Lions (Shame), Tigers (Blame), and Bears (Humiliation) – Oh my! : Why Humiliation is Malicious

Humiliation and Embarrassment are sometimes seen as the same coin but different sides. This is not accurate in my opinion. Embarrassment is perhaps tripping and falling down in front of someone. Humiliation is tripping and falling down in front of someone who then points it out to a group of people. They all laugh at you and you perhaps shift from embarrassment (“I can’t believe I tripped. Whoops. Well everyone does it”) to humiliation (“They are pointing out how I fell and others are laughing at me”) to shame (“I am so clumsy and stupid for falling over. I can’t believe what a klutz I am!”).

Do you see the distinction?

It is so important that humiliation is not used as a tactic in our workplace as a way to motivate others. I once read a story of how an office had two walls: Wall of Praise in which their name was placed on once a week if they did great work and then the Wall of Shame in which they were placed if they did not do as well. Humiliation and Shame were the primary feelings in that office-space as you could well imagine.

Do you think that they stayed around? Nope! Retention was very low and morale was even lower. The great pay didn’t matter. The morale did.

Humiliation does not produce results that matter. They may show some improvement to avoid feeling humiliated or shamed but this is not long lasting. Frankly, this is not leadership. Or at least not leadership worth having.

Evaluate your processes. Are you lifting up or shaming? Are you creating accountability with an opportunity for growth  or are you blaming? Are you creating a workplace where mistakes are allowed or are you humiliating others?

If you find yourself engaging in shame, blame, or humiliation (no matter how small or how unintentional), take that as a huge red flag and change. You are a better leader than that.

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