Your Brain’s Response to Conflict!

Posted on Sep 3, 2015 in Conflict Resolution,HR,Latest Articles,Workplace Behaviours . 0 Comments.

Words can be dangerous. No I mean really dangerous. Like sticking a knife into a toaster sort of dangerous. Recently I was assisting in a workplace conflict that came about when the Manager said to a Project Lead “you aren’t going to be included in the management meeting as it’s only for important decision makers”.

Boom! The Project Lead’s status had been threatened and they responded “Are you saying I am not important enough to be involved?”, Ouch! It escalated from there.

The Brain in action!
What’s going on in the brain during this exchange? A little research into the growing study of cognitive neuroscience has given me some information (and lots more questions!). Particularly what happens to our brain during conflict and even more specifically, what we can learn from this to resolve and minimise conflict. Or, in my ideal world… make conflict positive! Neuroscientists have found that a drop of status, like the situation above, actually activates the same parts of the brain as when you are in pain. Ouch!

‘SCARF’ – Reward or Threat???
We know that in our brain we have reward responses and threat responses. To prevent tension escalating or conversations increasing in difficulty we must minimise the threat response and maximise the reward response.

This is where I draw on the work of David Rock and his SCARF model published in NueroLeadership journal (2008). (I probably need to disclose that I am a self-declared David Rock “groupie” and that I love his approach and research).  SCARF stands for:

Rock says that these domains activate strong threat and reward responses in the brain. These effect our interactions and consequently our behaviours. Whilst Rock’s emphasis is on influencing others I think they are just as relevant in understanding conflict. For a succinct understanding of the SCARF model I suggest you watch this.

When a person’s certainty (or other elements of SCARF above) are challenged, this can lead to other conflicts in the workplace.

So if you need any help working through the Ouch! in your workplace or helping people take the knife out of the toaster please be in touch. 

Managing Volunteer Conflict
Taking an HR Selfie