Travel and seasonal work – take your scarf

Photo credit - Nafinia Putra via

Photo credit – Nafinia Putra via

A scarf is one of the most versatile pieces of clothing, and a useful inclusion in your travel gear. It can be decorative and functional, providing practical clothing solutions for a range of situations. There is also another kind of scarf that brings a whole lot of different benefits.

The scarf I am talking about is a model that relates to how to get the best out of people. Its characteristics are based on neuroscience. The model was developed by David Rock. A search on the internet will locate many presentations of this model. I usually refer people to a Strategy and Business article entitled “Managing with the Brain in Mind”, published in 2009.

The SCARF model is made up of five characteristics: Status Certainty Autonomy Relatedness Fairness. Each attribute affects brain function and people performance. It is suggested that when they are incorporated into the way you relate to others it makes them feel good about themselves and more likely to form effective relationships. Let’s have a look at each one.

Human beings are social animals. Social acceptance in groups enhances their sense of status. Probably this is more noticeable when it is missing. If people do not feel that they “compare favourably” with others, they may feel threatened. This can be anxiety-provoking and stressful. No one performs well under stress.

Why is this important for travellers and seasonal workers? You need to form effective relationships quickly. Treating people with respect and including them – by listening, talking to them, asking their views on things – are all things that reinforce their status. Whether you are travelling a journey leg with them, or working in a team, facilitating effective relationships will enhance positive outcomes for all.

Certainty implies familiarity with what is going to happen. There is a lesser need to focus on familiar activities, freeing up a person’s attention for other things. In terms of neuroscience, the brain is using established pathways instead of having to forge new ones.

When ambiguity or confusion is encountered, the brain’s threat response is aroused. It could be just that the brain needs to engage more of its prefrontal cortex to focus on how to manage the situation presented. Lack of certainty can also be debilitating, drawing on more neural energy and provoking threat responses in people.

A person interested in travelling and working in foreign places would seem to be someone who is curious, embracing uncertainty. What I am talking about here goes beyond the stimulation gained through curiosity. Research and preparation before departure can help deal with the unexpected events that present.  Working with others effectively means doing things like sharing plans and rationales behind decisions and pre-empting anticipated events or flagging periods of uncertainty.

People like to feel they make their own decisions and determine their own actions. This is confidence-building. When it is absent, people can feel a lack of control over their lives. The sense of being micro-managed is the familiar experience in work places where people experience a lack of autonomy. Most people, if given the scope to manage their own work, take a greater interest in it and potentially find ways of improving the processes and outcomes achieved.

When managing people, it is good to be able to provide scope for them to decide things about their work. Of course, a judgement must be made about the level of experience and skills required and the potential people have for performing the work. Providing training and scope to develop competence in roles, as well as opportunities for latitude in decision-making enhances the scope for people to have autonomy.

Relationships are built on trust and empathy. They are important if you are going to collaborate effectively. Working and living with others in a small community means operating in overlapping social groups. Relatedness is required – not optional!

Relatedness requires time and repeated social interaction to develop. Sometimes it will be facilitated by a shared experience like working together to overcome some challenge. It can also come from creating an environment of inclusion and acceptance. Often this depends on the skill of leaders in work groups and communities. This will certainly be important in the many staff housing arrangements set up as in the resort we are in.

The perception of fairness is important. Like the other attributes listed above, its absence can provoke threats that result in hostility. Akin to status, fairness is a social perception relative to the context and the person concerned. Different levels of commitment and reward are evidence of these.

Whilst fairness may seem to be subjective, it is suggested that it is served by transparency. Communication about intentions and reasons for actions in workplaces and work groups help to maintain integrity between management and workers. This treads familiar ground covered by all the attributes mentioned earlier. Each of them suggests a “fair” approach.

Don’t forget to pack your scarf
Developing SCARF attributes can serve you well in developing interpersonal relationships. Whilst these are important in all situations, when you are travelling and working abroad, these skills serve you well in moving into new situations and forming effective relationships. At the end of the day, people can make or break your trip so packing your SCARF could be the thing that makes the difference!

Rock, David. 2009. Managing with the Brain in Mind in Strategy & Business 

2 comments, add yours.

Ross McLeod

Great post Mary very apt here in Japan



    Glad you liked it!

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