The cost of not dealing with shame


Recently, I had several conversations with women who told me that they had an experience they are so ashamed of Рthey could not share it with anyone. These were not terrifying life threatening events but  emotional setbacks that hurt deeply. What struck me about their stories is their feeling of being completely alone in this, an utter failure professionally and taking full responsibility for it.

Does that sound familiar to you, have you walked out of a meeting or a job interview where are all you could do was not fall apart?

Let’s look at these events with different perspectives. I one instant, an accomplished sales exec was told by the CEO that she was not aggressive enough. Yet her closure rate was in line with the sales team, and her long term deal retention rate was stellar. She invests a lot of effort in communicating with her customers, bringing all stakeholders on board, and relentlessly pursues top quality service for her clients. You can see what’s really going on – at quarter end the management was in need of quick short term sales and knew her method was not going to yield that. There could have been an open discussion about sales tactics but instead she was stabbed in the back in front of her peers for not being aggressive. What’s even more fascinating is that she did not see any of this, only walked away with a profound sense of failure.peace

Gaining perspectives on unpleasant encounters is possible when you are in a rational state of mind. Once you have become emotional you REACT, it depends on your nature how you deal with things – one person will get into a heated argument, another will let it eat them up.

Here is the good news: in a safe and supporting environment, we can go back to a shameful event and calmly examine it, gain perspectives and PRO ACTIVELY work out a strategy. You can let the pain energize you to take control. Working with a coach or trusted mentor, you can deal with things rationally.

One client told me how she felt unable to share her job worries with one of her best friends because the friend is a go-getter, highly successful and she did not want to appear weak in front of her. Comes back to why your friend cannot be your coach.

What is the real cost of not dealing with shameful emotions? 

For sure, it will happen again. And instead of being a stronger, more tethered professional, one will be flapping around again and again as people – on purpose or accidentally – push that same emotional button. Whatever it is, not being aggressive enough, not being innovative enough, not being well prepared, being over cautious… the list is endless and I am sure you can name your own shame.

I was surprised how often this happens – as a coach, people talk to me about their shame and we learn to deal with it, move through and onwards. This week’s conversations reminded me how pervasive this problem is and all the people who do not seek help from a professional.

What is the dollar cost of this behavior? A lost job opportunity, a deal not pursued, a hunch not followed – because you were 2nd guessing yourself and not a the top of your game.

I routinely ask my clients: “What’s the worst possible outcome?” Ie. what can possibly happen if you screw up a particular task. You would be surprised to learn that the world will not end, but that the alternative – not trying, not pushing for what you know is right – is very costly.

For today, take a short break, and think of an event that was deeply shameful to you. Write down what happened, and use several different perspectives to describe the event:

* actions as clearly seen from the outside
* emotions as experienced by you
* emotions as imagined by you
* intentions clearly stated
* intentions interpreted by you

The picture will be quite different and the shame will slowly turn into something else that energizes you to take control.

Leave me a comment about how this works for you.