scarfDeveloped in 2008 by David Rock, the SCARF model describes the way that people socially interact.  The aim of the model is to improve the quality of these interactions.


It’s based on the fundamental principles that people react to differently to things depending on whether they perceive them as a threat or a reward. Threat responses tend to be fairly negative and are made up of your typical “flight or fight” reactions.  A reward response on the other hand gets a more positive reaction.


Through his research, Rock discovered that different social situations can elicit either a threat or a reward response from an individual.  He classified these social situations into 5 domains:


  1. Status – this is simply to do with where you see yourself in the pecking order or hierarchy.  If you believe your status is at risk or being diminished you will experience a threat response.
  2. Certainty – this is about being able to predict what comes next and about knowing what to expect.  Things like possible restructuring, a change in team leader or a lack of clear communication can all increase the uncertainty someone experiences and consequently affect their ability and performance as it also increases their threat response.
  3. Autonomy – this describes someone’s ability to have control over their own environment and their ability to make choices about what they do and when they do it.  An increase in autonomy is often causes an increase in someone’s performance (this is their reward response in action), whereas when someone feels micro-managed a threat response is more likely and performance decreases.
  4. Relatedness – this is about whether or not someone is in or out of a social group. Forming new teams, bringing new people together, whilst all very necessary, can cause an increased threat response as people try and sort out who “fits” and who doesn’t.  Of course, the aim for effective team work is for everyone to “fit”.
  5. Fairness – the perception and belief that you are being treated fairly.  If someone believes they (or others) are being treated unfairly then this can increase their threat response.  If, however, they believe they (and others) are treated fairly, their reward response increases.


The key to using this model successfully is in understanding how you can reduce individuals threat response in each of the domains.  Doing this leads to higher quality interactions, which can only be a good thing for all parties.


Using this model as a facilitator:  It is worth considering where and how you could use this model.  Both personally in your role as a facilitator but also where you could incorporate this theory into your current content/courses.


I’ve found this useful theory to introduce in the following types of sessions:  change management, leadership, communication and high performing teams.  I’m sure you can think of many other areas where this model would be of use.


Further learning links:


David Rock on the SCARF model – a short videos (2mins 30) of David Rock introducing the SCARF Model


SCARF – A brain based model for collaborating with and influencing others – A very useful PDF document which outlines the research and it’s findings in some detail.  This link will take you to a resources page.  If you scroll down you will see the research paper available for download for free.


Your brain at work – This video is well worth watching if you have a free hour.  Although not directly related to SCARF, David Rock gives an interesting and engaging talk on how your brain works as part of the GoogleTechTalk Series.


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