From the Blog

3 things you need to know about shame

This summer, our marketing team is reading Brené Brown’s Daring Greatly. We’re working with COURAGEworks, Brené’s online reading community, to help transform the way we lead. Throughout the summer, hear from our team members directly in this blog series on what they’ve learned and how Brené’s research relates to them.

Daring Greatly: Chapters 3 and 4

I was initially surprised when I began this lesson. Shame? Why are we talking about shame? What place does this topic have in how I think about my team and how I work? Now that I’ve read Brené’s research and thoughts in chapters 3 and 4, I understand the importance of giving this topic some air-time. Shame is right there at your desk and might be taking over more space than it deserves.

1. The hurt caused by shame is real.

Shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” (69).

By this point in the book (chapter 3), Brené’s explained the importance of connectivity – at your core, you need to feel connected to people. This is why shame can be so damaging. Through her research Brené found, “…shame is the fear of disconnection” (68). And it comes from every angle: aging, family, money, career, appearance, being stereotyped and so on. Shame causes deep hurt and fear because it isn’t actionable. It’s not simply the feeling of making a mistake at work or missing your son’s baseball game. Shame makes you believe that the mistake is who you are, and there is no fixing it. It strangles the belief that you’re able to do better.

2. Everyone experiences shame, but no one talks about it.

You think you’re the only one experiencing shame? You’re not. Shame is an emotion and experience everyone – even that “perfect” person at your office – feels.

I have a friend who is smart, beautiful, funny and an incredibly articulate speaker. She’s organized and always a beat ahead. I’ve known her since high school and have always admired how ahead of the game she is. I’m organized for the most part – until it comes to my finances. I can handle a monthly budget, but I never got the course on all the other areas like investing, APR rates and credit scores. And to be honest, my lack of knowledge in this area is something I’ve never wanted people to know – especially my put-together friend.

One day, over a glass of wine, my friend and I got into a conversation about financial planning. To my surprise, her knowledge of finances was a mess. Turns out she also missed the course on finances, and was bouncing around trying to keep people from knowing that truth. We laughed as we dug deeper into how little we both knew.

This conversation was so freeing. It made me wonder how many people I’ve inaccurately perceived. As humans, we do a great job of believing we are the only one struggling while everyone else has their ducks in a row.

By being honest and talking about our limited financial knowledge, we were able to make a plan. We bought Personal Finance in your 20s for Dummies (yes, it’s a real book) and have started our own book club reading it. We’ve found safety and truth in talking about our “shame areas,” and it’s deepened our friendship. 

3. Shame makes you defensive. 

“We’re so desperate to get out and stay out of shame that we’re constantly serving up the people around us as more deserving prey…We’re hard on each other because we’re using each other as a launching pad out of our own perceived shaming deficiency” (99).

Brené hits the nail on the head on why shame has a place in the office – operating out of a place of shame strangles true teamwork.

Pointing fingers at coworker’s mistakes in an effort to save your own image will never lead to high performance, collaboration or creativity.


Brené provides a plan of attack: 
Daring Greatly here means acknowledging the shame you’re burying, giving yourself some grace and reaching out to gather support from others. Everyone has areas in their lives they try to hide from others. Yes, it’s hard to let people into those spaces but combating shame is the only way we’ll give others the grace and acceptance we owe ourselves.