sherri-goren-slovinby Sherri Goren Slovin

Sherri acts as Beyond Civility’s lead trainer in the communication workshops. She is a communication consultant and a mediator.

Fist in a Series of Five on “SCARF”

Part of the curriculum in the Beyond Civility Communication Workshop is based on the work of David Rock, Director of the Neuroleadership Institute, who posits that specific communications can cause us to advance or retreat, depending on how our brains process them, and that this happens at a primal level. When we perceive a threat, the amygdala, the part of the brain that detects danger and arouses fear, floods and there is an involuntary fight or flight response. When we are engaged and feel safe, the executive functions of the pre-frontal cortex increase and the capacity to problem solve increases. Unfortunately, the threat response, what basically kept our ancestors alive, is much more easily triggered than the approach response.

Rock uses the acronym SCARF to identify five “triggers” that, when activated, cause us to retreat or advance.

  •  Status
  • Certainty
  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Fairness

These elements provide a diagnostic tool for understanding and improving communication.

“Status,” for example, refers to our importance relative to others, the need to not be perceived as less than another, the need to be recognized and admired as capable, skilled, intelligent.

Consider the statement: “You don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re just repeating your Party’s propaganda.”

“Status” challenged, the listener goes into retreat or attack mode.

A Status affirming statement creates engagement: “I’d like to seriously explore the challenging differences in our Parties’ views on this topic, and would value your input.” Who could resist that invitation?

In coming weeks, we will explore the other four SCARF elements.

You can examine your personal triggers at

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