war, for instance. Political leaders communicate to avoid conflict, reach an agreement, and maintain peace.
  3. Social needs are needs that require the sense of belonging or the feeling of being loved. People operating on this level strive to acquire the acceptance and appreciation of others and have fulfilling relationships with family and friends. Communication allows individuals to establish and maintain relationships. Research has shown that communication affects one’s physical health.
  4. Esteem refers to the need to be recognized and respected. This involves achieving self-esteem and the esteem of others for demonstrating excellence in activities such as those in the fields of sports, academics, or work.
  5. Self-actualization is the highest goal in the ladder and is the most difficult to achieve. All the needs mentioned above must be satisfied before it can be important. It refers to the ability to fulfil one’s desires, growing as an individual, and realizing one’s potential. Writers, for instance, try to improve their craft and strive to be the best they can be in this life. Some people die without ever achieving self-actualization.

Packard's Theory of Needs

In his research study in the 195os, Vance Packard (1986) analyzed the persuasive strategies utilized by advertisers to appeal to people’s needs. He identified eight hidden needs often used to persuade people into purchasing certain products. These needs may be applied by anyone engaged in persuasion, such as politicians running for office. Packard acknowledged the fact that the power of persuasion does not necessarily require the persuader to satisfy these needs but only to evoke the emotions associated with these needs.

  1. Emotional security refers to the need to feel safe, secure, or comfortable. It is as important as physical safety. Advertisements often appeal to the sense of security in promoting their products. For instance, commercials emphasize the health benefits of eating certain food products.
  2. Reassurance of worth is the need to feel important or valued in society. People constantly need to be reminded that they are contributing something to society by doing something or simply being themselves. Certain products such as those labeled environment-friendly and fundraisers for the less fortunate appeal to this need.
  3. Ego gratification refers to the need to be praised or acknowledged. Just like the need for the reassurance of worth, the need for ego gratification is also related to one’s self-concept or identity. Buying branded clothes, for instance, may guarantee the fulfillment of this need.
  4. Creative outlets are requirements for expressing one’s creativity. Examples of this includes cookbooks and baking ingredients or accessories that require the consumer to design or create his or her own work or product.
  5. Love objects are things that allow an individual, particularly the adults or those living alone, to demonstrate one’s love or affection. For instance, a pet dog or a plant (e.g., orchid) requires being taken care of and thus satisfies this need.
  6. Sense of power refers to the ability to control things or other people. Advertisements appeal to this need by establishing one’s social status after buying an expensive product such as a car or owning a house.
  7. Roots also relates to one’s identity. People tend to choose products that they can identify themselves with, such as those promoting their culture, or those that have been used by their own families.
  8. Immortality is the need to somehow defy aging or death. Products that promise a ‘youthful glow’ for instance, appeals to the individual’s need to look and feel their best.