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Performance reviews often provoke an unsettling response. And more often than not the employee feels threatened. Why such a reaction?

Naomi Eisenberger, a leading social neuroscience researcher at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), wanted to understand what goes on in the brain when people feel threatened or rejected by others. She concluded that the feeling of being excluded provoked the same sort of reaction in the brain that physical pain might cause.

We all have our own ideas about status our self worth is tied to status. So, it becomes a key drivers when it comes to workplace behavior.

Everyday conversations can be turned into a measurement of status, as people try to ensure they are not perceived as any less valued than others.What does this have to do with managing your employees? It’s all about minimize danger, maximize reward.

The SCARF model of behavior is a relatively new theory, having first been published in 2008 by David Rock. The word SCARF is an acronym, which stands for:

  • Status – the relative importance to others.
  • Certainty – the ability to predict future.
  • Autonomy – the sense of control over events.
  • Relatedness – the sense of safety with others.
  • Fairness – the perception of fair exchanges.

The basic premise of the SCARF model is the assumption the brain makes us behave in certain ways, which are to minimize threats and maximize rewards and can help improve collaborations.

Like with performance reviews. Managers typically give feedback, However,the mere phrase “Can I give you some advice, can I tell you something?” puts employees on the defensive because they perceive the person offering advice as claiming superiority or they feel unfairly reprimanded. Being mindful of the fight or flight response, instead of providing feedback, allow the person to give feedback on themselves.

Research published by Hidehiko Takahashi et al. in 2009 shows that when people realize that they might compare unfavorably to someone else, the threat response kicks in.  The desire by the employee to not perceived as less than by the manager  can easily turn into an argument or conflict.The perception of status increases when people are given praise, or when employees are given a new skills, as that newly acquired skill might earn them a raise.

When employees feel as though they have been passed over for promotion or betrayed by a manager by being given an assignment unworthy of their talents or unrecognized, employees experience this as a neural impulse, as powerful and painful as a blow to the head. Another area for Managers to consider, especially those who exhibit favoritism, is that the same threat response is aroused.

You often hear that managers will tell employees who fell unfairly targeted to “ suck it up”. Managers who remain mindful of this will understand that employees will of course will  learn to “suck it up,”. Yet, this type of  attitude does little to engage an employee, to create a collaborative environment  and if anything it limits an employee’s commitment to the team and to the job.

This awareness, this being mindful has much to do with recognizing the “fight or flight” response. The same neural responses that drive us toward food or away from predators are triggered by our perception of the way we are treated by other people. When that threat response is triggered,  employees’ brains become much less efficient. So, managers need to make employees feel good about themselves, clearly communicate their expectations, give employees latitude to make decisions, support people’s efforts to build good relationships, and treat the whole organization fairly, it prompts a reward response.

Not knowing what will happen next can be debilitating, undermines performance, and disengages employees. Managers need to be transparent and create a perception of certainty in order to build confident employees and instill trust.

Share information in a timely manner. If there are staff reduction, you can keep people engaged and motivated when employees perceive that cutbacks are being handled fairly — that no one group is treated with preference and that there is a rationale for every cut. Transparent practices are the foundation on which the perception of certainty rests. Communicate how decisions are made.

Another important point is to help employees break down complex projects down into small steps and focus on a single manageable aspect of the work. This can also help create the feeling of certainty as the project now seems less ambiguous and not as overwhelming.

The same is true when creating teams.Teams of diverse people cannot be  just thrown together.  Trust with teams should not at all be assumed or even mandated. And you cannot compel employees to exhibit goodwill. Trust evolves over time. Find ways to minimize the potential for threat response.

Managing is  difficult. As a Manager, it is  essential to understand how to manage these threats and rewards when we interact with other people. Every action, every decision you make either supports or undermines your employees perceptions of status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, and fairness.

Learn more about the SCARF model. Be mindful.

Resources: http://www.strategy-business.com/article/09306?gko=5df7f


I invite you to share your experiences or thoughts, or comments. You can contact me for more information on soft skills/interpersonal skills workshops that can transform employees.