Play the status card

Trying to influence someone to support your idea? Make sure you know what triggers them in a positive way.

There's a brilliant scene in "Hidden Figures," the 2016 Academy Award nominated film, where one of the African American heroines petitions a white judge to allow her to take engineering night courses at a "Whites Only" school.  She taps into the judge's desire for status -- being the first and leaving a legacy -- and wins her appeal. Take a look at the clip.

Status is one of five triggers that are hardwired into our brains, according to Dr. David Rock's SCARF model of behavior.  

When we understand a person's "neuro trigger" we can appeal to that when trying to influence them, just as Mrs. Jackson did with the judge. You see, neuroscientists have found that our brains are hardwired to maximize reward and minimize danger. A perceived positive reward or emotion makes us act. A negative emotion or perceived threat causes us to flee or avoid the situation or decision.

What's fascinating is that we quickly make decisions based on these triggers usually without even understanding what's triggering us.

The SCARF triggers are:

  • Status – our hardwired social need for esteem and respect, and about our relative importance to others.
  • Certainty – our the ability to predict what will happen.
  • Autonomy – our sense of control over events and opportunity to make choices.
  • Relatedness – the level of comfort and safety we feel with others. We're hardwired to classify people quickly as either friend or foe.
  • Fairness – the perception of fair exchanges between people.

So many attempts to influence people are based on facts and rational thinking. And they fall flat.

It's helpful to be reminded that almost all decisions are based on emotion and our neuro-triggers are calling the shots.