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How To Speak Up Without Being Misunderstood

Neuroscience is a powerful tool and if harnessed the right way we can have better relationships and feel in control of our time and energy and lead happier lives.


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Sabena Samuel

2 years ago | 3 min read

It’s easier than you think, if you harness the super power called neuroscience.

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We have all experienced that state of being misunderstood or threatened by someone else’s action be it in the workplace or in our personal relationships. How can we avoid that ? Wouldn’t that be a dream !

Well, if you follow this method your chances of having better relationships with your colleagues is almost guaranteed. Wow ! That’s a tall claim. Agreed it’s not that simple however as we know everything takes time and practice. You didn’t learn to walk or talk in a day so let’s be patient and give this formula a chance !

I stumbled upon the SCARF Model during some work training that I had to do. Funny thing is that it wasn’t on the compulsory list but more of a nice to do list. We have a lot of acronyms in today’s world and I’m not sure which camp you are in. It does make it easy to remember …especially the next time you are trying to state something and feel like it’s going nowhere just remember SCARF.

But what does it actually mean ? Stand for ?

A little bit of background, this was developed in 2008 by David Rock, in his paper “SCARF: A Brain-Based Model for Collaborating With and Influencing Others.”

Status- our importance in relation to others. What this refers to is that when you need to give feedback or correct someone in a task they are doing incorrectly don’t do it in an open environment or in a manner where the person feels threatened. The reason being, the brain processes even a perceived threat as a real one and cortisol is released which makes us fearful and unable to think clearly. When that happens our creativity and mood is affected. On the flip side if dopamine — the “happy hormone” is released we feel good and want more of that feeling.

Certainty- our ability to predict the future. The human brain likes predictability. We feel safe and know what to expect. Breaking down complex tasks into bite sized chunks will give back control to your colleague or friend and a chance to succeed. We feel safe when we know what the outcome will be.

Autonomy- our ability to control events. On a similar vein once you have delegated the task do not micro manage the situation. Only if you let people learn and grow from their own mistakes will they feel in control and that they are contributing to the bigger picture.

Relatedness- our feelings of safety with others. You need to make sure you are genuinely inclusive in all your communication. The moment someone feels that they are not included it creates feelings of fear and threat and we have the cortisol cycle happening again.

Fairness- our way of perceiving how exchanges between people should be. Try and be as open and honest about the situation. When someone believes something is unfair it will activate the insular cortex- the region of the brain that is linked to disgust which results in a powerful threatening response.

I hope you are not more confused than ever before. Like I mentioned it does take some practice. Maybe try one tip at a time if adopting the whole model is a bit hard.

You will have to think through a situation before you adopt it. Firstly try and put yourself in their position. What would they see as a threat ? What would make them feel safe and happy ? By reverse engineering the result it may make it easier rather than a top down approach.

The important takeaway for me is that the human brain is clever but not so clever as it does not distinguish between perceived and real. So if we close the door on that “stressful” feeling and raise feelings of dopamine and oxytocin ( the love hormone) we can bring more meaning to our relationships and not feel so drained when we have an uncomfortable conversation coming up.

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Sabena Samuel

I am a finance professional who loves to explore hidden gems in my neighbourhood. Apart from demystifying finance topics I also love to experiment with simpler versions of complex recipes.


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