When Your Boss Shames You Publicly

By The Intersect Group

Have you ever seen anyone shamed in public? We’re not talking on social media or otherwise online (although it sure looks awful there, too), but in person.

Chances are great that you sided with the person being shamed: the person doing the shaming comes across as a bully.

Still, being shamed in public is beyond mortifying, no matter how bad the person doing the shaming looks to others.

Especially when it takes place at work and especially so In front of colleagues (or even your own team members, should you be in a managerial position).


We hope it never happens to you.

In fact, in a perfect world, it wouldn’t happen to you because no manager should ever, EVER, shame someone publicly: it shows a significant lack of judgement and maturity. If a manager shames someone publicly, their manager should address it vigorously (in private) because – yes – it’s that unprofessional.

But it could happen to you because it’s not as uncommon as one would think…or want.


First, a bit of background: why some bosses think public shaming is actually helpful

That’s right: some managers think shaming someone publicly is a good way to get them to stop whatever “bad” behavior they are doing and/or improve performance.

Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.

Telling people publicly how bad they are or what a big mistake they made will not improve their performance. While it’s true that we will avoid being humiliated at all costs, we’ll do so not by improving but by….leaving.

Or, as this post on the subject puts it, public humiliation is a “great way to boost attrition.”


How to handle it if your boss shames you publicly

First, do not – DO NOT! – give as good as you get. Stay calm. Aim to hold it together.

Arguing will do no good. (More on this in a moment.) Your manager doesn’t want a reason and especially doesn’t want a discussion.  They are shaming you publicly for the theater of it all, not for an explanation/discussion.

Publically shaming someone acts as something of a signal to everyone else: Be like this person, and this will happen to you, too. It is, in other words, a showcase of dominance.

As mentioned above, it is theater. They want the attention to show off how tough and “in charge” they are.

This means that unless you believe you can speak calmly and try to draw your manager into an honest discussion, it’s best if you stay silent. (Staying composed or quiet in the face of verbal bile shows great character.) If you don’t engage, the bully will quickly run out of steam.


Having a calm discussion about the issue with your boss

As mentioned above, unless you genuinely feel you can stay calm in the face of verbal abuse (and you have beyond exceptional strength of character if you do*), if possible, aim to ask questions of your boss so that you draw them into a real discussion.

Ask yourself if there may be some truth to your manager’s…concerns. If so, calmly say you agree. Apologize and say something along the lines of “I’d love to discuss this with you more, privately.”

Ask for tips on how to do things better. Ask very detailed, specific questions: this shows that you take your lack of performance seriously and want to do better. This should calm your manager down.


Unfortunately, some bosses shame just because they “can.”

Sometimes a manager isn’t shaming you for something you did or didn’t do. They’re doing it – as discussed above – to show their dominance.

When that’s the case, also ask for information on specific instances. If they are shaming you out of pettiness, it soon will be exposed.


Your next steps

If the shaming incident was particularly nasty, when things calm down, write down your take on it and then head to HR. (Don’t let anyone know you are doing so.) What’s more, if the shaming was particularly egregious, HR will want to know and should start an investigation.

We all spend far too much of our lives at work to spend it with a bad – or worse – toxic boss. (Still, more than 56 percent of workers recently surveyed said that their boss is “mildly or highly toxic.” Another 75 percent said their “boss is the most stressful part of their workday.”)

Don’t spend more time with a shaming boss than you have to. If you’re ready to find a new manager, take a look at The Intersect Group’s current opportunities. Apply for any you find interesting.

We look forward to hearing from you.