It’s not fair!

Last week was stage 2 of my Helmsman Project adventure: a five-day sailing trip with 30 odd teenage boys.

Climbing the mast of the James Craig… And having a fair go at it!


Last week was stage 2 of my Helmsman Project adventure: a five-day sailing trip with 30 odd teenage boys. You may recall the post Expectations overboard I had written after our initial two-day trip… Well this time, I jumped aboard with little expectations, apart from having fun, experiencing challenges and having lots of great learning.

As our voyage unfolded – with corpses of seasick boys lying all over the place on day one – everyone started developing a better understanding of what was needed of them in order to sail the ship. One of these tasks was mast climbing in order to untie or secure the sails. Needless to say, it was also one of the most anticipated and exciting exercises.

On day 3, I started feeling a little frustrated when I noticed that the boys in my group hadn’t had a chance to climb the mast as yet, but I could see other groups repeating the experience for a second or even third time. As we were waiting for our turn to finally come, my boys were very patient – seemingly not phased at all by the situation. So why then did I feel annoyed? Because fairness is important to me.

According to Dr David Rock, there are five drivers to our social behaviour: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness, summarised as the SCARF model:

  • Status is about relative importance to others. (e.g. Leaders and managers can create a status threat simply due to their hierarchy in the organisation.)
  • Certainty concerns being able to predict the future. Keeping the flow of communication open will increase certainty.
  • Autonomy provides a sense of control over events.
  • Relatedness is a sense of safety with others – of friend rather than foe.
  • Fairness is a perception of fair exchanges between people.

These factors can activate a reward or a threat response in social situations. In other words, we can feel satisfied or dissatisfied in relation to any of these five elements in our interactions with others. This satisfaction or dissatisfaction can lead us to act in a way that brings us closer or further away from the drivers.

Not all five factors are equally important to each individual. Fairness is a driver that tends to stick out for me. Coming back to my example of climbing the mast, it’s easy to see that fairness wasn’t as important to the boys in my group at that point in time – hence their relaxed attitude.

So how is this framework helpful? The SCARF model can help to build self-awareness and awareness of others around social drivers. It can assist us in predicting our reaction towards certain situation and adjust it as needed. In my case, I proactively sought fairness by asking that our group gets to climb the mast, but realising that my boys were patient, I also made a conscious decision to not worry so much about the timing of it all.

When we’re conscious of other people’s social drivers, we can also better improve our interactions with them, ensuring their need for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness or fairness is fulfilled or at least addressed. And when someone’s needs are addressed, then it’s all smooth sailing…

1 comment on “It’s not fair!Add yours →

  1. Quelle belle aventure que tu vis!!! Je suis bien contente pour toi. Nous avons bien hâte de te voir!!

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