On scolding - managing staff, children, partners and yourselfPresentation Transcript
Selena Sol presents…..
managing staff, children,
partners, wait staff, & yourself
TO SCOLD OR NOT TO SCOLD
Keenly aware that I have in the past,
and will probably in the future, ‘scold’
other people – a parent, a child, a
partner, a friend, a member of my staff,
a service provider, a maid, a peer, a
boss, a pet, or a stranger, I am asking
The most obvious answer is that the
other person pissed me off in some
way, and I am simply blowing off
steam. Thinking back, I am pretty sure
that I have scolded other people when
I thought they had their heads up their
butts and their idiocy had caused me
some degree of grief. That’s natural
right? I think so. I don’t think I could
ever train out the “eye for an eye” DNA
base pair that I am sure that I've got,
no matter how clearly I know that it is
But really, that is probably not the real
underlying reason. And I figure, leaving
it at that probably limits my own
Actually, the real underlying and
naturally-selecting reason that I scold is
that I want to drive a long-term change
in the other person’s behaviour so that
they will not piss me off in the future,
or because I honestly care to help them
grow for their own sake.
That seems more enlightened. I suspect
that those of us who scold, would
probably argue (or cognitively
dissonance ourselves into believing)
that we are scolding for the greater
good, and that scolding is an effective
way to create long-term positive
behavioural change in someone else. As
a parent, I know that I have said that to
myself several times this year
So the question becomes, is scolding
‘really’ an effective way to drive long-
term behavioural change in someone
else? This is not about right or wrong,
but about the most effective use of a
tool to yield a desired end.
I’m going to say no – though I’ll have
one caveat at the end of course.
THE DOWNSIDE OF SCOLDING
How do I feel when someone scolds me? Scared? Yes, if
the other person has power. Ashamed? Yep, if I respect
the person. Angry? Mmmm hmmmm, if the other
person is wrong. Hurt? Oh yeah, if the other person is
right, and I really did cause them grief. Embarrassed?
Definitely, if there were other people who knew that I
Do I feel happy, motivated, trusting, curious, or
receptive? Not really!
For now, I’m going assume that all sentient beings have
the same reaction to a scolding.
Now, it is true that I may modify my behaviour as a
result. I know for sure that I have modified my behaviour
as a result of being scolded. And, I am sure that I have
modified someone else’s behaviour through scolding. So
I know that it 'can' work (which is probably why I return
to using that tool).
But how effective is it? What are problems with using
scolding as a live-human sculpting tool? How can I use it
most effectively? And are there circumstances in which it
actually does not work, or makes things worse?
I figure to answer this, we need to look at when it has
not worked and analyse the results.
1. Make them agree, but leave a scar
Well, those who have known me for long enough will know
that I’m a pretty darn good scolder. I’m slightly proud and
slightly ashamed to say that I have made all sorts of people
cry when I came down on them. And, I have made them
change too. But there is something that I know about all of
those people. They may have ended up changing in front
of me, because they were afraid of the ramifications of not,
but I am not sure that they changed anywhere else in their
More worrisome, I also don’t think they ever really opened
up to me again, as they were probably always unsure if I
was going to give them a resounding whack again. Maybe
that wall between us was frail the first time. But I have no
doubt that for every scolding they received, the wall
became a little thicker and higher, and probably between
them and other people as well.
2. Make them dig in or lie
A far worse result, and I think a far more common one, is
that the person on the stinging end of a scolding either
digs in and responds by continuing the bad behaviour to
spite me, or launches an immediate retributive strike on
some other relationship battlefront.
Alternatively, sometimes they simply take it, smile, but
subsequently, those sneaky bastards either continue to
behave wrongly, but in subterfuge, or potentially they
celebrate their Robin Hood-like behaviour with others who
are either confused or drawn to the dark side.
3. Fail to see the truth or partial truth that they could have given me
Another danger of scolding is limiting the already limited view one has when sitting atop a high horse. It may, and has
often been, true that I was wrong, and was scolding the other person inappropriately. And as such, by transforming the
other person into a cowering pile of insecurities makes it impossible for me to see the truth of the situation. As a result,
I lose a great personal opportunity and probably a good deal of respect.
4. Escalation or desensitization
The last problem is that once you have
scolded, you have taken out the big guns -
and what do you do if they do not modify
their behaviour. You scold harder, right. And
then what happens if there is no change? I
guess you take out the belt or the bat and
start going at it. And then what? I know from
my experience, the more I get scolded, the
more hardened and resistant (or maybe just
numb) I get. I have to assume everyone is like
that. So the result of scolding can easily be an
ever escalating chain of naughtier behaviour
followed by harsher punishment.
What is really dangerous about this
escalation of desensitization is that when you
really do need to scold, you’ve lost your
punch because you have desensitized the
recipient by wasting impact on unnecessary
“Jimmy, get your feet off the side table,
NOW!” – yes m’am
“Jimmy, close the kitchen door!!!!” – sorry
Jimmy, clean up your room this instant or
you’re grounded” – OK, OK
“Jimmy, don’t run across the street against
the light and without looking” – yeah, yeah,
5. It only makes you unhappy
You know what else? Thinking back, I
don’t think it ever made me, personally,
happy to scold someone. In fact,
sometimes, I have been kept up all
night fuming post-scold. It is as if in
order to scold someone else properly, I
needed to actually get riled myself. And
after the scolding is done, I’m left
feeling upset. Isn’t that what I was
trying to resolve in the first place?
