If you want high performance for yourself or your team, you need to get comfortable being uncomfortable. I see the value of discomfort in improving performance all the time. Now a new model published in Organization Science is encouraging you to see the value of a very uncomfortable emotion: guilt.
In their article, Guilt by Design: Structuring Organizations to Elicit Guilt as an Affective Reaction to Failure, Vanessa Bohns and Francis Flynn suggest that you can get motivational benefits not just from the positive feelings you experience after success, but also from the negative feelings you have to endure after failure. There is one caveat: Your negative feelings must be focused on guilt, not shame.
Guilt exists when you see that your actions (or inaction) caused harm to others. Shame exists when you see that your actions caused harm to how others view you. Shame is a very inward-focused emotion whereas guilt is outwardly-focused.
The authors cite extensive research on shame and guilt in the paper. In a nutshell, guilt tends to inspire constructive reactions such as engaging, apologizing, and repairing the damage. When you feel guilt, you make more situation specific attributions for failure, which make it more likely you will change your behavior and find future success. In contrast, shame creates destructive reactions such as hostility, withdrawal, or resistance. When you feel shame, you use a more personal and enduring explanation for your failure. That erodes your self-esteem, destroys confidence, and can reduce the likelihood that you will perform more effectively in the future.
There are a few simple ways that you can direct your teammates’ emotions toward guilt and away from shame.
We’d all prefer that our team experiences stay positive. But given how often things don’t turn out as well as we’d like, it’s important for you and your team to be motivated by negative experiences as well. The secret is more guilt and less shame.
For more on the importance of getting comfortable being uncomfortable, check out this post: