Talk and notes: Brene Brown on how shame impacts organizations... and all of us

You know Brene Brown, she did this amazing TED talk (that, as I just discovered, took place at TEDx here in Houston!) on vulnerability, wholeheartedness and 'being enough'.

This is another - mind-blowing! - discussion about vulnerability and shame. 
Really worth listening to. 

Probably not all of you are courageous enough to listen to a phone discussion for an hour. 
So, below you can have my notes on what I get from it. As always, this is not an exact transcript but my personal understanding of the important stuff. As always, I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. 
Comme vous avez remarqué, j'ai arrêté de tout traduire en français car j'ai l'impression que tout le monde qui peut  lire mon blog peut lire en anglais. Peut être j'ai tort, dans ce cas-là n'hésitez pas à me le dire.

About daring to speak out at that TED talk that went viral later:
In order to dare to step out, you have to work from a place of absolute conviction about what you do. We have to be very clear about our values.

Vulnerability is uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure. Vulnerability is courage. 
  • Daring to show up, to risk, to be exposed (asking for help, starting a company, asking someone out, waiting for the results of a medical test, signing up for a competition when one is note sure to win...)  is not weakness 
  • This is the definition of courage. 
  • Yes, it feels like crap. 
  • But this is the cradle of innovation, creativity, change and engagement. Vulnerability is a measure of courage. A leader is anyone willing to do whatever it takes to find potential, people and processes. It is not about who sits where and whose name is where in the organization chart.

3 basic assumptions about shame:
  1. We all have shame. It's the most primitive human emotion we can experience.
  2. Nobody wants to talk about it.
  3. The less we talk about it, the more we have it.

Shame is like a gremlin sitting within us and playing 2 tapes to keep us small:
  • Never good enough! ("keep silent, your idea is not good enough")
  • Who do you think you are? ("I knew that, you see they didn't like your idea, who do you think you are?")

It is vital to understand the difference between shame and guilt
  • Shame is self focused: "i'm bad"
  • Guilt is behavior focused: "I did something bad"

Shame thrives in a place where we are likely to attach ourselves to what we produce. 
  • If I'm really tied to my product / what I do, there is no way I can take risks. 
  • I will only do what I can do well, what's proven. Work from the default. 

Shame can only rise to a specific level in an organization before people disengage to self-protect.
  • Imagine one of you motivations at work goes like this: "you are a productive, important, relevant member of this team when you are producing, you are irrelevant when you're not". This fear of being irrelevant is the primary shame trigger in organizations. 
  • Imagine that at a meeting X comes up with some new great things, Y is struggling with this new project: X's self worth is completely validated, and Y's self worth is shut down. The only way to survive for both of them is to stay pre-desengaged, so that it doesn't crush them each and every time. For even those who 'win' feel the shame when they see someone else being attacked.
  • In cultures where productivity is tied to self worth there is always a mild form of disengagement. And when we are emotionally disengaged, we never fully show up at work.

The biggest sign that there is a huge shame problem in an organization: absolute absence of feedback
  • Occasional collective feedback but no consistent recognition of work is not enough. 
  • Lack of feedback is why people leave: Lack of feedback -> fear of being irrelevant -> disengagement.

To create a culture of feedback we have to 'normalize' discomfort and vulnerability
  • Create the leaders who understand that discomfort is an element of leadership, and that is hard in a culture where people want to be comfortable all the time. Transformative leaders can hold space for discomfort vs people who are just moving people around a little bit. They understand how to give feedback.
  • Use the engaged feedback checklist: Are you ready to sit down with someone on the same side of the table? Hold a problem with someone and not put it in between?
  • Feedback is a mutually vulnerable effort, as it also involves listening and hearing what I can do better to support you. When I'm giving feedback to you and I perceive that you are ready to be vulnerable, I need to be vulnerable, too. Letting people know what they are doing well, how they can use what they do well, what are their strengths to address other challenges - requires an immense amount of vulnerability. 
  • There is a growing number of people today who have no experience at all with receiving feedback. To these people, all feedback, no matter how perfectly it is given, will be crushing. As parents the greatest gift we can give our children, in addition to unconditional love and a sense of worthiness, is the capacity to be uncomfortable and understand the value of feedback.

Breaking free of shame

  • We need to realize how we talk to other people and, more importantly, how we talk to ourselves: "I'm a loser" vs "what I did was stupid"
    • The first thing is to talk to oneself like we talk to people we love and respect. 
    • The second thing is to reach out and share it with someone that can respond empathically.
  • People with high level of shame resilience have 4 things in common: 
    • they know when they are in and what triggered it,
    • they reality check those messages and expectations,
    • they reach out and share their story, 
    • they speak shame.
The culture of shame resilience is an empathic culture, where people really feel listened to and have a network of people they can reach out to. 

People are drawn to leaders, whatever their place in the organization. Empathy, vulnerability and quiet courage are what makes transformative leaders. Daring greatly is to let go being right all the time and to be a good leader by making space to people to come into their own power. 

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