SCARF: A shelter for the brain

Successful engagements with your clients or employees is closely linked to knowing how to satisfy their social needs.  Social needs are perceived by the brain as important as basic needs like food or shelter.  When these social needs are not met, we feel threatened.  On the other hand we experience a sense of reward when our social needs are met.  A reward emotion will draw a person in and ensure engagement, where a feeling of being threatened causes one to avoid a situation or person.

When your employee experiences a reward emotion, they will be more creative and show increased problem-solving skills.  It also stimulates deep thinking and positive emotions. This employee will be more willing to stretch herself beyond what she would normally be willing to take on.  Unfortunately, a sense of being threatened seems to be the default response in teams.  In a team setting it is therefore even more important to ensure reward emotions.

The SCARF model is used in Life, Business and Team Coaching to diminish a threat response and optimize positive reward emotions.  This acronym stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.

Status relates to our relative importance, where we feel extremely threatened when we feel less important than someone else or being left out. We even feel better when we feel that we are becoming better than we were previously.  Learning and developing satisfy this need.

Our brain has a constant need to predict the immediate future.  Uncertainty decreases one’s ability to focus.  Giving your client enough information creates certainty and therefore willingness to engage with you. Make sure your clients and employees has the answer to the question “What is going to happen next?”

Autonomy is about having choices and a sense of control. We often hear about people leaving the corporate environment in search of a life where they have increased control over their life.  Creating an environment where employees feel that they have choices will contribute to an engaged workforce.

Are you my friend or my enemy?  This is the need for relatedness; knowing whether another person is “someone like me”.  Research has shown that people place the most trust in information they get from someone they feel connected to.  This increases trust.  Information received from such a person is processed by the brain using the same circuits as the ones processing one’s own thoughts.  Therefore you want to foster a sense of connectedness among colleagues.  You also want your client to feel that you share similarities.  Allowing people to share information about themselves contributes to a feeling of connectedness, especially if similarities are found. Mentoring, buddy systems and working in small groups also contributes to relatedness.

The perception of fairness or lack thereof elicits very strong emotions and reactions.  Consistency helps to increase a sense of fairness.  Perceived unfairness can be due to a lack of knowledge and transparency can help to correct these perceptions.  Establishing clear expectations from your clients and employees and making sure these are met will also contribute to engagement and positive emotions.

Satisfying the social needs of your employees and clients has a significant impact on them. When you find ways to increase their sense of importance, certainty, having choices, feeling connected and being treated fairly; the effect will be extremely satisfying both ways.

Adding Value

Money is a measuring tool. It measures the value added. Value is determined by a need for something as well as the importance of that need being met.

Understanding a need is a bit complex. There are primary basic survival needs like eating as well as secondary evolved needs like traveling to work. We all need to eat, therefore we are willing to pay to buy food. If food is scares we would be willing to pay a lot for it. Traveling to work becomes important as work determines our ability to buy food. Currently traveling is dependent on oil. And as oil is becoming scares we are paying more and more for it. It is a basic supply and demand formula.

The modern society we created complicates things a bit. We have taken primary survival needs and evolved them into thousands of sub needs. The need for protein has turned into a need for beef or chicken, legumes or tofu. The need for protection against the elements has turned into the need for Adidas or Nike, Levy or Pierre Cardin.The list can go on and on.

What we tend to forget is that some survival skills determine how we interpret the importance of a need. For example, the survival skill to belong to a group determines our need to belong. This need to belong determines our interpretation of what is important to be accepted into the group we associate with. This interpretation directs what we see as valuable. And if something is valuable to us, we are willing to pay for it.

One of our survival skills is our ability to determine status. Status is about relative importance, ‘pecking order’ and seniority. Humans hold a representation of status in relation to others when in conversations, and this affects mental processes in many ways.

One’s sense of status goes up when one feels ‘better than’ another person. Winning a swimming race, a card game or an argument probably feels good because of the perception of increased status and the resulting reward circuitry being activated. The perception of a potential or real reduction in status can generate a strong threat response. A reduction in status resulting from being left out of an activity lights up the same regions of the brain as physical pain.

I think status also closely links with the perception of our own value. How we value ourselves determines how important we think we are. In the interaction between people we subconsciously evaluate our own importance compered to the other person’s importance. This is a natural process, yet it does not need to be automatic.

We are valuable. The fact that you are born proves this. Nature would have prevented the birth if you had nothing to offer. When we acknowledge our own value and also the value we add to others lives, we are in the position to consciously influence the determination of status.

This departure point brings meaning and joy to our interactions.

Yesterday I decided that for one day I am just going to add value to everybody I interact with. What a great day. And at the end of that day, I received a value add that I did not expect. Someone offered me a service that I was looking for but not expecting and I got more value that I though I needed.

So in the end, it is not about the money, but about the value added.