Humiliated At Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about being corrected:

I was taking first grade students out for a fire drill in a class where I had only been twice. The regular teacher was in the room when the alarm went off and I had just begun taking attendance. I asked her which door to take the students. I thought she pointed to the far door. I took the students out, but realized that I was separated from some students when I tried to take attendance.

The teacher aide loudly announced “we are missing a lot.” The main teacher was down the block with the other students and told me she had the rest. When we came back to the class I felt humiliated when she sternly told me I had taken the wrong exit and that I must wait for all of them if they are separated. She said the children could have complained that they were lost and I would have gotten into trouble. I felt like one of the students. I need help getting over feeling depressed and humiliated.

Signed, Feeling Humiliated

DearĀ Feeling Humiliated:

Probably everyone who cares about how they do their job feels hurt and embarrassed when they are chided about something they thought they were doing right, but that turned out to be an error. It may also be that the teacher could have communicated differently about her concerns and her upset feelings over the situation.

Many people don’t realize that the purpose of a drill is to find out what people know and what they don’t know. I always try to avoid becoming angry over drill failures, unless the errors are clearly the result of purposeful mistakes or lack of caring or trying. That way people don’t dread the drills!

On the other hand, the teacher is responsible for the class and may have felt very panicked about the potential for harm if a child had gotten confused and done something that resulted in injury or even death. She may have felt she had to clearly let you know the problem, because of the issues involved, and didn’t think through her comments very well. Or, the comments might have been fine, but the tone she used may have been more harsh than needed, given that you were probably already berating yourself. Or, you may have heard the tone and words in a more harsh manner than they were delivered, because you were sensitive to the situation already.

The teacher may also have been aware that she didn’t do a good job of giving you instructions, and was worried that you’d point that out to her, or that someone else would find out.Here are some things that seem to work when one is embarrassed over an error or feels as though one has lost ground with a supervisor or boss. You may find you can adapt them for your own situation.

1. Replay the dialogue from her perspective, as if she was telling someone about it. I’m sure in her version she was not rude, just firm. In her version she was not humiliating in her manner, only concerned and direct about what you did wrong and what you should do next time.In her version she can excuse any unkind remarks or tone, by thinking about how critical it is that fire drills be handled correctly, especially for such small children. She also can overlook the fact that she didn’t give you very clear instructions about where to exit the schoolroom.Considering her version of the story will help you see that she probably didn’t intend for you to be humiliated or hurt about what she said. She’s a teacher who may be used to reprimanding children about misdeeds, and she corrected you in the same way. She likely acted on instinct, based on emotions.She may either be sorry she was so curt, or not be thinking anything about it. Or, she may be wondering how you will handle it, or if you will learn from the situation. She may also be wondering if she will get in trouble in some way if the story is told.

2. Part of working is learning humility. Not humiliation, but humility. You hadn’t been in the classroom often. You didn’t know where the fire exit was. You misunderstood a direction and made a well-meant mistake that could have potentially resulted in a tragedy in a real situation–or even in a drill. It’s humbling for any of us to admit that we have gaps in our performance ability. If we have some justification, we cling to that.

Sometimes it’s better to simply admit how you feel, to the person who knows you made an error. “I’ve thought about it and I feel depressed and terrible that I made that mistake. I couldn’t sleep for worrying about it. I could barely eat dinner and that’s all I’ve thought about since then. I just wish I could re-do the whole thing!” You might find that the teacher would understand your feelings, and help you deal with them through her own experiences. She may not have slept either! Nothing disarms hostility and suspicion like someone being blatantly honest and accepting of criticism. A friend of mine, in a similar situation, arrived at work a few minutes early. The moment she saw her boss, she went over to him quickly and said, in a rush, “I didn’t sleep one second last night from worrying about what I did yesterday. I’m so sorry I put you in a situation where you had to say something to me about it. I’m going to review every policy about that process and I’ll never make that mistake again,I promise.”Her boss, who was still upset over what had happened the day before said, “Well, being sorry doesn’t make it right. But I feel better knowing that you were concerned and will do differently next time. Now, don’t let yourself be so upset you can’t work well today. I trust you that you won’t do it again.” She said, just talking about it that way helped her. She didn’t beat herself up about it after that, just resolved to rebuild her boss’s confidence in her–which she did, over time.

