The SCARF Model

Conversations are much more than a simple exchange of words. Consciously or not, every time we interact with someone, we’re meeting some of their social needs and perhaps depriving them of others. That is, we’re using language and engaging in behavior that either uplifts and motivates people or causes them to withdraw and shut down.

Have you ever struggled with building teamwork? Do you remember times when you thought everything was working well, only to find that your colleagues were unhappy or frustrated? A little while back I came across the SCARF model to improve communication and understand your influence when working in a team.

The SCARF model, from David Rock out the Neuroscience Leadership Institute (2008), provides a framework to understand the five domains of human social experiences. David Rock and his team found that there are 5 areas of our brains that light up (via brain scan technology) during our social experiences.

Status – Sense of respect and importance in relation to others. “I am respected by my family, friends, and colleagues.”

Certainty – Sense of clarity to predict future outcomes. “I am confident I know what is coming next in my life.”

Autonomy – Sense of control over events that impact the future. “I am the master of my own destiny.”

Relatedness – Sense of connection with others in your groups. “I am connected to those around me.”

Fairness – Sense of non-biased and just treatment between people. “I am treated justly.”

These five areas can either be interpreted by us as a reward or threat based on the type of social experience we are having.  Conflict is, by its very nature, a social experience.  When we experience conflict we are experiencing the threat response side of the SCARF model. The different ways our brain interprets social experiences in the SCARF model is summarized in the graphic below.

😱Respond To Threats
👉🏻Blood is redirected from the brain to the muscles
Which means: Less creativity, fewer ideas, short term thinking, conflict

🤩Responding To Rewards
👉🏻Increased blood flow to the brain
Which means: More creativity, more problem solving and insights, fresh ideas

Once you know how and why you react, with better understanding you can manage your own responses, have increased empathy for others and increase engagement amongst your team and colleagues.

Many of us will have one or two areas in this SCARF model that will be regular conflict triggers for us.  For me, they are Fairness and Certainty.  A lot of my conflicts surround these topics. 

There you have it. That’s the SCARF model. 

Remember that not everyone works the same way and that everyone can react differently to any given situation. To use the SCARF model most effectively, it’s key to understand each of your team members. Consider who that individual is before taking any action, and adjust your strategy accordingly. If you can master applying the SCARF model to your daily interactions, you’ll be one step closer to building a functional and fulfilling working environment for everyone around you. 

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