Updated: Oct 3, 2019
by Cilette Harris
When we connect with others, how they experience us – our way of being – impacts on the quality and the outcomes of that connection.
When we want to co-create the future with others, make decisions or move forward together, it is helpful to know how we can create a connection that makes the other person feel safe.
Neuroscience teaches us that we, through our way of being, put others in either a ‘towards’ state or an ‘away from’ state.
Our brains treat many social threats and rewards the same as physical threats and rewards. The brain often does not differentiate between a physical or social stimulus, and therefore our response to a conversation that feels threatening will be the same as when we feel physically threatened. Our capacity to make decisions, solve problems and collaborate with others is generally reduced when we regard an interaction as threatening; and increased when we perceive it as rewarding. During a ‘safe’ experience, our prefrontal cortex and limbic system work together; and we are able to regulate how we respond. When we feel unsafe we are far more likely to react in an emotional way.
So how can we create a ‘towards’ state in which we can have meaningful connections with others?
I love David Rock’s SCARF model. It describes five social domains that will trigger the ‘towards’ or ‘away from’ state when we interact with others. It helps me to decide what will be helpful before I have an important conversation with someone. It keeps me honest about my own agenda for the conversation. It also makes me more compassionate towards the other person, especially when I need to have that difficult conversation; as I have placed myself in their shoes by working through the SCARF model.
Will my way of being make my conversation partner feel accepted or rejected?
Will how I connect give them certainty about what to expect in future, or will it leave them feeling confused?
How can I give them a sense of control during our interaction, rather than make them feel ambushed?
How safe will our conversation make the other person feel – will they experience me as friend or foe?
Will our exchange feel fair or will it feel like a win-lose conversation?
My awareness about my intent in each of the five domains helps me to regulate my responses during conversations. It also improves the outcomes of conversations and strengthens my relationships.
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