Stop feeling ashamed!
Updated: Jul 18, 2021
When was the last time you discussed your shame? Today I’m going to discuss mine.
During a fascinating seminar I was attending on the concept of shame, I got firsthand experience of how shame restrained me. Following an introductory lecture we were asked to reflect on what we had heard. After being divided into groups of five, each group got the opportunity to talk while the others listened. I was in the last group and heard lots of interesting points and wanted to comment on everything.
Inside me, however, I also felt a general reluctance to speak out and I noticed my pulse pounding. What on Earth was happening to me? I rarely get nervous talking in front of people. In an attempt to understand, I followed the advice I’m always keen to give others: Namely to listen to my inner voice. I realised the fact that 80 per cent of the participants were women. As I kept eavesdropping on my inner dialogue an unpleasantly strong picture emerged: That if I spoke out I would be perceived as a typical middle-aged man who, in a group with a large share of women, shamelessly was taking up space. Had I not been able to express this feeling I know from experience that I would have either stayed completely silent or in an attempt to ignore the strong feeling, overcompensate by speaking out loudly and forcibly. Instead, I raised my observation with the participants and was met with interest and curiosity. It is worth noting that another male participant approached me afterwards and told me he had experienced similar feelings.
Which leads us to the next issue regarding shame. From time to time when I’m working with teams someone will clear their throat and ask a so-called ‘stupid’ question. It can often be prefaced by the phrase “maybe it's just me, but…” In these situations I turn to the person posing the question and ask if they had to build up courage to ask it. The answer is always yes. Then I ask the team if there is anyone else thinking about the same question, and most often there is. That means that people who ask ‘stupid’ questions are doing not only themselves but the whole team a favour. My advice to teams is that any time someone asks a ‘stupid’ question, that anyone else who also wanted to ask the same thing should declare it. Then the person who brought it up won’t be left hanging in embarrassment. This is not just for the well-being of the individual. It is important if you want access to the team’s accumulated wisdom and problem-solving ability. So today's rhetorical question is: Is it better that information is being shared in an encouraging climate or that information stays unevenly distributed out among different people who are worried about looking like fools?
This line of reasoning also applies to coaching. It is not uncommon for clients to trivialise their experiences. After the client having identified an emotionally charged problem, defence mechanisms immediately spring into action and the client retreats. It might sound something like: "I know I'm overreacting" or "maybe this really isn’t a big problem." But my job is to dive into these reactions and help the client see emotions as information carriers. There is a reason for your feeling angry, resigned or sad. It’s only when you stop fighting the inner conflict between thinking something is important and being ashamed that you think it is, that you can begin to see the problem more clearly.
By replacing shame with curiosity we are able to illuminate the problem from several different perspectives. Eventually a proper definition of the problem emerges. And it is my experience that in almost all cases, the moment the problem is properly defined, you’ll know what to do next. We would never have arrived at the solution if we had allowed shame to take over.
So, start taking what you think and feel seriously and stop feeling ashamed!
The clients who reach out to me are managing directors, management teams, and executives who want to realise the potential in their organisations and accomplish extraordinary results. They reach out to me because of my ability to transform individuals, teams, and organisations.