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Why are we going a bit cray-cray?

The SCARF model might have some of the answers…
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We get it: you’re all bored, annoyed and totally over COVID. This article is about understanding why you’re having an emotional reaction to the pandemic – and our hope is that it’ll raise awareness around why the people you work with, and those you care about at home, might appear to be losing their minds a bit (or a lot)!

This article is theory-based, but hang in there and read on. It might give you a new way of asking questions, or give you a fresh perspective to understand the individual experiences of people in your life.

Let’s introduce you to the SCARF model, which was developed in 2008 by the co-founder and CEO of the NeuroLeadership Institute, Dr David Rock. (You can read all about his work on the topic in his paper SCARF: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others.) For those who are leaders, this concept might be of particular interest. It’s something we’ve been running masterclasses on, as it can help self-manage frustration and confusion.

In simple terms, the SCARF acronym represents the five key ‘domains’ that influence our behaviour in social situations. They are:

  1. Status – our relative importance to others
  2. Certainty – our ability to predict the future
  3. Autonomy – our sense of control over events
  4. Relatedness – our sense of safety with others
  5. Fairness – our perception of fair exchanges between people

Based on neuroscientific research, the SCARF model explains that these five domains can activate a reward, or threat response, in our brain – just like in real-life survival situations, where we’re biologically programmed to either avoid or seek something new in order to keep ourselves (and potentially the human race) alive.

Let’s say you’re excluded from an event. In such a situation, your brain perceives a threat to your status, triggering a release of the stress hormone cortisol, which can impact your creativity and productivity. Alternatively, if you have a positive experience – such as receiving praise at work – your brain perceives fairness, which triggers a surge of dopamine, ‘the happy hormone’, making you eager to pursue more rewards.

In our pandemic-dominated world, the SCARF model can be a useful tool to help you navigate heightened emotions. Let’s take a deep dive into what’s happening so you can compose yourself to be patient and understanding with the people around you.

  1. Status – the pandemic has challenged everything from our sense of belonging, to our relationships with our colleagues, family and friends. We’ve seen public outrage that sporting teams and celebrities have been allowed to travel, while others are stuck in lockdown. Some are upset that private schools have secured vaccine programs ahead of the general population. And we’re experiencing regional differences as to how our state premiers are managing our freedoms.
  2. Certainty – most adults appreciate comfort and routine. Humans are habitual from the way they brush their teeth, to what they might eat on a given night of the week. However, our ability to predict the future, plan holidays or even go to a restaurant, is currently uncertain. We’re missing out on the routine of working-life – the commute to work, where to go for lunch, and even the chatter around the water-cooler.
  3. Autonomy – working from home has reduced the boundaries between our personal and professional lives. Many people may be thrilled that the hybrid working model is here to stay, but the control we used to have over small things, like keeping meetings short or switching off at five o’clock, has been superceded by constant digital meetings and trying to ignore emails after hours.
  4. Relatedness – the pandemic has impacted our sense of safety in ways we are yet to understand. We’re bombarded daily with ‘breaking’ media reports and find ourselves in repetitive conversations; talking about case numbers, deaths and the strain COVID is putting on hospitals. It’s overwhelming, making it harder to connect and have chemistry with colleagues, family and friends over the phone or on screen.
  5. Fairness – it’s fair to say that until COVID hit, most of us had no idea that our state premiers controlled borders, could impose a curfew, or ban us from having visitors at home.
    Regardless of personal views of lockdowns and vaccine campaigns, it is universally felt that our fair-mindedness has been challenged. The bewilderment of supermarket shelves stripped bare and people fighting over toilet paper has become commonplace.

If you’re keen to learn more about the SCARF model, David Rock talks about how it can be used to influence people in this eight-minute video – offering insight into the science behind our behaviours, as well as examples of the implications for each of the five domains. Hopefully you can apply these strategies to defuse your own, and your colleagues’ threat responses; to make for a happier, more productive community.

– The Coach Place Global

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