Category: Self-development
Publication date: October 12, 2021
Extent: 232 pages

Why Weren’t We Taught This at School?

The surprisingly simple secret to transforming life’s challenges

Alice Sheldon


A beautifully simple guide to the relationship skills we all so deeply need, but most of us don’t know how to access. This book belongs firmly on the curriculum for creating a more peaceful world.
Dr Scilla Elworthy, three times Nobel Peace Prize nominee

This book is a tool box. Keep it close at hand and dip in often.
Jim Carter OBE and Imelda Staunton CBE, actors

Brilliant, easy to understand, and applies with equal force in personal and professional contexts.
Sharif Shivji QC, barrister specialising in commercial law

Why weren’t we taught this at school? introduces Needs Understanding, a fresh approach for finding creative solutions and building relationships at home and at work. It’s based on one simple idea: we’re all on a quest to meet our underlying human needs – such as belonging, knowing we matter, and fun.

Whether you are trying to make a tricky decision, communicate more effectively, parent the way you want to, or make a difference in the world, Needs Understanding can help.

  • Understand the ‘fingerprint needs’ that drive your behaviour
  • Discover 10 ways you listen that alienate other people, and what to do instead
  • Stop blaming yourself and others, and fix what’s going on underneath
  • Find creative solutions to difficult problems by ‘walking around the mountain’
  • Empower yourself to change the world.

Alice Sheldon is the creator of Needs Understanding and shares it globally with individuals and organizations.


Brilliant and thought provoking.


The lessons in this book transformed my relationship with my wife and kids. Thank you. There is less shouting in our house. We have more fun together. Everyone is thriving.


If you would like to transform difficult relationships in your life, have more meaningful interactions with people and have more ease when approaching conflict situations, both with people close to you and with strangers, this book is for you.


I am finding this book a real treasure – it is easy to read, each chapter has a “take home” summary at the end and is divided into wonderfully easy to read small sections. And every section is full of helpful advice. I couldn’t recommend this book more highly – it is full of digestible wisdom.


This has been truly transformational. Particularly a brilliant tool to help navigate the ups & downs of parenting.


This book seems to have serendipitously arrived to answer the questions I’m ready to ask.
It’s so simple yet insightful, offering exercises to help imbed the learning for a smoother authentic and kinder life.
I love the way it has been written with inclusivity high on the agenda.


A must-read book for 21st century leaders.


This book is a life changer. An introduction to Needs Understanding, it will change the way you think about your behaviour, everyone else’s behaviour and the conversations we have.

Superbly practical right from the start, I cannot recommend it enough.


Loved the clarity and wisdom in this book!
This week I used it for support in writing an email for a court case, to apologise to a friend, to stay kind to myself in the face of some punishing thoughts and to help my parents communicate better between themselves.
It really is more useful than my Maths and English lessons!


I love the simple and down-to-earth explanations and illustrations, and easy-to-understand concepts such as ‘fingerprint needs’ and the ‘cooking pot of needs and solutions’. I really do wish I’d been taught this stuff at school – it would have made my world a happier one. This is a book for everyone and its message has the potential to radically transform marriages, families, organisations, societies into relationships where all people thrive.


The author is really onto something with the contents of this book… everyone Needs Understanding.

HR Director


I wish I’d been taught this in school. It’s life-changing stuff – not just for you, but for those around you. These are skills, once learnt and practised, that will unquestionably improve the quality of your life.

Tony Hawks MBE, TV and radio comedian and bestselling author, including Round Ireland with a Fridge

This book has so much to teach us all about building connections and understanding through the simple, but often neglected, act of listening – really listening – to other people. And to ourselves. At a time when so many of us have become isolated, with only a screen for company, the timing of this book could not be better. It is a tool box. Keep it close at hand and dip in often.

Jim Carter OBE and Imelda Staunton CBE, actors

‘Why Weren’t We Taught This at School?’ is the right question. Knowing that behind all troublesome behavior we express, or experience with others, lurks an unmet need that is looking for satisfaction brings clarity to nearly every human interaction. And that is exactly what Alice Sheldon does in this aptly titled book. Anyone reading it will find their experience put in the context of need satisfaction along with a process for identifying and satisfying those needs. Recommended for everyone.

