In our industry, an understanding of the drivers of human social behaviour can make all the difference to winning a pitch, inspiring employees or neutralise that Facebook troll. 

Generally, social behaviour is guided by our brain’s instinctual ability to presume an action will minimise threat and maximise reward – we ‘approach’ a stimulus that is tagged as good or rewarding, and will ‘avoid’ something seen as bad or unengaging.

Research has also shown that when a person is in an ‘approach’ state, higher levels of dopamine flow through their brain. This is important for happiness, interest and learning, all of which can lead to better collaboration and performance with your team and clients.

But how do we reach this ‘approach’ way of being in our day-to-day? The answer lies in Dr David Rock’s SCARF model which suggests we need to consider five key domains – Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.



Status relates to a person’s defined relative importance, meaning it can go up or down when someone feels ‘better than’ or ‘lesser than’ the person they are engaging with. And studies have shown that feeling a reduction in status engages the same areas of the brain as physical pain – that’s why it hurts to be knocked down a peg or two!

 To maximise status without minimising value:

-          Pay attention to your colleagues or clients, actively listen and remember the details  

-          Offer feedback and help up skill others

-          Publicly acknowledge team members and give positive feedback



Ever felt the rise of panic not knowing where your phone is, even though you had it earlier this morning? It’s the uncertainty of not knowing exactly where it is that causes this reaction. Our brains are good at predicting what might happen in the near future, however when this is disrupted by an unforeseen change, the brain uses the energy-draining pre-frontal cortex and focuses on the error.

 Banish uncertainty by:

-          Establishing clear expectations and desirable outcomes

-          Breaking complex projects into smaller steps with clear deadlines  

-          Stating clear objectives at the start of any discussion and wrap up the end of a conversation with defined next steps



Autonomy is choice. If you have a client who wants the champagne event on a lemonade budget, give them a choice to determine what’s really important. Even if you’re acting in their best interests, removing them from the decision making process could affect their sense of self-worth and status.

 To encourage autonomy and boost happiness:

-          Provide options, even if there is an obvious choice

-          Don’t micro manage or hold the reins too tightly

-          Agree on parameters and generate an understanding of how you got to where you are



Relatedness is closely linked to trust and relationships – when someone is seen as untrustworthy, the immediate response is to withdraw or ‘avoid’, whereas when someone is a friend or a part of your group, ‘approach’ emotions are more likely to be present.

 Knock relatedness into gear and increase productivity by:

-          Creating an environment that promotes sharing, openness and inclusion

-          Socialising regularly – bring the fun!  

-          Setting up clearly defined mentoring and coaching systems



The need for fairness is primal, and the idea of “not getting what is owed me” has major negative effects on relatedness, status and certainty.

To improve morale:

-          Increase transparency, communication and team involvement, and ensure ‘the rules’ apply to everyone equally

-          Establish clear expectations and manage results

-          Allow people to voice their opinions

Posted on August 23, 2016 .