Let’s talk about shame

<2 minute read.


Prior to the Dare to Lead™ certification program that I recently participated in, one of the reservations I had was about shame being present in the workplace.  Surely shame does not show up at work; surely no one shames anyone else. And surely, I don’t have shame; I don’t experience shame personally nor professionally.

As Brené started to explain what shame is and what it isn’t, including that we all have it (hmm, I disagree), we’re all afraid to talk about shame (hmm, perhaps), and the less we talk about shame, the more control it has (hmm, makes sense), she explained the shame shields that we might use:

  • The moving away shield
  • The moving toward shield
  • The moving against shield, and I realised that I use the moving away shield a lot. I withdraw and I silence myself.  And this is most often in response to how I think I am being perceived by others.

I withdraw and I silence myself.

Just in writing the sentence above, I was tempted to write “I use the moving away shield sometimes/often” rather than “a lot” and then I realised that would be inauthentic and that yes, I am afraid to talk about shame.  But, if we can authentically talk about shame, we will manage it, rather than it control us.  If we identify what triggers our shame, we can manage these triggers; perhaps we can courageously speak up about these triggers.  If we can recognise the physiological response that shame triggers in us, we can manage it.  When I feel shame, my gut churns, my throat tightens, and I cry.  Oh my goodness, I was about to do it again … that is, soften my language as I felt shame to admit that I cry.

But, if we can authentically talk about shame, we will manage it, rather than it control us.

So what about shame, specifically in the workplace?  It can show up in many ways; some of the most common ways are:

  • Perfectionism
  • Comparison
  • Nostalgia
  • Favouritism
  • Gossiping
  • Back-channelling
  • Self-worth tied to productivity
  • Harassment
  • Discrimination
  • Power over
  • Bullying
  • Blaming
  • Teasing
  • Cover-ups
  • Bullying

Brené Brown,
“Dare to Lead™ Glossary, Key Language, Skills, Tools and Practices”

What’s your view on shame in the workplace?  How does it show up?  Might you be experiencing shame?  What’s your responsibility in minimising shame triggers for others and in building shame resilience in your workplace?

I am always keen to hear from you.  Let’s talk about shame and dampen its impact.



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3 thoughts

  1. Great post Dina. In the work place I feel shame when I don’t admit to not knowing something or have produced work that is less than perfect.
    It is in the hiding of these things that build the feeling of shame. I am slowly learning that when I embrace the fact that I am not perfect etc and own that, the double edged shame of not knowing everything and also not admitting it, lessens.


    1. Glad to hear that you are embracing imperfection and that it’s ok not to know everything. The antidote to shame … empathy, and it appears that that’s exactly what you are showing yourself. Thanks for sharing.


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