Harville Hendrix, PhD, and Helen LaKelly Hunt, PhD, co-authors of Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples

From the world of business

Alice Sheldon’s insightful book examines the obstacles that we commonly encounter in our interactions with others. Her solution is brilliant, easy to understand and applies with equal force in personal and professional contexts. This is an invaluable toolkit for honest, compassionate and effective communication.

Sharif Shivji QC, barrister specialising in commercial law

The ability to build and sustain relationships with a wide range of people is an essential skill in business in order to get things done. By using the tools outlined in this book, managers at all levels of seniority can foster the kind of environment in which people feel engaged and can give their best, finding creative and efficient solutions in seemingly intractable situations. A must-read book for 21st century leaders.

John Odell, director of one of the ‘Big Four’ professional services firms

At last Alice Sheldon has put her brilliant Needs Understanding approach into a book! It has been my go-to framework for helping leaders on ‘how to have difficult conversations’ for many years. Whilst Emotional Intelligence frameworks help with empathic awareness and even self-regulation, Needs Understanding goes further in providing a simple, practical, yet powerfully transformative approach to solve problems where no one loses out, relationships remain intact and everyone flourishes. This clear, practical, yet profound book will help you see relationship-building, creative strategising and problem-solving without compromise in a completely new light. Applying the concepts in Why Weren’t We Taught This at School? is one of the most powerful things you can do to transform your relationships and contribute to a more healthy, joyful, sustainable world.

Heather Monro, executive coach, Brightspace

Now, more than ever, we need to lean towards each other, developing more trusting and genuine relationships with work colleagues, with friends and with family members. This book is packed with personal stories, insightful examples and practical skills to demonstrate empathy and build collaborative solutions.

Mark Pilkington, sales and marketing leader in the travel and leisure industry

A really accessible and engaging read, with lots of practical suggestions to enable improved outcomes and results for all parties. Alice’s experience in this field really shows, and makes a clear case for the benefit of adopting Needs Understanding in both work and home environments.

Matthew Wait, chief financial officer of a leading global education firm

This is one of the most impactful books I have read for many years. Simple lessons and practices that can change the way we engage with ourselves and with each other, and yet Why Weren’t We Taught This at School? Instead we struggle and bumble through our lives not really understanding how things work. This book opens our eyes and gives us a manual on how to get our lives off the ground, and be the really wonderful human beings that we were born to be.

Veronica Munro, international executive coach, author, and artist

From the world of education

This book is so beautifully written and reminds me of all the things I thought I knew, but somehow do not manage to keep live in my head at every interaction. I reflect on recent conversations when I ‘should’ have known better, and yet somehow got drawn into being less than my best self. Without judgement, and with huge compassion, Alice empathises with readers like me because she’s been there too. I can see that this is a book I will want to return to again and again.

Dr Belinda Hopkins, author of The Restorative Classroom and director of Transforming Conflict

This is such a refreshing book. Alice wants us to understand ourselves, and how our needs impact our communication and relationships, and this oozes out of the book in such a skilful way. For anyone who works with humans of any age, or is a human, this book is transformational. My hope is that this is what the next generations will learn at school.

Lily Horseman, chair, Forest Schools Association

Alice has written a book that is easy to read, describing simple strategies that are easy to apply. It makes you wonder why we don’t all do this already! With every page, I found myself thinking, ‘I must share this with…’ This is a timely book, landing at a time when mental health issues are increasingly prominent and when we seem to be bombarded with disharmony and disagreement in the media. It should be essential reading for our political leaders.

Adam Barber, head, Henleaze Junior School

A timely, compassionate and pragmatic reminder of the lessons which matter most; essential reading for all who teach and lead in schools, or wish they’d been taught differently themselves.

Fionnuala Kennedy, head, Wimbledon High School

Alice Sheldon lives what she writes; this book is built on her thorough exploration of simple and powerful principles and tools, full of examples and insights of everyday life experiences. It is an art to be able to write in such a clear and structured form, easy to read and to concretely try out in our daily lives. A practical inspiration to make a difference in relationships with ourselves, with others and in the local and global political and economic structures we live in.

Gabriele Grunt, co-founder of ECHT Communication and trainer for teacher and parent education

From the world of conflict resolution

A beautifully simple guide to the relationship skills we all so deeply need, but most of us don’t know how to access. This book belongs firmly on the curriculum for creating a more peaceful world.

