Why do we respond the way we do in social situations?

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Mindmap of SCRAF model

A colleague recently shared an article with me called Managing with the brain in mind. It argues that the workplace is experienced by employees as social structure first then a workplace and that keeping this mind might lead to better employee engagement.

It uses (some) neuroscience research to help explain how people are likely to respond in certain social situations and identifies that people’s brains tend to view situations in terms of threats and rewards* .

It then goes on to detail 5 social qualities abbreviated to SCARF (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness) that you could use to help you understand how you could apply some of the research to yourself and your teams.

I found some of the ideas quite compelling and wondered if it would be easier to consume modelled as a mind map.

People perceive social interaction in different ways. The research carried out over the years suggests that they may view it as a threat or reward. If the threat response is too serve then this is likely to limit their brain’s ability to function and therefore limit behaviours that can lead to rational outcomes. If it is a mild threat response then it might be enough to provoke curiosity, free up brain resources and motivate them towards rational behaviours. A reward response is the most likely to lead towards a rational behaviours as they have more brain capacity to take on additional information.

The key point is you will never know fully to what extent someone is experiencing a situation – they may not even be able to articulate how they are feeling themselves. Unless they are responding in a way that is very clear e.g. angry/fearful most likely a threat response, happy/joyful most likely reward response, but most work situations are likely to cause a neutral response with no obvious outward emotion.

Therefore approaching a situation that is more likely to cause a reward response in an individual is most likely to produce behaviours that can lead to better outcomes.

What do you think about the ideas behind the SCARF model?

How would you use the model?

Is there another way in which we can can help people in social situations?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.

*I have to admit this point is a little tenuous as they make this connection by viewing brain scans of how people respond to pain and how they respond to social situations. They found that similar pathways in the brain where invoked whether it was a negative social situation or physical discomfort. But a lot of the ideas expressed in the article fitted in with what I’ve seen.

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