I don’t have PhD in Psychology—not anything close. What I do have is a BS in Selling. (No jokes, please.)
But allow me to practice some psychology with this statement:
The #1 reason humans lie and blame is to avoid the incredible power of … EMBARRASSMENT.
Have you ever lied?
And I don’t mean as a child.
About twenty years ago, I was working hard to make a big management training sale to a premier medical device firm in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, which was my territory. On a Monday morning, my prospective client, the organization’s VP of HR, called me. At first I was excited because I thought he was calling to buy.
He was calling to confront. The conversation:
Prospect: “John, I don’t appreciate being called at home.”
Me: “What? David, no—I didn’t call you at home.”
Prospect: “John, you called me on Saturday at my house. I don’t like that.”
Me: “David, um, I didn’t. I would never … um, really … I …”
Prospect: “John, I have this new thing—‘caller ID.’”
Me: “Um, caller … what?”
Prospect: “Caller ID. It’s where the caller’s name and number show up on my phone. It’s new. I have it. You called me Saturday, at home.”
And I had. I knew it crossed a boundary. I knew I shouldn’t have done it when I did it. But I did it anyway.
And now I’d been caught lying right though my teeth—all to escape the overwhelming emotional pain of … embarrassment.
I’ve sought to avoid embarrassment all my life. But now in my fifties and almost grown up, I better understand its power and how it affects me. This is a good thing, because:
Knowing what drives my negative behavior helps me to avoid engaging in negative behavior.
It’s an intellectual thing, as well as discipline thing. If I know what I am feeling when I do what I do, I am more likely to conquer that feeling.
So when I feel embarrassment kicking in and I want to lie, cover up, blame, point fingers, play victim, and make excuses (more on these behaviors here), I am better able to “suck it up” and practice PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY by speaking emotionally mature words like these:
“I did it. And I’m sorry.”
Those words would’ve nipped a bunch of scandals in the bud, eh!?
Another reason it’s important to understand the incredible power of embarrassment is so I will not embarrass others.
This is critical for those in positions of authority to understand. Managers, parents, mentors, coaches, youth leaders, colleagues with more experience and tenure, and older siblings can—if they want to—learn to avoid making these costly mistakes:
Confronting a staff member in a group meeting.
Ridiculing a child.
Attempting humor at the expense of another in front of others.
Comparing siblings with, “Why can’t you be more like your sister?”
Listing last month’s lowest producing salesperson on the office wall.
Pointing out an athlete’s on-field mistakes in the post-game team meeting.
Commenting flippantly/negatively on a family member’s weight, height, or new hairstyle.
Dismissing another’s input because they’re younger, newer, or lack an equivalent title or education.
Embarrassment is a powerful and negative emotion. Let’s each be accountable for understanding its impact on us.
And on those around us.
Describe a time you were embarrassed. How did you respond to the emotion? In what way have you embarrassed another? What will you now do differently by understanding more fully the impact of this strong emotion?
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