How do you deal with shame? Why is shame inevitable in innovative organizations?
You learn how to deal with shame when you accept that it is universal, and you connect with others to work through it and learn from it. Innovative organizations can’t completely resist shame because failure is a natural by-product of constant invention, and shame is largely caused by failure.
Read more to fully understand how to deal with shame.
Dealing With Shame
Unfortunately, it’s not possible for innovative cultures to completely resist shame, as it’s a natural byproduct of risk and failure. It’s possible, however, to master how to deal with shame—the process of feeling, understanding, and overcoming shame. Knowing how to deal with shame is an essential skill in brave leadership—normalizing and encouraging discussion around shame allows you to consciously work through it and learn from it, instead of letting it unconsciously manifest as defensive, unproductive behaviors.
There are four steps to mastering how to deal with shame: 1) recognizing shame, 2) seeing the big picture, 3) connecting with others, and 4) talking about shame.
- Recognizing shame is simply being able to recognize your physical symptoms of shame. Shame presents physically in different ways for everyone—maybe you have heart palpitations and clenched fists, or have a sudden, urgent need to go for a walk around the block. This first step of recognizing when your physical reaction to shame appears is important because it signals you to check in with yourself and make sure you’re not unconsciously resorting to defensive behaviors.
- Seeing the big picture is recognizing that shame is universal. Part of shame’s power lies in its loneliness, so you can fight against it by thinking about how universal the feeling of shame is, even if the experiences that cause it look very different. For example, shame can have various causes such as having your opinion dismissed by more senior people in a meeting; yelling at your children; or having friends invest in your new business, then closing a year later.
- Connecting with others and talking openly about shame go hand in hand—recall that building trusting connections and sharing vulnerability are an exchange. If you don’t take part in this exchange, instead choosing to ignore your shame and think you’re the only person who suffers from it, you’ll feed into shame’s power to make you feel unworthy of connection or belonging. Open up about your experience with someone you trust and whose opinion you value—such as a mentor, a spouse, or a colleague—and express what you need in support from them. Talking about your experience, learning about their similar experience, and getting the support you need gives you the strength to deal with shame, knowing that you’re not alone in it.
Combat Shame With Empathy
If someone having difficulty dealing with shame reaches out to you to talk about shame, it’s important to know how to respond with supportive empathy. This skill is crucial in innovative cultures, because people are more willing to take risks and show vulnerability when they know that they’ll be supported through their struggles.
Effective empathy is not “making things better.” Rather, empathy is seeing the perspective of someone else, and connecting to their emotions about a tough experience. Since you’re connecting to their emotions—not to the experience itself—it doesn’t matter if you’ve gone through the same struggle or not. You just need to have felt the same emotions at some point in your life.
This connection with someone else’s emotions makes empathy a vulnerable choice, because you must connect with those same emotions in yourself, and speak to the person from that place. As can be expected with shame, the emotions you’ll have to call on are painful ones, such as fear, loneliness, or disappointment. It’s incredibly tempting to avoid the potential pain of empathy by spouting off advice or making an attempt to “fix” everything simply—you can resist this temptation by practicing your empathy skills so that you can show up with courage when you need to.
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