A Culture of Shame

by | Mar 14, 2024

Shaming has no place in any environment, let alone in the realm of business. It’s easy to assume that such behaviors are confined to specific settings like fraternities, sororities, or high school locker rooms where hazing is unfortunately normalized. However, the truth is that shaming can rear its ugly head anywhere, including within corporations and organizations.

Over time, we’ve observed one particular organization that has fostered a culture of shaming and mistrust. While there are always multiple perspectives to consider, a common thread emerges from our observations: the leadership. Numerous employees, business partners, and vendors have faced termination or legal disputes, leading to fractured relationships and a pervasive sense of mistrust. Shaming, implicitly or explicitly, contributes significantly to this toxic atmosphere.

We often liken companies and organizations to families, where the principles of respect and support should be paramount. Just as you wouldn’t shame a family member, the same principle applies within organizational structures. The emotional ties to an organization can be just as strong as those within a family unit, driven by the fear of job loss or financial instability.

Consider the traditional cycle of violence in personal relationships, where promises of improvement follow periods of abuse, only for the cycle to repeat. Remarkably, a similar pattern can unfold within organizations, perpetuating a psychological cycle of violence (one of the 15 dysfunctional communication styles we have identified). Employees may hold onto hope for change, rationalizing their continued presence despite ongoing mistreatment.

Returning to the issue of shaming, it’s essential to recognize its insidious presence within organizational dynamics. Even if you believe your leadership style is free from such practices, the reality is that every organization has a culture, whether consciously cultivated or not. Leadership behavior, communication practices, and responses to challenges all contribute to shaping this culture.

To combat shaming and cultivate an environment of respect and trust, consider the following strategies:

  • Provide positive feedback: Recognize and reinforce desirable behaviors rather than focusing solely on shortcomings.
  • Engage with employees: Foster open communication channels where employees feel valued and heard, promoting a sense of belonging within the organization.
  • Demonstrate inclusive leadership: Acknowledge the contributions of all members of the organization, regardless of their position or role.
  • Express appreciation: Show genuine appreciation for the efforts and contributions of employees, reinforcing their value to the organization.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a culture where individuals feel empowered, respected, and valued for their unique contributions.

Creating an anti-shaming culture requires conscious effort and continuous attention. So next time there’s a problem, because that’s usually when this comes up, check yourself. Think about how you’re going to respond. Because how you respond to challenges, issues, problems, and concerns says a lot about you and the culture that you’re creating, whether it’s in your department, in your entire organization, or with the one direct report you have under you.

Every day you are actively creating the culture in your organization.  Make it one you want. Choose to build a culture that aligns with your values and aspirations—one that fosters trust, respect, and mutual support.


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