Humiliation comes from both overstepping the value that others want to give you and not claiming enough value for yourself. According to Ed Schein in the classic Process Consultation, Revisited, “humiliation” is “being shown that one has much less value in a given situation than one had claimed for oneself.” He continues:
When others do not grant us what we claim or when we act in ways that show others that we claim very little for ourselves, we feel “humiliated” (“they made me feel foolish” or “I made a fool of myself”). [pp.109]
Once I got cut down for claiming more value for myself than the corporation was believed I had. I was hired as a project manager and I understood that I was the one who had the end responsibility and accountability, so I acted that way.
Getting smacked for claiming too much seems pretty straightforward. I come in and make a claim about myself and my power in this context. When the people in the context refuse to grant that power, you lose face and it’s humiliating because you are shown not to be what you claimed.
But claim too little value for yourself and you’ll also be humiliated. Schein continues later: ”
If I am feeling unsure of my status in a given group, I am more likely to remain silent, to ask genuine inquiry questions, and in other ways avoid the possibility of offending someone whose status relative to mine is initially unknown.
When I am uncertain of my value, I tend to not claim much value. My voice is one who is not confident. People don’t think that they have to listen to someone who is not confident about what they are saying.
One of the secrets to a successful life is to have no idea what others think of you or to just not care, to speak confidently regardless of what people say. There’s a guy who is brash and combative. The consulting firm he worked for put him into a client that was also brash and combative, but where the others were very apologetic and trying to please the client contact. One day, this guy was told to do something stupid and he and the client contact went at each other, screaming and slamming fists onto the table. The other consultants were quaking: had this loose cannon just cost them the contract?
Of course not!
The client contact had a greater respect for the guy and for the consultants because he (the loose cannon) stood up to him (the client contact). This can go too far, though, but many of us in software need to become fighters with our clients instead of the letting hostility seethe beneath the surface.
It’s a hard dance, this claiming of yours.
Claim your space or someone else will take it from you and then you’ll have to fight to get it back.
Image credit: Some folks really claiming their space: “Oklahoma Land Rush”, 1893, by William S. Prettyman