David Rock has identified five “triggers” that can evoke an intense emotional response. We don’t like it when:
- Someone puts us in a category that is “lower” than someone else (Status)
- We don’t have enough clarity to navigate the “next steps” of our lives (Certainty)
- We are robbed of the opportunity to exert a measure of control over our environment or destiny (Autonomy)
- We are not sure whether someone else can be trusted; are they for us or against us? (Relatededness)
- We feel that others are given preferential treatment (Fairness)
Part 2 of the Story
I often use the SCARF model to coach leaders on how to give feedback in ways it is more likely to be received. When leaders understand how we human beings are hard-wired, they can build trust and communicate more effectively.
But lately I’ve been wondering whether it’s not time for Part 2 of this story. Isn’t it possible for us to cultivate our brains so that we can respond differently to these threats?
What if instead of reacting negatively when our status is threatened, we recognize the value of seeing life from a lower rung of the ladder – at least some of the time? After all, Jesus washed his disciples’ feet. If he was willing to be a servant, perhaps we could practice humility more often.
What if instead of getting bent out of shape when our need for certainty is not met, we embraced ambiguity and the unknown? Abraham left his father’s land and started out on a journey of faith “not knowing where he was going.”
What if occasionally we were willing to relinquish some of our autonomy? Not to the point of losing our sense of self, but at least enough to entertain the possibility that our independence sometimes gets in the way of our best good. The prayer Jesus taught us to pray includes the phrase “thy will be done.”
What if we were able to see beyond an Us vs. Them mentality? What if we crossed boundaries and built good will with those who are outside of our In Group and our comfort zone? Jesus commanded his followers to love our enemies.
What if we were willing to give up a narrow definition of fairness and embrace a larger vision of truth? When South Africa instituted the Truth & Reconciliation Commission to deal with the pain left from apartheid, both the perpetrators and the victims left with their hearts healed. The truth sets us free.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we dishonor or ignore the part of ourselves that needs status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. But perhaps when we practice spiritual disciplines of humility, faith, relinquishment, inclusiveness and truthfulness, we are on our way to fulfilling our ultimate destiny. We are capable of growing past old patterns inherited from our ancestors. We are the children of God.
Which of the social needs described above most often triggers an emotional response on your part?
How can you honor that need, seeking appropriate ways to get it met?
What spiritual discipline can you undertake to move past a pure biological reaction to life events to a more conscious and spiritual response?