The reality in negotiations is that we are all emotional creatures despite thinking that we are logical creatures.  Many people make the major mistake of thinking that logic is the overarching issue in negotiations.  They claim that the other side doesn’t see the logic of their position and if only they could access this one piece of information, they would logically make the same decision.  The fallacy of that analysis is the reliance on logic.

Most people are driven by emotions not logic.  If you don’t think so, then explain why at a scary movie, you jump out of fear.  Clearly, logically you should know that there is no way that murderer could ever come after you.  Yet you are fearful.  The reality is that the brain reacts to perceived threats and rewards in a similar fashion to physical threats and rewards.  It is important to understand that as you react more emotionally to an issue, the less your logical mind can work.  Researchers have found based on neuroimaging that brainwaves actually decrease in the area responsible for logical thinking when faced with emotional obstacles or threats.

David Rock, author of the book Brain at Work has devised a model to help develop leadership skills. The SCARF model represents issues such as Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness.  SCARF holds valuable lessons for negotiators.  Understand SCARF can improve your ability motivate the other person to your embrace your viewpoint.

People are motivated to react as if there is a threat or reward even though there is only a social threat or reward.  Understanding that the social threat and reward is just as important to the human brain as a physical threat or reward is critical.  Is your conduct creating a threat or reward? If you can demonstrate a reward, the better off you will be in a stressful negotiating environment as demonstrated by the individual components of the SCARF model:

Status —  Status is about social hierarchy, self respect, and your rank or status in society.  Threats to one’s  status would be feelings of failure, inferiority, humiliation, or being patronized.  Rewards to one’s status would be the emotion of receiving a promotion, acknowledgement, being listened to, or positive feedback.

Certainty —  We all want to know what will happen next — some more so than others.  Our brains are wired to look for a pattern in behavior.  Unfamiliar patterns cause chaos in the mind and are perceived as threats.  Unfamiliar patterns are also harder to understand and comprehend and, as a result, our brain goes into overdrive trying to make sense of the unfamiliar.   Threats to certainty can be the feeling of job insecurity or experiencing new people or places.  Certainty rewards can be experienced as familiar places, consistent treatment, or stability.

Autonomy – Sometimes known as control.  Do we have control over our lives?  Threats to control and autonomy often appear as strict rules, command and control structures, inflexibility.  Rewards can be reflected in giving people choices, options, or input.

Relatedness —  This aspect of SCARF refers  to being part of a group and belonging.  Do we consider a person to be a friend or enemy?  Research has found that social rejection triggers the same neural response as physical pain.   Being rejected by a person or a group can be a threat and can have serious consequences.  By extension, including people into a group can be a reward.

Fairness – People expect fair exchanges in communications, relationship, interactions, etc.  Having a result be unfair will create a threat and having a result be considered more fair will increase the reward.

How does all of this relate to negotiations?   Different aspects of SCARF can be incorporated into your offers and negotiating process.  Take for example, a wrongful termination case.  Which parts of SCARF are activated?   (All of the following have occurred in different wrongful termination cases.)


  • Status — Status as an employee.  People identify themselves as their job.  Loss of their status as a good employee is a threat.  How they were humiliated by being escorted out of the workpalce by a guard is a perceived threat.  Feeling like a failure and not being a consistent breadwinner is a threat.
  • Certainty – the uncertainty of the loss of a job is an actual threat.  Not knowing how the case will go or the uncertainty of future or how this will affect their relationship with loved ones is a threat.
  • Autonomy – They didn’t make the choice to get fired.  They don’t have control over the litigation.  They don’t control the other side.  They lost control, the moment they got fired.  These are threats.
  • Relatedness – All of their friends are gone.  They are not part of the group any more.  They no longer belong to a reliable, certain group (the “work” group) which was a reward.
  • Fairness – How they terminated was not fair.  They had no say so in how it went down.

Understanding these issues can help you to understand what may be used to motivate the other side.  Can you increase certainty by your offer?  How can you change the status of the person?  What could be perceived as fair or unfair?  How can you help the other person gain control?