mature woman wagging her fingerAre you a scolder? Your answer may be different whether you are responding as a parent, a friend, an employee or a leader.

If you answered no, I would ask, “How do you know?” You may not even be aware that you are a scolder unless a courageous supervisor, colleague or real friend gives you some feedback. Of course, that assumes that you were willing to hear and accept the feedback.

What Do I Mean by Scolding?

Google defines “scolding” as “an angry rebuke or reprimand—or, as an adjective, someone who “angrily rebukes or reprimands.” If the scolder is attempting to get the other person to change a behavior or correct a wrong, scolding often has the opposite effect. Who in the world responds positively to an angry rebuke or an angry reprimand? No one that I know. So, how does an angry reprimand play out in the workplace or on a team? The only answer is an understatement: “Not very well.” And that’s a huge understatement.

When I say the word scolding, what is the first thing that comes to your mind? I’ll bet it’s a finger wagging. (No, not that finger—that’s another blog!) We all know it when we see it. The index finger comes up, it points, and it’s waggled in our face and then we know the scolding is intended for us. And many of us respond by backing up, backing away or backing out. Or, it appeared and aimed at someone else in the room. Most of us unconsciously think, “ Whew! The finger wagging didn’t land on me!”

Some of us when we perceive the rise of a wagging finger that might point at us, have a biochemical reaction of fight, flight or freeze. So the first problem is that anyone who is the target of the finger-waggler is in danger of not only fight, flight or freeze physically but also mentally.

Why is Scolding an Issue?

Scolding is an issue because it signifies a variety of behaviors, personality traits and attitudes that can devastate relationships, team effectiveness, and basic human interaction. I can’t think of any time when scolding might work for an intentional leader.

Scolding in any form is negative. It may be a form of expressing disgust, criticism and or censure. Other expressions of scolding include chiding, tongue-lashing, rebuke, reprehension, and reproof. The context is harsh and never positive, productive or warranted.

What do you experience if someone waves their finger at you–literally or figuratively—regardless of the words? Never anything positive, most of us usually feel defensive, angry, and too often, a need to retaliate.

The notion of “turning a deaf ear” is often applied by parents to their children who aren’t listening to them. But deaf ears are not limited to children. When an adult freezes, there’s little brain power available to hear the speaker–and even less will to listen.

Where in the world is there a positive in that kind of negativity? There isn’t. Scolding is an invitation to defend, ignore or retaliate, three nonproductive verbs in the context of the workplace.

What’s the Practical Application of this Information for Leaders?

First, look inward. Are you a scolder? Maybe not…but if you’re not sure, check it out. Ask your staff. Send an anonymous survey with questions about how they perceive you.

Second, consider whether you have someone on your team who is a scolder. How can anyone be an effective leader without confronting the scolder on your team (might that also be synonymous with Bully)? You might have you been aware of it, subconsciously or otherwise, and avoided confronting that person. It becomes a question of weighing what you have won by not confronting the scolder against what you have lost in team productivity.

The bottom line is that scolding is unacceptable in the workplace—and possibly everywhere else, too. It implies blame. Scolding assumes that someone did something wrong.

If scolding is a problem in your workplace, take a second look at your choices and the choices of those you manage. Perhaps the solution is to stop wagging fingers and start wagging ears to listen to what happened—and how you can fix it together as a team.