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  • Writer's pictureTerry Dockery

Shaming as a Management Technique

Recently I learned more about "shaming." i.e., criticizing someone about who they are, what they want, or how they feel. I began thinking, how does this technique fit with the fact that the core of a successful business is building win-win relationships with all your stakeholders, especially managing your team?

In work settings, the shaming statements I've heard most often are "Whatever happened to loyalty!" or "You should be glad you have a job!" Leaders that use this technique usually say this when one of their subordinates asks for something that the leader doesn't want to give; e.g., a raise in pay or a move up the career ladder.

Apparently the intended effect is for subordinates to feel frightened about losing their jobs and give up on their request, and this usually works for the short term. But how well does this technique work toward your longer term goal of attracting and retaining the talent you need to make your business successful?

The short answer is not very. The number one predictor of leadership success is the folks you're leading believing you care about them and their goals. Shaming them about what they want and how they feel runs contrary to this.

Most likely, the long term effects for the subordinate will be frustration, resentment, and passive-aggressive behaviors such as doing the absolute minimum possible or sabotaging the team effort in a myriad of ways (e.g., stealing) while they formulate their plans to work for a company where they are more valued and respected.

Their internal dialog might go something like, "He doesn't give a toot (or insert your favorite alternative word) about me and my family. Why should I care about him by busting my hump for his business? I'll show that turkey (or insert your favorite alternative word)!."

If the request is from an employee you want to retain but you have to say "no," an alternative approach would be something like, "John, I appreciate you sharing your career aspirations with me--I really admire your ambition and drive to succeed. I want you to be happy working here, and I see a bright future for you. I wish I could give you what you're asking for, but it just won't work for the overall financial success of the business right now. Here's what I propose instead..."

If it's a subordinate whose performance is already marginal, and the request is clear evidence that it's time to part ways, you could say something like, "John, I appreciate you sharing your career aspirations with me. I really admire your ambition and drive to succeed. I wish I could give you what you're asking for, but I've come to the conclusion that your goals and mine just don't align well enough for us to keep working together. I think we'd both be better off by not working together in the future."

High-Performance Habits

  1. Practice the Golden Rule. You can't go wrong treating folks like you want to be treated. Do you want someone telling you that you should be ashamed of what you want and how you feel?

  2. Use McGregor's Theory Y motivators. In addition to someone who cares about their goals, good employees like recognition, fair pay, being part of a great team, and opportunities for career advancement.

  3. Loyalty goes both ways. If you're going to play the "loyalty" card, remember that it goes both ways. Overall it's more productive to think "Is this still a win-win relationship or not?"

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