Imagine the following situation. You’ve just been assigned a new boss whom you’ve never met. He calls you in for a meeting the next day, but doesn’t tell you what it’s about. You already have something booked at the time he specifies, but he insists you move the other appointment. When you check out his LinkedIn profile after the call you notice he has half the experience you have, but now gets paid more than you do.
Take a moment to reflect on how such a situation would make you feel and preferably state those feelings out loud. Keep in mind that this is not a real situation (I hope) so don’t get hung up on those feelings.
In my previous post we concluded that
- Social situations can create a threat response
- Threat has a negative effect on our creativity
Would the situation described above invoke a threat response in you? I’m guessing at least half of your work day would be ruined because of it.
The SCARF model offers insight on why that happens. SCARF stands for
These are the attributes that, when violated, create a threat response. And when respected keep us productive. To understand them better, let’s apply the SCARF model to the situation described in the beginning of this post.
- Status. The caller being your boss is an immediate status threat.
- Certainty. He doesn’t tell you what the meeting is about, which violates your sense of certainty.
- Autonomy. He decides when the meeting is held and doesn’t even take your other appointments into account.
- Relatedness. You’ve never met the person. You have nothing to relate to.
- Fairness. He earns more than you with less experience.
The situation can be considered threatening by all attributes of the SCARF model. No wonder it makes you uneasy. But now that we know about SCARF, let’s imagine a fixed scenario.
Your new boss gives you a call and tells you he would like to meet with you so that he could learn from people more experienced than him. He asks you for suitable times.
In this call the boss lowers his own status and raises yours by saying you’re more experienced. He gives you certainty by telling you what the meeting is about. And he gives you autonomy by letting you decide on the time.
It can be pretty hard for him to address relatedness or fairness over the phone when he knows nothing about you or your thoughts. This where you need to pitch in. He tried his best to make the situation better for you. It’s your time to return the favor.
When browsing through his LinkedIn profile look for things you two have in common. Do you share friends? Does his background have something in common with yours? Find something to relate to.
And how about the fairness? This could be a tough one. But remember that you don’t have all the facts yet. His LinkedIn profile might be out of date. His experience might be suitable for the role he’s in. And you don’t really know if he’s getting paid more than you or not. Postpone your judgment until you have the relevant facts. Doing so will keep you productive meanwhile.
Now that you are aware of the SCARF model you can use it in two ways. You can use it to analyze social situations before, during and after and make adjustments accordingly. And you can use it to understand yourself better.
Mistaking a branch for a snake can create a major threat response. And the same happens in social situations. With SCARF you can understand it better and possibly reassess it to reach a more productive outcome.
Read more about SCARF from the author himself, David Rock, in his article “SCARF: A brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others”.