Having shame involves secrets, sadness and limitations – not being our full selves – and we all bring these behaviours with us to work.

At work we can experience shame if we feel, we are not delivering – or being told that we failed at reaching our sales targets, project deadline, budget, at being a good colleague, having a customer complaint – you fill in what you experience.

Depending on ones view of oneself, the output can be:

  • I did not do well enough (guilt)
  • I am not good enough (shame)
  • It was’nt my fault for a variety of reasons (passing blame)
  • Are you out of your blooming mind? Have you opened your eyes and seen what goes on in the world?

The “I am not good enough”, shame offers nothing but a negative sound, feeling and effect. In order to understand the depth and impact of feelings of shame in others, just look at how you view your own inadequacies, failures and lacks.

Understanding feelings of shame in the work place and linking a co-workers behavior with a shaming experience of feeling inadequate now or during their childhood is like a walk in the dark. You can’t see.

Shame in others is in essence the idiom of the‘tip of the iceberg’. There is a lot more beneath that you never or rarely get to see.

I, as many others, do get Brené Brown and her views on shame and how it impacts on all of our lives.

Herewith the quick shame basics courtesy of her: Shame is the fear of disconnection. “Is there something about me that if people around me knew, I would not be worthy of connection”. It is universal, most of us have it, the only people that do not experience shame are the people with no capacity for human empathy and connection. No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it, the more you have it. To thrive, shame needs secrecy, silence and judgement.”

Shame not dealt with isolates you, causes emotional distress, it affects relationships, and it can lead to harmful behavior.

On a more positive note. Shame cannot survive being spoken and met with empathy.

In a former company we instigated a “working together” wall of pictures portraying every employee how they

wanted to be portrayed. Some were skiing, partying, traveling or with their family. Others were a simple headshot.

Mine was on top of an elephant with my children while in Bali.

Creating a Wall of Shame

I wish that we had also instigated a Wall of Shame where we shared our not so fine moments of failures at work, our insecurities and sometimes our messy lives, which would have made us more human to our colleagues and opened us up for more failures and bigger successes. In essence great achievements are rarely done without failures. And as some one cited: “Want to increase innovation – lower the cost of failure”!