Worse yet, I need to use someone else
as a punching bag to let go of some of
that pent up scold run-off.
6. They call your bluff
Finally, in today's ever-prominent world
of matrix management, or even in the
home where corporal punishment of
children is less and less vogue, scolding
ultimately puts you in a risky position
because the scoldy may simple say,
"Bring it on!" At that point, you are left
totally powerless. You have not built up
the trust necessary to work through it,
and the kid is now old enough, and big
enough to take 'you' out, so you can't
really back up your bark with any real
SO IF YOU DON’T SCOLD, THEN WHAT
DO YOU DO?
So, given all this, it is clear that scolding
has serious limitations as a tool for
behaviour modification. But is there
I heard this great story once about
positive reinforcement as a mechanism
to change behaviour – I think it was in
Ken Blanchard’s book High Five. Back in
the 70’s, there were these killer whale
trainers at Sea World in San Diego. You
know, these were the men and women
who taught Shamu to jump through
hoops, splash the audience on
command, and launch swimmers into
the air from their noses.
Anyway, they had an interesting
dilemma. They needed to train these
animals to dramatically change their
natural behaviours. But they couldn’t
really scold the killer whales when they
did not perform. If you are awkwardly
swimming around in a tank with two 9-
ton beasts with teeth the size of your
outstretched hands, you are not going to
be making your students feel angry,
ashamed, hurt, or anything else negative
So what did they try?
Well, they tried positive
reinforcement instead of negative
reinforcement. Basically, they
decided to generously praise and
reward the good behaviour, and
neutrally discouraged, bad
The result is a multi-hundred million
dollar a year mascot (poor Willy).
This then, I think, is the key.
• Generously praise and reward
• Neutrally discourage bad
How do you generously praise and reward
Pretty simple really. When you see
someone doing something right, take a
minute to say, “Damn straight! You rock!”,
or “thanks, I noticed even if you didn’t
think I did”, or, “hey everybody, I’m happy
with this person and you should take note
and join me in saying thanks,” or “here is
an additional percentage point on top of
your normal annual bonus.”
Even before that, it can’t hurt to remind
other people around you (and yourself),
let’s say every quarter or so, clearly and
quantifiably, what you want (relative to
what they can stretch to accomplish), what
you are willing to invest in them to get it,
and what rewards they can expect if they
I guarantee you that you will feel good,
they will feel good, and you’ll see
immediate improvement towards your
goals of behavioural change.
How do you neutrally discourage bad
Also simple. Someone said once that it is a
matter of patience. I am not sure it is. I am
NOT a patient person. I am extremely
demanding and I want things done at my
pace, which happens to be very fast. But I
think I am pretty good at practicing neutral
discouragement (even though I have a LONG
way to go by my own yardstick).
I think it is simply a day-to-day behaviour
change in you.
The first thing that needs to change is that
you need to be laser focused on bad
behaviour. You need to spot it instantly and
react just as fast. However, instead of
reacting negatively, you need to react fairly
dispassionately, but clearly. “I don’t think
this is the right thing to do and here is why.
I’d prefer if you stopped. Can you help me
do that?” In some cases, you need to do that
in a quiet and controlled environment if the
behaviour is really out of control, like the
way kids get when they really get hyped up.
Just get out of the context, into a quiet
room, and let the intensity run its course.
Then talk. Of course, the same is true in the
workplace. De-escalate the situation, move
to a new environment, shift into neutral.
Your mood will be infectious.
The second change is that you need to be
persistent and consistent. In other words,
you need to be persistent and consistent.
That is, persistence and consistency is key.
Don’t react one time to bad behaviour
and then let it slide by without note 6
more times. “Hey, hey – remember that I
told you to email all your third party
dependencies at the beginning of the day
rather than waiting until they are about to
go home from work? Don’t forget or you’ll
be sorry tomorrow!”
And appreciate that no city, except
Woodstock, was built in a day. That means
that you need to be neutrally responding
to bad behaviour potentially for quite
some time – maybe even months or
WHEN DO YOU PULL OUT THE MIGHTY
OK, I did say that there would be a caveat.
While I think that we pull out the scolding
tool 99% too frequently, I do think that there
are definitely times to use it. In particular, I
would scold in order to address 1) life-
threatening behaviour and 2) truly anti-social
or illegal behaviour. In those cases, I think that
the seriousness of the situation calls for a
crisp, clear verbal slap and, if you have not
already desensitized the other by too much
scolding, it will have the impact it deserves.
Finally, we are not all perfect all the time. I
can raise my right hand and honestly swear
that I ‘will’ scold when I don’t have to for the
rest of my life. I know that. Sometimes, I’m
just too tired to do the right thing.
Sometimes, I just let someone get to me.
Sometimes, the other person is simply evil at
the core. Sometimes, that dratted kid simply
had too much sugar. Let it slide off, take a
breath, and give yourself a break. Remind
yourself of your real aims or find a good
friend who can watch you and remind you. Try
apologizing as soon as you realise what
happened. And get back to the regularly
scheduled praise patrol.