Rebecca Schaumberg, a graduate student at Stanford University’s School of Business, recently set out to explore the impact of guilt on people’s actions.
She theorised that the more prone to guilt a person is, the more likely they are to be a good worker.
For example – some people choose to stay late at the office on a Friday evening to finish a project because they know they won’t be able to enjoy the weekend if they don’t. Other people will leave on time, go home and experience no guilt whatsoever as they enjoy their time off.
“The emotion is really uncomfortable and it’s something that we tend to want to get rid of but the drive to reduce our feelings of guilt can actually propel us to act in really positive ways,” says Schaumberg.
To test her theory, Schuamberg enlisted the help of her colleagues and set about conducting experiments on volunteers.
The volunteers were asked to consider a number of hypothetical scenarios, such as: ‘as you are driving down the road, you accidentally squash a small animal.’
The volunteers were then asked to rate their emotional response to the situation so Schaumberg could gauge their ‘guilt proneness’.
Schaumberg also looked at performance feedback in real management situations and concluded that those who had a higher ‘guilt proneness’ were more likely to step up and take control of situations.
The results are interesting because guilt is usually thought of as a negative emotion. In this study, those who felt more guilt were perceived by others as better leaders.
Schaumberg and her team concluded that guilt instils in people a greater sense of responsibility for others. It also allows people to be better aware of their past mistakes and to ensure that they do not make them again.
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