What can shame-based family rule systems teach us about less-than-wonderful workplaces?
At the annual Workshop on Transforming Humiliation and Violent Conflict hosted by Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies, Dr. Connie Dawson, author of the forthcoming book, Life Beyond Shame: Rewriting the Rules, facilitated a discussion group on shame-based rules for family systems. Here are the rules drawn from her poster board pictured above:
- “Do and be right” (“Do it my way”)
- “Blame shifted elsewhere”
- “Do not acknowledge feelings”
- “Keep secrets”
- “Don’t expect accountability”
- “Control to get what you need” (“Manipulate to ensure own survival”)
- “None of this is happening” (“Deny reality”)
If you’ve ever experienced a workplace built on a punitive, negative culture, then these rules may resonate strongly!
Dr. Brené Brown has a lot to say about shame-based organizational cultures in this Fast Company excerpt from her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012). In fact, she examines shaming behaviors at work in the context of workplace bullying, citing the work of the Workplace Bullying Institute. She doesn’t pull any punches in discussing how shame can be used by management:
When we see shame being used as a management tool (again, that means bullying, criticism in front of colleagues, public reprimands, or reward systems that intentionally belittle people), we need to take direct action because it means that we’ve got an infestation on our hands. And we need to remember that this doesn’t just happen overnight. Equally important to keep in mind is that shame is like the other “sh” word. Like shit, shame rolls downhill. If employees are constantly having to navigate shame, you can bet that they’re passing it on to their customers, students, and families.
While specific acts of bullying, mobbing, and abuse at work can be attributed to individuals, these behaviors are much less likely to flourish without permission — explicit or implicit — from the host organization. It’s why, among other things, that in order to understand workplace mistreatment, we need to keep one eye on the institutions and human systems that enable it.
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