Company Culture

To Build a Resilient Culture Stop the Blaming and Shaming and Start Showing People Respect

Everything you're trying to accomplish with your team is much likelier to happen if people are emotionally safe.
To Build a Resilient Culture Stop the Blaming and Shaming and Start Showing People Respect
Image credit: Guido Cavallini | Getty Images
Guest Writer
CEO of Angela Kambouris Consultancy
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Workplace humiliation is far-reaching and spreads like wildfire. Digital stones are being thrown, and shame campaigns are drowning in social media. Real-life consequences are imprinting the lives and livelihoods of many and what is posted, shared or boosted has implications for everyone involved.

Blaming, gossiping, name-calling and harassment are a reflection that shame has permeated your culture. What about the public shaming of staff in front of colleagues, delivering public reprimands or reinforcing that humiliating people are tolerated by the eye rolling, the back-door conversations or when no one does anything?

Related: A Critical Leadership Problem Many Companies Don't Even Know They Have

When leaders embrace shame as a management tool, the tapestry of your organization has been infested. It spreads throughout the organization and creates ripples as people disengage and focus on their survival.

In Jon Ronson’s, TED Talk How One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life, he recounted the public shaming of senior director of corporate communications, Justine Sacco. While on holiday, Justine sent an offensive and careless tweet before boarding a flight. By the time she landed a trendy hashtag, #HasJustineLandedYet ignited an international feeding frenzy and her name synonymous with racism. Justine was publicly sentenced, subjected to torrents of abuse and threats resulting in the termination of her employment. Justine claimed that there was no malicious intent in what she wrote, yet it is difficult to find humor in her tweet. Christine’s fate unravelled publicly, and the power of the instant judgments turned her life upside down

Unfortunately, stories such as Sacco's are not uncommon. From job-shaming Geoffrey Owens, who played Elvin on The Cosby Show and was working at a Trader Joe’s in New Jersey, to Rachel Hundley, a city council member from California who received a threatening email accusing her of immoral behavior and demanding she drop out of the city council race or a website with photos of her from the Burning Man art festival would be released. Let’s not forget about Monica Lewinsky, slut-shamed and body shamed, and in 1998 lost her reputation and dignity and almost her life. Humiliation at her core, Lewinsky's TED Talk The Price of Shame reminds us that public shaming is a blood sport that needs to stop.

Maybe we need a little of Aretha Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” to permeate the fabric of the organization. Rather than immersing in the toxicity of an environment, invest in transforming the environment into a more uplifting one where a golden opportunity for improvement is embraced. To move towards a more humanized culture, shame needs to be addressed. When respect is held as one of the highest values, shame and blame cannot penetrate. Empathy is valued, accountability is self-driven, and people feel valued.

Here are five ways to build confidence in the business and start fostering a shame-resilient culture.

1. Self-shaming.

Neuroscience says that self-criticism shifts the brain into a state of self-punishment that causes us to disengage. As a leader, have you ever activated the inner critic, telling yourself that you need to pay attention, you should behave a certain way or you need different skills or experience that what you have? Or maybe you are afraid to share an idea or make a bold move in case someone laughs at you. What often plays out is you become your own worst critic.

To be a leader, this world demands empathy, self-compassion and the courage to try again. Remove the blame-filled self-evaluation and practice a little more self-compassion. Dr. Kristen Neff says self-kindness, common humanity and mindfulness help reduce our levels of stress and self-doubt by allowing you to see the story you created is about the things you fear, not the truth of who you are.

Related: Does Empathy Have a Place in Your Workplace?

2. Deliver feedback to inspire.

Resiliency isn’t born out of insults or public shaming. If you want to grow your people, deliver feedback to inspire. Honesty is the best policy. Be open and straightforward. There is no moment more important than the moment feedback is delivered. Embrace these as teachable moments by describing the behavior you want your people to change or magnify. You are giving them a roadmap to success.

3. Socrates triple filter test.

In ancient Greece, the famous philosopher Socrates was visited by an acquaintance of his, eager to share some juicy gossip. The man asked Socrates if he would like to know the story he had just heard about a friend of theirs. Socrates, in his wisdom, asked him the following three questions, known as the Triple Filter Test.

  • The first filter is truth. “Is what you are about to tell me about this person truthful?”
  • The second filter is goodness. “Is what you are about to share something good about the person?”
  • The third filter is usefulness. “Is what you want to tell me about this person going to be useful to me?”

It is apparent why Socrates was a great philosopher and held in such high esteem. 

4. Re-humanizing the workplace.

Completing a cultural assessment will give you the intel as to whether your company is driven by fear and shame or respect and compassion. When leaders are driven by intimidation, bullying or humiliating people, this results in a contagious environment where innovation is being starved and performance declines. 

To understand the cultural landscape, invite conversations that identify common challenges, how people are confronting the challenges and collectively, how they respond. In the book Daring Greatly, Brene Brown recommends that leaders facilitate honest conversations about shame, embrace their vulnerability as a strength, and identify where shame is playing out. Courageous conversations create opportunities for all people within the business to learn how to give and receive feedback in a way that fosters engagement and growth.

Related: I've Been Running My Company for Almost Half My Life. Here's What I've Learned.

5. Workplace culture will be the competitive edge of the future.

Cultivating respect is not a program or project. It is a way of being that must be clearly defined, communicated and modeled from the top down. Being inclusive in your hiring, empowering your employees to succeed, creating bonding experiences with your teams and upholding a zero tolerance for discrimination, bullying and sexual harassment are non-negotiable.

Attracting the workforce of tomorrow requires a respectful workplace. Workplace culture will be the competitive edge of the future, and one of the key factors will be the level of respect within the organization. In 2018, Johnson & Johnson reached the top spot on DiversityInc’s Top 50 as the commitment to diversity and inclusion is driven by the Chairman and CEO Alex Gorky. Throughout their organization, they launched and embedded diversity and inclusion through the talent management continuum, implemented development programs for their employees and provided training for their managers on mitigating unconscious bias.

Honest conversations about shame in the workplace are disruptive. Re-humanizing the workplace requires courage, a new language and impossibility to turn back when you have turned the light on.

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