Connecting with Shame in the Workplace

Connecting with Shame in the Workplace

This week we explore shame, from the tiny actions that can cause it, to the large ripples it can have for ourselves and our workplaces. Plus, we explore antidotes to shame and how to use curiosity and empathy to recover and strengthen connections after shame. Episode Notes can be found here at 

Credits: Raechel Sherwood for Original Score Composition.

YouTube Channel: Uncover The Human






Alex Cullimore  0:00 
Welcome back to Uncover The Human.  This week we are going to be discussing shame in the workplace. Why? That's a great question. Let's let's dive into why.

Cristina Amigoni  0:11 
And why using "Why" is not a good idea.

Alex Cullimore  0:18 
Welcome to Uncover The Human where every conversation revolves around enhancing all the connections in our lives,

Cristina Amigoni  0:23 
whether that's with our families, co-workers, or even ourselves,

Alex Cullimore  0:26 
When we can be our authentic selves magic happens.

Cristina Amigoni  0:29 
This is Cristina Amigoni.

Alex Cullimore  0:31  
And this is Alex Cullimore.

Both  0:32 
Let's dive in.

Guest  0:35 
Authenticity means freedom. Authenticity means going with your gut. Authenticity is bringing 100% of yourself, not just the parts you think people want to see. But all of you, being authentic means that you have integrity to yourself. It's the way our intuition is whispering something deep rooted and true. Authenticity is when you truly know yourself, you remember and connect to who you were before others told you who you should be. It's transparency relatability, no frills, no makeup, just being.

Cristina Amigoni  1:12 
Welcome to another episode of Uncover The Human. Today we're going to talk about shame, we seem to run into this topic quite often, so we thought we'd would address it and see where it goes. And as usual, my name is Cristina Amigoni. And I'm joined here by my co-host, Alex.

Alex Cullimore  1:29  
Hi, Alex Cullimore here.  We decided we wanted to discuss shame, since it's come up a lot in as a sub-topic in a bunch of our other podcasts already, and will probably continue to come up for several future ones. But one of the reasons we brought it up is that it seems to be so pervasive in the workplace. And when you see shame come out in the workplace, to me personally, that feels like usually the beginning of the end of the culture or, if it already exists in a culture, that it tends to be a toxic culture from the get go.

Cristina Amigoni  1:57 
Definitely,  you can see it in the workplace quite a bit, in society in general. And it definitely does cause a lot of problems. And we'll kind of unravel some of them and talk through things and then maybe find some solutions on how to reduce the shame and how to identify it and be aware of it.

Alex Cullimore  2:15 
One interesting one that comes up when I'm thinking about the general journey of employment, after you get hired, you come into a company, and they may have told you some things about the culture, you may have gotten some idea from the people that you've interviewed, or maybe you kind of went in blind, either way, you might have some idea, but really, the rubber hits the road on day one. And one of the immediate opportunities for shame is feeling like you aren't contributing, you feel like you don't necessarily have the information, that know-how, what you need to get going. And that can be something that is incredibly important to deal with in both onboarding, training and in making sure that people are supported as they jump in for the first week or two. I think in my experience, most people have been pretty understanding that it will take,  you won't just jump in. And by three o'clock on your first day, you're going to be contributing value or whatever you want to call it, you won't be able to be executing on your job right away. But there is sometimes a difference and understanding for how long it should take to come on board. And when if you feel like you don't have that information, it can immediately start to trigger some shame or you can be shamed for feeling like you don't have that.

Cristina Amigoni  3:24  
It's a very good example, I find that the onboarding piece of getting into a new job varies greatly from company to company. And I always find that intriguing how it doesn't usually get the attention that it needs until the company starts growing at a certain level. I always wonder why that is, why not make it something that starts from the beginning, so if you have employee number two and number three, by number three, you should have some way of welcoming people, whether it's for a project or full time employees. And without expecting them to just figure it out from day one, even though you may not know exactly what they're going to be doing. My first experience with getting formal onboarding in a real job was when I moved to New York, and I joined McKinsey as a consultant. It was so incredible to be hired and on the first day be shown my desk and be told, this is your desk, and we'll show you how to get here again, because you're not going to actually going to be sitting here for the next three weeks, you're going to training so that you can learn how to do your job before you actually have to do it.

