15 May 2014

What can communicators learn from neuroscience? – IoIC Live 2014 series

After the recent IoIC Live 2014 conference, we had just too many interesting points to take away from the speakers. So we have made series of blogs, one for each speaker, that will be posted on Storyboard over the next few days.


Next up is an interesting and different topic – Hilary Scarlett, Director at Scarlett Associates, outlines how our brains work, how we learn and how this could affect the ways we choose to communicate with employees.

According to Hilary, people work harder if they are led by an empathetic person – meaning someone who can relate to and try to understand them. Excitingly for members of the audience she debunked the myth that after the age of 25 years we can no longer learn new things easily, we can actually learn at any stage.

What can communicators learn from neuroscience?

Two things she highlighted that our brains do instinctively is aim to avoid threats and maximise rewards, with stronger reactions to perceived threats compared to aiming to gain rewards.

A main topic she focused upon was the impact of change on our brains, a key issue in communications where comms professionals often have to relate business changes to employees. It is necessary sometimes to break the negative cycle that anxiety creates, such as by encouraging employees to achieve short term goals and reminding people of past wins. Giving praise and recognition is also important as is the novelty factor and laughter, to creating a better working environment.

To this end, Hilary showed a brilliant video to show the importance of fairness, using capuchin monkeys.

We need to be able to provide consistency within times of change, even if this just means guaranteeing that information will be given at a certain time, in a certain way.

Looking after employees and SCARF

To our brains physical and social pains are the same, and we hugely underestimate the impact of social pain on those at work. Hilary drew attention to the SCARF model, that is five factors that affect our abilities to think and collaborate effectively.

1. Status

Status means looking at ourselves as compared to others, if we feel we are doing well by comparison and feeling respected we will work more effectively

2. Certainty

Certainty is a key point for communicators as it concerns employees feeling they have enough information to do their jobs and focus.

3. Autonomy

Autonomy is a factor that arises again and again in regards to engagement, meaning that it is better to give employees a sense of control. They should be involved in some decision making to work well.

4. Relatedness

Relatedness means that our brains our wired to be social and we will work better if we get along with our colleagues.

5. Fairness

Again related to others, we need to feel we are treated equally to those around us.

If our employees feel negative about all five then they are in a dangerously un-engaged position.

Our IoIC Live 2014 series

Some of the best bits from Twitter #IoICLive14