Sunday, January 3, 2016

The “Shaming” Effect

it’s important to practice positive psychology and bring wisdom to the workplace.

Modern organizations are highly complex and fiercely competitive, diversified and dynamic,  in both wanted and unwanted, healthy and unhealthy ways. What are the best management practices to empower, engage and motivate employees? “Carrot or stick,” which one is more effective to drive changes in both behavior and mindset level? Is the “shaming effect” overall positive or negative?

It boils down to "the end justifies the means" argument for shaming: In the general scheme of things, shaming should be considered off limits, the real-life experiences shared by those athletes make us wonder if under very specific conditions it might be effective. First, the environment is one in which that type of commentary on one's performance is considered normal or, at least, doesn't come as a surprise. And second, the individual's on the receiving end are the type of personality who respond to such things with the "Oh yeah?! Well, I'll show you!" mindset and then dig in harder than ever to improve their performance and prove themselves. And that might be true of similar environments made up of ultra-competitive individuals who have very high ego strength and therefore use any such situation as just more fuel on the fire to move them onward, rather than the more "average" person who might find such things demotivating, demeaning and a hindrance to future efforts to try.

Often shaming has a negative impact on employees’ morale and business culture for the long run: Shaming is one form of bullying - who would defend bullying? Shaming is fear based and tells more about the self-worth of the shamer then the shamee. It brings little value to any relationship personally or in the business world. Being nurturing, supportive, caring and accepting has a greater probability of being more inspiring and long range productive. Shaming someone usually leads to anger based passive aggressive behavior causing more long-term harm than good. If you want to get the temporary change that erodes morale and creates compliant behavior only when the "boss" is looking, then shaming is for you. If you want to create a culture where folks offer discretionary effort (going above and beyond) even when the boss is not looking, and then understanding how to effectively use positive reinforcement is the key. Behavior should be corrected when needed, but "shaming" is only temporary fix and has tons of potential negative ramifications. Managers are more likely to get results if they spend their time supporting their staff and not use their energy to shame them. Most people who are not performing to the standard required know they have a problem and appreciate the support to do better.

It’s important to follow the principles of positive psychology and take healthy practices in the workplace: Leaders and managers knowing their people well enough to understand what is uniquely motivating to each, and leaders exercising "healthy accountability," which means, in part, spending as much or more time recognizing and calling attention to the achievement of desired outcomes (and even just healthy efforts toward those ends) as correcting or discouraging undesirable behaviors. We respect the dignity of another person. The fact is that shaming people from time to time is a sign that you are bowing to a passion for controlling that might destroy all of those in its wake. Often shaming only makes the 'shamed' less likely to change their attitude. The use of shame does bring change: lowers the dignity of the person, bases the relationship with the manager on fear and mistrust, and projects a despicable image of the company. On the surface, employees exposed to this shameful managerial style might respond more swiftly to requests.... But inside their minds they are discouraged, disengaged, and finding ways to take revenge, surely not reflecting in how to innovate/bring more value! Rather, managers should meet one on one with the under-performing workers to get them to perform better starting with incentives and if that fails, then the manager can bring up an ultimatum for change.

Either for managers or employees, it’s important to practice positive psychology and bring wisdom to the workplace, having clear and transparent expectations and lots of visibility on how all are doing toward helping the organization achieve its mission.  While shaming could prove effective sometimes, you need to weigh the cost of such an approach to the benefits for the long term. In that vein, everyone is accountable to everyone else and to behave in a professional way and build the culture of trust and positivity.


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