Shaming Doesn’t Work, And There’s a Reason So Many CEOs Do It




When we think about the steps we take to correct an employee’s mistake, it’s easy for a business leader to think about shaming the person to teach him or her a lesson.


Who hasn‘t had this thought? “Once they see what happens to them, they’ll never do that again.”


And you may very well have controlled the person’s behavior in a limited sense. They may not do that again. But that doesn’t mean they learned anything.


Shaming can fill people with fear, guilt, and disgrace. It can cause the person to feel trapped, alone, and powerless. But neuroscience tells us that it does something else: It causes the brain to react like it is in physical danger (thank you evolution), and shuts down the brain’s learning centers—the areas where memory and reasoning occur. So just as a dog will avoid peeing on the rug to avoid a newspaper to the nose, the person may also avoid the unwanted behavior. But the person won’t receive the wisdom that will help him or her understand another way to go, and why it’s important to consider doing it that way.


Many times, when CEOs shame, it’s not because they don’t care about people. Many times, it’s their style of thinking that doesn’t ascribe high value to empathy. They may attach tremendously high value to strategy, and they may have a great appreciation of boosting the customer experience. But if their awareness of empathy is low, they are more inclined to express their thoughts without asking: “How is this person experiencing what I’m saying? How is it making them feel?”


If you want an employee to learn, these are crucial questions to ask. But you can’t expect a CEO to ask them if it’s never occurred to them.


This is one of the things we explore in our MindScan assessment. If you’re high in strategy but low in empathy, the MindScan will identify that. It’s not a self-report. It’s a mathematical way of measuring your thinking patterns that make you aware of how you think – and the impacts of those patterns.

If you want to scare your employee, shame them. But if you want them to learn, shaming is the worst thing you can do. The brain simply won’t cooperate when it’s being shamed.


This is crucial insight that can make all the difference for a business leader. But before you can take action to change your approach, you need to be aware of how your own thinking influences your approach.


That’s why so many clients have been glad they took the MindScan assessment. You don’t know what you don’t know, and nothing helps you improve like understanding your own mind. Contact me today to begin this process. And watch the video below to hear Michelle Cohl and me talk more on this topic.



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