Who Embarrasses Whom?
Relational and Sex Differences in the
Use of Intentional Embarrassment
William F. Sharkey
University of Hawaii at Manoa
Relational partners develop, maintain, and terminate relationships through the use of communication. How individuals define their relationships affects the type of communication that is appropriate for their interaction. Accordingly, the type of communication used by individuals may, in turn, help to define a relationship (e.g., the difference between defining a relationship as acquaintance vs. friend). Additionaly, some researchers discovered that the sex of the interactants may have an effect on these communication behaviors as well. One such communication phenomenon is deliberate embarrassment. People frequently experience varying degrees of embarrassment in their daily lives ( Sharkey & Stafford, 1990). Frequently, individuals experience embarrassment because of unintentional acts such as forgetting someone's name or accidentally spilling a drink. However, at times people intentionally embarrass others in order to achieve a variety of goals ( Petronio & Snider, 1990, 1992; Sharkey, 1991). The present investigation is an exploratory, descriptive endeavor to discover, first, who embarrasses whom. Second, this study seeks to discover whether there are relational and sex differences in the goals attempted and the tactics employed to intentionally embarrass another person.
What is embarrassment? Embarrassment appears to have several characteristics. First, embarrassment is by necessity, social. That is, others need to be physically present, ostensibly present, or their presence is anticipated at a future time ( Brown, 1968; Modigliani, 1971). Second, embarrassment is a subjective experience of anxiety or fear that one's behaviors will be negatively sanctioned or others will have a lower evaluation of the role being.