Are you afraid of the dark?

The underrated motivators of fear and shame

I’ve heard a number of good questions amongst our team and in conversation with clients over the past month.

How do we ensure we do what we’ve said we will?

What will we do to ensure every project follows our established process?

Can we learn ahead of time and avoid mistakes rather than learn from them?

How will we achieve the goals we’ve set?

A corporate team might tie bonuses to compliance. A sports team might set fines for missing the mark. At Interactive Workshops, we don’t have many workplace punishments. We rely on a team that has the level of sharpness that punishments aren’t necessary. But whilst being sharp is one of our values and cultural expectations, it’s not a motivator. One of our most powerful motivators is shame.

The Wall of Shame

One of our weekly rituals is to review a ‘Wall of Shame’ of sales opportunities in our CRM that are out of date. Although, there isn’t much actual shaming. In fact, we often warn each other not to be on the wall of shame. In a high performing team, competitive nature doesn’t extend to a desire for any one team member to be shamed.

Shame works by itself if there is visibility of performance. That’s how Strava works. Visibility that Gary has done another 90km ride might just get us pumping up the tires and donning our lycra. Similarly, shame can be sparked by marks (or lack of them) on the calendar. If we have an accountability buddy, the thought of revealing that we haven’t done what we committed to have us choosing to feel a motivating amount of shame.

a bike ready to shame some Strava followers

And that’s the intriguing thing about shame. We can choose to feel it. Specifically, feel it to our benefit. Afraid of the dark? That might not be such a bad thing.

Embracing the dark

In the worldwide bestseller, Atomic Habits, James Clear describes one of the ways to limit a personal or professional bad habit. Reframe it. Our Wall of Shame is a reframing. We could just look at which sales opportunities are up to date. But instead, we expose the ridiculousness of saying:

“Let’s have a look at what we think we’re still going to close last month.”

We’re intelligent people without the ability to time travel. So unsuprisingly, a fail is an opportunity for self-shame. And a motivator not to miss next week. As James Clear would remind us, one moment of shame is a mistake. But two is a habit. Evidently, our team are afraid of the dark. So they avoid it. They use their own fear of self-shame to ensure their work is done and admin squared away.

ashamed young woman facepalming

What are the things we’ve become numb to feeling shame for? Maybe it’s the cup left on the work kitchen counter, next to the dishwasher. Being repeatedly late for work. Under-communicating. Not proofreading our own work. Or failing to learn lessons from our work. What could we choose to feel shame about?

Switch off the light. Let’s use a little bit of shame to our advantage.