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5 Social Triggers to Master as a Leader

Updated: Oct 4, 2022



There are two possible survival mechanisms you demonstrate when you interact with someone, your reaction to them is either to engage or retract:


1. Approaching (engaging) means you approach the situation because you believe in finding rewards. For example, your manager asks you to go into his office:

  • To find the cause of the problem

  • Interested in learning, open to feedback and exchange

This stimulates brain function by increasing your dopamine levels, so you feel excited, happy, and euphoric.


2. Avoiding (retracting) means you want to run away because you feel that confrontation will be a threat. So, when your manager asks you in his office, you feel they are going to be giving you negative feedback so you disregard the request hoping it will go away.

  • Reacting by defending or blaming

  • Freezing up or unable to respond to the situation, but much later you come up with a great answer while talking to a friend

This stimulates brain function by having the cortisol levels build-up, decreasing the glucose and oxygen in the prefrontal cortex, thus decreasing memory function.


Back in 2008, David Rock published an article in the Neuro-Leadership Journal entitled “SCARF®: a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others” where he looked at how our behaviors are related to brain function. He explained how the amygdala in your limbic system uses memory from previous experiences to tell you whether to approach or avoid a situation. In short, we are all wired to behave in a way that will maximize our reward while reducing the threat.

Keep in mind influence is something you do while power is something you have from within. You have the power to control the situation and get the most out of it, as well as the power to retreat and leave the situation. Your actions will enable you to influence the other person.

The biggest takeaway from his article is that by understanding the five social triggers that you can control in any situation; it will help you obtain greater satisfaction. Using this model in your daily life can improve your relationship with others. In fact, depending on whether your reaction is to run or confront it will dictate the outcome. Let us start by going through each area:


Status: looks at prestige or hierarchy. Your perception of your status goes up when you feel you know more than the other person or can come out a winner.


Certainty: you know what you know; you want to know exactly how it will work. There is little or no risk it will go wrong.


Autonomy: you believe you have choices; able to do things on your own and in control of your work instead of being micro-managed.


Relatedness: being part of a group or being accepted; you are treated as a friend instead of an enemy.


Fairness: you find the outcome of the situation reasonable; you find someone decent.

To put SCARF® into context, we are using the situational table below:


Enabling your mindset to reset itself so you can apply SCARF® means you need to train it to do so. This means self-development to improve your skill set. You can do so by:

  • Simply pausing when a situation arises

  • Identifying which of the five triggers you are facing

  • Run the scenario outcomes or (Reward or Threat):

  • If you approach it, what will you get out of it?

  • If you avoid it, what will be the consequences?

  • React to the situation with what you figure is the best way to handle the situation

SCARF® should be used in Leadership development. In fact, you can correlate each of the domains to at least one leadership trait:


Status -> Influence

Certainty -> Change Management

Autonomy -> Problem-solving

Relatedness -> Building trust

Fairness -> Negotiation


I encourage you to read Dave Rock’s book “Your brain at work” which has been revised and updated recently.


Check out the YouTube video that goes with this article. We hope you found this learning valuable to you. Subscribe for free so you do not miss out on upcoming articles.


Want to read inspirational stories that make you think? go to our Anna & Dude series.


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