You may not be seeing the teacher right away, because of your schedule. Perhaps you could write a note to her and drop it off, or send an email. Don’t let too much time lapse. Let her know that you feel badly.

3. Examine your situation at work to see if other things might have contributed to the overall situation. Have you been doing well otherwise? Is your relationship solid with her and the teacher’s aide otherwise? You likely haven’t had enough time in the classroom to build their trust and confidence. If there has been even one or two slip-ups, the teacher may have thought of this as another one. That would add to her feelings and increase the level of reprimand you felt.If you have had other problems, focus on doing your best work in every area and free your mind from being stuck on the events you can’t change. Consider writing an affirmation of some kind that you can read often. “I touch lives in positive ways. All I do can be used to increase my knowledge and skills.” That is one example, anyway!

4. Get the information you need for next time. Find out the information about fire exits, emergency equipment and so forth, for each school and classroom you visit.I have been remiss about that myself in the past. Lately when I start an adult class I point out where the fire exits are and tell them where the exits will lead them. A few months ago there was a fire drill in a building where I was teaching. When we came back in, one of the participants said, “I felt so much better knowing that you knew exactly what we were supposed to do.” I only knew where the fire exit was and where it exited outside! But I must admit, I felt better for having mentally rehearsed it!Safety in classrooms is such a critical thing that making that mistake may have been the best thing for you, in the long run. That’s how you learn what you don’t know and know what you need to learn for next time.Let the teacher see you developing a schematic of the room and hallways, if you think that would be beneficial. If you can do something to help overall safety planning, volunteer for that. Show that this situation made a difference.

5. to Ask the Workplace Doctors about I once had a bad experience at work and I called everyone I knew to tell them and explain my side of the story. They didn’t know anyone else involved! But what it did was keep me upset, make them wonder about my effectiveness, and cause them to ask me about it every time they saw me for the next year! I resolved then to keep my problems to myself, unless I was sharing them with someone who wouldn’t be able to remind me about it. (That’s the advantage of writing to us!) Consider also this ploy: Pretend you hire a PR agency to help you overcome this incident and build your reputation, knowlege and skills even more. What do you think they would do? Whatever that is, do it.You can bet a PR firm would tell you to present yourself in a way that demonstrates your strengths. The firm would tell you to bite the bullet over this and accept the reproof as a learning experience, then move on in a positive way. Step back for a few days, being courteous and helpful, but not overly intrusive into things other than your own work. Let the awkwardness reduce. Then, come back with a helpful demeanor and a smile.

6. If you find you have to face another conversation about this–and likely there won’t be one–use these same tips.Remember that admitting there was a problem, promising to correct any errors and asking for the understanding and assistance of others, clears up almost anything except a purposeful violation.

You might even want to say, “The only good thing I could feel as I lay awake last night, was that the drill showed me what I needed to learn. It made me a firm believer in the value of drills as a learning method and I’ll never dread them again.”Your principal, and maybe the teacher, might love to know that at least one person has caught on about drills!

7. I know this doesn’t seem likely right now, but sleeping on it will help. And the next night will help more. And the night after that. Then, it will be a memory that is not pleasant, but that doesn’t make you feel so badly.Over the next few days, focus on calming yourself inwardly, with reminders of all the good things you do. Find someone who needs support themselves, and be that support. Exercise and eat healthily. Sleep a good amount. Look your best. Realize that you have a long path ahead of you and many experiences behind you.

This was just a pebble in the road. You don’t want to minimize it, because it was a serious issue. But, you gained from it and now have something to share with someone else one day–perhaps someone you are supervising!Best wishes as you deal with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens. I would enjoy hearing about it from you, if that is something you want to do.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.