SCARF is a concept developed by David Rock of the NeuroLeadership Institute and popularized in his book, Quiet Leadership. It’s a good way to take stress out of a conversation. That’s useful, since a person in stress doesn’t think clearly.Sometimes, our brain is not our friend.
There’s a busy and primitive part of it, the amygdala, always scanning for changes in the environment. It interprets all change or discomfort as danger, which made sense when the User Guide for Life was: “Eat or be eaten.” When the part of the brain concerned with survival takes over, the “fight or flight” mechanism kicks in automatically. The part of the brain that processes information and makes decisions is all but shut down as the body involuntarily prepares for trouble.
The theory suggests there are five elements of a relationship or situation that can derail any conversation if they are missing or out of balance. The more we can do to provide them, the more likely the other person is to feel safe in the conversation and able to think clearly.
You won’t be surprised to learn that SCARF is an acronym.
STATUS – “Where am I in the pecking order?” Our brains are always on the lookout for evidence of where we sit regarding power, authority and influence. That’s residue from an earlier time, one that held greater risk of getting clobbered. We feel safer when we sense that our status is equal to or greater than the folks around us. Neuroscience suggests that our brains react to a threat to our status the same way they do to a physical threat. The brain doesn’t differentiate. So if you “outrank” the person you’re talking with – you’re their boss, professor, parent, etc. – the very fact of talking with you is stressful because your status is higher than theirs.
What can we do to balance the status? Recognizing the gap is the first step. You might move the meeting from your office to a neutral place or a place where they are comfortable. A conference room, a cafe, their office or go for a walk. You might draw their attention to a fact that raises their status. “I need to talk with you because you have experience with this project.” “Your job gives you a closer look at [whatever], so I value your thoughts.” “As a member of this team, your work is important to our success.” Make it something real – they’ll smell inauthenticity.
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Holding a good conversation is the best way to instigate change for the better. People hear what’s going on, issues are aired, confusion is cleared up, everyone goes away happy, and change goes smoothly.
On what planet?
While humans are naturally wired to communicate, we’re not all set up to do it well. You don’t have to look very far to find an example of miscommunication that leads to waste – wasted time, wasted effort, wasted energy, wasted goodwill.
Fortunately, there are some key behaviours we can learn and practise that will increase the chance that our communications will be heard, understood and acted on. We call these “Communication Kata.” They’re named after the exercises practitioners of martial arts, such as Aikido and Kung Fu, repeat, over and over, until they become instantly available to them when needed. They don’t have to think, “Now I move my right hand here and raise my left foot so many inches.” They focus on strategy. “Now I kick my opponent in the back.”
Similarly, learning and practising these communication kata makes these techniqes of effective interaction available whenever you’re in conversation. You don’t need to think about the process, you can focus on the content. Think of it as “Tongue Fu.”
We’ve presented these Communication Kata at conferences (Agile 2013 and Agile Tour Montreal). By popular request, we share them here on the blog.
Communication Kata 1: SCARF
Communication Kata 2: Share your intention
I recently posted: “Google before you Tweet” is the new “Think before you Speak.” Since things posted on the Internet are forever, I thought I’d remind myself and others that it’s good to verify your information before pontificating. (I have snopes.com on speed dial.)
The same is true for reading the content before we share on facebook or retweet a link. Actually reading and checking what we post can preserve the illusion that we are intelligent beings. Otherwise we risk sharing something incorrect or inappropriate or pass on, as truth, satire from The Onion or Mooscleans.
Being asleep at the wheel when you are posting as yourself is merely embarrassing. But when you’re posting on behalf of an organization, it’s criminal not to have your brain in gear. So I was puzzled, today, to see a retweet of something I posted a couple of weeks ago.
Is this an organization rubbishing itself? Or is someone simply not reading and thinking before posting?
NovoED is the learning platform for an online course I’m taking. (A MOOC with thousands of participants.) Desire2Learn, based in my community, would seem to be a rival in the ed-tech space. (Yes, I Googled that before pontificating.) So why would NovoED repeat a plug for D2L?
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“She gets up and pours herself a strong one & stares out at the stars up in the sky – then takes a taxi because she doesn’t drive impaired.”
That’s just one of many tweets posted by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Newfoundland (@RCMPNL) on July 13, when The Eagles were headlining at the annual Salmon Festival. An outdoor party featuring five big name bands is bound to attract an exuberant and boisterous crowd – some of whom might have their wits dipped in alcohol.
Rather than get all preachy-teachy on the subject of driving safely, the Mounties took their message – and a sense of humour – to Twitter. They cleverly wrapped their message in lyrics from Eagles hits. Here are just a few.
- “Already Gone” to see the Eagles at the Salmon Festival? Traffic is heavy. Take your time. RCMP members are patrolling the TCH. [Trans Canada Highway]
- Keeping some “Fast Company” on your way to see The Eagles at Salmon Festival? RCMP members will be watching for speeders. Take your time.
- It’s going to be a “Heartache Tonight” if the RCMP pulls you over for impaired driving at Salmon Festival. Designate a driver.
- “You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes” If you’re driving impaired at Salmon Festival the RCMP will find you.
- Jail is no “Hotel California” Enjoying Salmon Festival? Designate a driver, take a taxi or walk. Don’t drink& drive. Keep reading this post
I’m getting lean. Alas, this is not about my body. It’s something I’ll call “lean communication.” I’m not about to preach on short sentences and plain words, though that can be part of it. I’m convinced that good communication reduces waste.
In manufacturing, the concept of “lean” describes practices that use fewer resources to provide greater value to customers. Anything customers don’t value enough to pay for is considered “waste,” something to eliminate. Lean practices originated in manufacturing in the 1940s, when Taiichi Ohno introduced them at Toyota. Over the years, they’ve been adopted and adapted in many contexts, including lean startups and lean software development.
When I look at the ideas I use with my communication coaching clients, I see a lot of overlap with lean principles, particularly those set out by the Lean Enterprise Institute. I’ve paraphrased them, but you can find the original version here.
1. Establish value from the customer’s perspective
This is my top tip for communication. I never tire of sharing it because it works so well. The audience for any communication might be considered your “customers.” The more you can make your communication about them and their needs, the more likely you are to be listened to, heard and understood. Whether you’re addressing one person or 100, in conversation, in presentations, in broadcast or in writing, you can almost never go wrong if you explain your point from the perspective of your audience. You make people care about your message by answering their question, “What’s in it for me?” (WIFM) That’s the value will it have for them. When you talk about anything they don’t value – no matter how much you love it – you waste your time and theirs. [Read the whole post...]
When my professional communicator friends ask what I’m up to, I need to explain – non-techie to non-techie – what ‘agile’ means. I tell a story that goes something like this:
“Being agile is about business sustainability. It’s an approach to work that lets an organization respond to changes in its environment – customer needs, market fluctuations, new technology, competitor moves, resource constraints, whatever.”
Communicators get that. We pay attention to the business environment. We’re also familiar with change, since most of what we advise on or write about has something to do with something new.
It’s about change
“Since every part of the business uses computers, change can’t happen without systems changes. Even great communication can’t compensate for crappy tools. But developing systems can be slow and expensive and, sometimes, by the time you’re done, the target has moved and more changes are needed.”
Heads nod. Everyone’s witnessed this. [Read the whole post...]