Let’s Talk About Shame

Let’s Talk About Shame

“Are you intentionally trying to destroy this company?”

You slump further into your chair, staring down at your shoes as Adam, your boss, glares across the conference table. Adam probes again: “Are you? Or are you just an idiot? How could you make such a stupid mistake?”

You open your mouth to respond, but nothing comes out. You can’t feel your fingers.

You can barely breathe.

The room was painfully silent.

The five other men and women gathered around the table nervously shifted in their seats, boring holes in their notepads, as the silence continued to thicken.

Adam stood up.“Get out of this room. I cannot have idiots on my team, and we can all agree here… together…that you are an idiot. You are the worst mistake I’ve made in the last 14 years of building this company.”

Shame. Everyone has it. No one likes to talk about it. It affects everything that we do.

Have you ever worked in an environment that’s controlled or dominated by fear?

If you’re not sure, consider some of these questions:

  • Am I consistently afraid of not doing a good enough job?
  • Am I worried that my Manager or colleague is going to ridicule me?
  • Am I nervous that I am going to be undermined in a call or meeting?
  • Am I concerned that I’ll be blamed?
  • Is the value I put on myself (my self-worth) tied to achievement, productivity, or compliance?

If you answered “yes” to any of these, you may be caught in a work environment that uses fear to control, manage, or ‘motivate’.

It’s incredibly damaging. Shame crushes creativity, innovation, courage, and learning.

In her book, Daring Greatly, research professor at the University of Houston, Brené Brown says this about the subject:

Shame is the fear of disconnection. We are psychologically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually hardwired for connection, love and belonging. Connection, along with love and belonging…is why we are here, and it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives.

While the story above is a dramatic case, these types of interactions happen in offices, cubicles, and around water-coolers all across the world.

They might not look the exact same. They might be more subtle or subdued:

  • Highlighting top performers in the company…and bottom performers
  • Criticism in the presence of other co-workers
  • Belittling of new ideas, projects, or initiatives
  • Blame: an inability to take personal ownership for failure

We have all experienced shame in our lives, in one place or another. It could be at your current job, or past job, or with friends – and even family.

This week, take some time to sit with some of the questions that shine a light on shame, and consider were in your life you’ve experienced shame before.

We’ll dive in next week on how to get a handle on it!

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