Subtle ways to p*** off your colleagues

Neuroscience is providing some interesting insights into why we behave the way we do at work. 

An example is the SCARF model devised by David Rock. Amongst other things, it gives us a better understanding of why people get fed up, cross, uncooperative, stressed etc.

The underlying idea of SCARF is that our basic flight/fight/avoid mechanism kicks in when we are in various work situations. It suggests that the way we respond is subconscious – it’s automatic, not reasoned and we often don’t realise what we’re doing! Sometimes people get p***ed off but don’t know why.

SCARF (it’s an acronym) suggests that we react badly (we fight, flee or avoid) when we perceive a threat to our:

Status – when our standing, position in the pecking order, seniority etc. is or seems to be challenged or undermined. At work this can happen when a responsibility or task is taken away, and it can happen when someone has a younger manager.

Certainty – when something we believed was fixed, certain, stable etc. is or seems to be changed. At work this can happen when a new system is introduced.

Autonomy – when the degree of control we have over our work is or seems to be lessened. At work this can happen when someone is micro-managed.

Relatedness – we naturally bond and form tribes, teams, groups and don’t like it when there’s a real or apparent shift in the internal relationships. At work this can happened when someone is expected to work with a new colleague, or when there’s a restructure to a team.

Fairness – we don’t like to be treated unfairly or to be disadvantaged. At work this can happen when a colleague receives a reward (perhaps performance related pay) or is or seems to be getting favourable attention from a manager.

There’s lots of possible overlaps, nuances and subtleties in the above categories. However, they can help us to understand why people sometimes get p***ed off when seemingly trivial things happen. They can help to identify some of the causes of low morale.

What have you done today to p*** off a colleague?

If you want to know more about SCARF see


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