Dr Scilla Elworthy, three times nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize and founder of the Business Plan for Peace

This book offers a rich analysis of compassionate and empathetic forms of communication. In a world so divided, devoting thought and care to transforming conflict and nurturing relationships seems more necessary than ever. The Needs Understanding framework is therefore a timely treasure trove.

Nomisha Kurian, co-chair of the Cambridge Peace and Education Research Group

Why Weren’t We Taught This at School? is an empathic and insightful guide to creating a world with less fear and more compassion. I found it to be easy to navigate, full of analogies with lots of tools to guide and bring clarity. As for ‘needs glasses’ – brilliant, everyone should have a pair!

Gina Lawrie, assessor with the Centre for Nonviolent Communication and co-creator of the NVC Dance Floors

Alice Sheldon’s book is an essential guide for anyone who wants to contribute to a world where everyone matters. I spend my life seeking to ‘be the change I want to see in the world’, and this is a book which I’d put firmly on a reading list for life and especially for anyone who has influence over others.

Maria Arpa MBE, executive director of the Center for Nonviolent Communication and founding chair of the Centre for Peaceful Solutions

From the world of psychotherapy

A passionate, wise and authentic book with lessons that have clearly been lived and refined. The skills outlined are simple but never simplistic. A rich template for living a skilful life.

Malcolm Stern, co-founder of Alternatives, psychotherapist, and author

The ideas in this book are deeply transformational and it would serve humanity well if a copy were to find itself in everyone’s hands. What an infinitely more connected and peaceful world we would live in if the relationship skills found within this treasure trove were integrated into the heart of our communication with one another. Written intelligently, with compassion and honesty. We couldn’t wish for a more authentic guide.

Cheryl Garner, psychotherapist, Imago Relationship Therapist, and parenting coach

And from the world of myth and mermaids

Alice Sheldon has written a timely and much needed book about how to rethink the way we speak to each other. Full of sound advice and practical exercises, she unpacks ideas fundamental to our unconscious needs and actions. This is a book we all need as we go forward into complex, difficult times of climate crisis and a post-pandemic world. More than anything, this is a book about how to be skilful and compassionate about ourselves and others. A book for our time.

Monique Roffey, author of The Mermaid of Black Conch and winner of the Costa Book of the Year 2020


INTRODUCTION: Why weren’t we taught this at school?

1. The Surprisingly Simple Secret: Understanding the World Through the Lens of Needs

PART ONE: Listen With Empathy

2. How Not to Listen: 10 Things We Say Which Can Alienate People

3. How to Listen: Tools for Building Empathy and Connection

PART TWO: Understand Yourself With Compassion

4. What Makes You Tick?: Getting to Know Your Own Needs

5. How to Unlock Difficult Situations: Extra Tools for Tricky Self-Empathy

PART THREE: Speak to be Heard

6. Connect Through Speaking: Creating Conversations Without Barriers

7. Four Powerful Tools for Speaking: Getting Your Point Across

PART FOUR: Act With Care for Everyone’s Needs

8. Your Needs, My Needs, and a New Way Forward: Creating Strategies that Work for Everyone

9. Beyond Right and Wrong: Moving from Opposition to Collaboration

CONCLUSION: Choosing Connection in a Competitive World

A Further Thought: Needs and the Natural World


The Author On the Shoulders of Giants: Ideas that have Contributed to Needs Understanding


Index of Pause Boxes




Paperback / 9781788602952 / October 12, 2021 / £14.99

Ebook / 9781788602945 / October 11, 2021 / £7.99

Paperback and eBook Bundle / £16.99


Alice Sheldon

Alice Sheldon is the creator of Needs Understanding.

After graduating from Oxford University with an MA in Psychology and Neurophysiology, her strong interest in how we can contribute to the creation of a more inclusive world took her on a career journey which included being a secondary school teacher, a barrister, and the head of the Bar’s national pro bono charity, working with everyone from homeless litigants to the Lord Chief Justice.

During this time Alice came across two life-changing pieces of understanding. The first was psychotherapy, which inspired a deep learning journey. The second was Nonviolent Communication (NVC), which led her to become a Certified Trainer with the Center for Nonviolent Communication. Following this she developed a model of partnership parenting, and for a decade helped hundreds of fellow parents to create thriving relationships with their children by teaching them how to shout less and laugh more. This became the springboard for her creation of the Needs Understanding model, which brings a partnership approach into all spheres of life.

Alice shares Needs Understanding globally with individuals and organizations.