Our reflexive, unconscious response is to move away from threats and move towards rewards.
This assessment happens for every interaction and activity, including in the workplace.
When your brain perceives a threat, your cognitive resources are diminished, performance declines, and you become less motivated.
What triggers the threat or reward response?
Rock's research found five domains that trigger the primary reward or threat circuitry in our brains: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness. These form the acronym SCARF.
Status is our perceived importance relative to others in a group.
Threats to status include:
- Receiving unwanted advice or instructions
- Feeling left out of an activity
- Being told you're wrong
Status can be increased by:
- Receiving positive feedback
- Learning or improving
- Bettering past results
Certainty is the belief that something is reliably true.
Threats to certainty include:
- Lack of plans
- Unclear expectations
Certainty can be increased by:
- Clarifying outcomes and tradeoffs
- Confirming agendas, decisions, and outcomes
- Supplying more details
Autonomy is our sense of having choices and control.
Threats to autonomy include:
- Someone overly involved in your work
- Being asked for frequent updates
- Having to get approval for too many decisions
Autonomy can be increased by:
- Working at the problem instead of the task level
- Having flexibility within clear boundaries
- Control of desk, environment, and working hours
Relatedness is a feeling that we're among friends and not foes.
Threats to relatedness include:
- Big groups of people
- Business environments with no personal connections
- Audio-only meetings and interactions
Relatedness can be increased by:
- Small groups of people
- Buddy systems, mentoring, learning groups
- One trusted relationship at work
Fairness is the perception that interactions are just and equitable for all parties.
Threats to fairness include:
- Different rules for different people
- How workloads are shared
- Not living by stated values
Fairness can be increased by:
- Clear expectations, ground rules, and objectives
- Allowing teams to set their own rules
- Reviewing the threat triggers, which ones exist in your workplace or have you seen in your career?
- Reviewing the reward triggers, which ones exist in your workplace or have you seen in your career?
- How can your team do more to boost Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, or Fairness?