I used to be uncomfortable talking about shame. And to be honest, sometimes I still am.
It’s not uncommon to feel isolated and alone in my experience. The nature of shame is that we don’t want to talk about it. Shame tells us, “You are bad. You are not worthy of love and connection.”
I mean... Who wants to talk about that?
And yet, what I found is once shame is normalized and discussed, we realize that as we say in Dare to Lead™:
1. We all have it.
2. We're all afraid to talk about it.
3. The less we talk about it, the more control it has over our lives.
Sometimes for me, shame comes with a capital “S” and that can send me into a spiral for days.
Other times it’s much more subtle and something that leaves me hustling for my worth.
Here’s an example.
I recently made a scheduling error and was late for a meeting with a client...
I instantly felt a flood of shame rush over me. I had a little bit of panic and the story that started quickly going through my head was, “They are going to think I am such a flake. That is not who I am. I am reliable. I am on time. I’m usually early to meetings.”
When I reached out to my client to explain and apologize, she was incredibly gracious. I appreciated her generosity and recognition of a minor scheduling error. We all make mistakes; we are all human.
And still, this particular incident triggered something in me. It was that unwanted identity - I do not want to be seen as a flake or irresponsible person.
Thankfully because of the work I do, I could recognize what was going on for me and I was able to talk about it, and move through it.
Without that realization, it could have easily taken me off track for days.
It probably would have triggered my perfectionism. I can imagine a world in which future meetings with this client would stress me out in preparation. I would set alarms, leave post-it notes reminders and would be hyper-aware that I did not want to be even a second late to the meeting.
I could put a lot of pressure on myself to try to prove to them (and to me) that I am reliable.
But instead, since we were able to talk about it, I could let it go.
Shame is something that we all experience, even at work. If we see it out in the open, we see people openly shaming one another, that is a crisis situation that needs to be addressed immediately.
And often it’s more subtle. Shame has many forms and can be tricky to pin down and name. It can show up as favoritism, bullying, or comparison, to name a few. When we experience those at work, we can recognize it as shame and address it.
What has been your experience with shame? How might you start to recognize and name it in your workplace so that you can address it and move through it?
Katie is a Certified Dare to Lead™ Facilitator and Executive Coach.