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Sandra A. Kiffin-Petersen

The aim of this chapter is to better understand the emotion of shame and its function in interpersonal relationships at work. Shame is a self-conscious, moral emotion that evolved to increase an individual’s chances of acceptance in a social group by signalling to them when they have violated the group’s moral standards or social norms. Appeasement is therefore, a core function and potential outcome of shame. Attributing the cause of a moral violation or a performance failure to a deficient self is a key distinguishing feature of shame. As such, a unique pattern of cognitions including self-criticism and ruminative thoughts characterize shame, and this can potentially increase the need for emotion regulation and adversely affect psychological well-being. In the second part of the chapter the way in which shame is talked about is discussed, as this influences workers’ appraisals of shame-inducing events and how they might respond. Observers who respond with negative comments in the workplace can further stigmatize shame, and this can encourage a maladaptive response. The importance of adopting a contextualized approach to studying shame in the workplace, including specifying the focal point of thinking and the level of analysis, is a key conclusion.