Alex Cullimore  4:37 
I like that for a couple of reasons, also that they address the fact that you won't be here for a couple of weeks, so that gives you the confidence that they know where you're going to be, which I've been different places. The first place I worked, they had hired a whole bunch of right out of college hires, so they had all  13 of us that were starting that day in a room and so there was a whole program planned out. And the next place I worked there was almost no onboarding, it was a new startup, not a huge staff at that point, definitely no formal onboarding. And basically, I showed up and and by the second day, I was using a personal laptop because they didn't have that portion ready. And there was just things that were not yet in order. And I think it's interesting, thinking about the ROI of things like a big welcoming party, I think, it becomes easy. Once you've been in a company for a certain amount of time to feel like "Oh, do we really need to celebrate, especially if you're going fast?  "Do we really need to celebrate every single new hire that's coming in? We'll have to take 20 minutes out of our day to stop and say hi to this new person, and introduce and do whatever.  If you think about the ROI on it, there's a huge benefit of making that kind of a big deal, because if you can welcome somebody like that, they're going to feel like they can ask more questions, they're going to see that this is a welcoming workplace, everybody's being friendly, they're gonna start to already just make those soft contacts you make by just being in the same place where you happen to hear "Oh, this person does this type of job".  They're already making those connections, they're going to be more at ease, because people are immediately addressing the elephant in the room from their perspective, which is that they are new. And they don't know anybody yet. And they want to meet people and they want to be part of this, they want to feel like they're joining something that is excited to have them and they're excited to be there. And they made a good choice, because they're making a life transition when they're coming into somewhere new. Now that I am thinking about it in those terms, the return on having even not formal and you know, process oriented, welcoming, having some kind of acknowledged welcoming is huge.

Cristina Amigoni  6:37 
It is, it does make a huge difference. You mentioned at the beginning, talking about the onboarding, how there's a lot of shame when you walk into a new job, because you have to prove yourself, I mean, you were hired, but that's the beginning of the road, not the end of it. And you have to prove yourself, you're working with people most likely that you don't know, you have to establish new relationships, and you're gonna be with these people at least eight hours a day, most likely way more than that every single day of the week. So most of your awake time is going to be with people that you haven't established relationships with, doing something that you don't know what it is, and you're trying to navigate all that. So leaning on your skills that got you hired it's not exactly what's needed at the moment. The skills that are needed are human skills, your skills to establish relationships. And having that time to understand, "this is how the company operates." This is what's expected of you, here's three weeks for you to start establishing relationships, because you're going to be spending those three weeks with these five other people that are starting with you and have the same role. So it's not just five other people that happen to be in the company of 500 at the same time, you guys are going to go through the journey at the same time. And it's the same journey. You may be on different floors and in different departments, but your journeys very similar. And it really does establish it a level plane for everybody, not just the new hires, but also everybody else. And so when you show up at the desk that you hadn't seen for three weeks, you now have a second welcoming from the team that already existed, that comes over and introduces themselves and make sure that you're okay, and make sure that they know who you are, and you know how to contact them and how they can help you.  It was definitely a whole ritual that we went through. And I remember never really feeling like I didn't know where to turn when I had questions.

Alex Cullimore  8:28 
So you don't feel like you're alone and you don't feel like you don't exist, you feel like you have options, you feel like you have a safety net. And that's great, especially in terms of shame, when you don't have that it's easy to just start to hide away to try and pretend like we know things that we don't know, to have some kind of confidence that we don't have to start putting on a face that suggests it's more comfortable than it is and start to defend that because we're gonna start feeling shame, if we feel like that mask is slipping.

Cristina Amigoni  9:00  
And it comes back to authenticity. When you're feeling ashamed, it's impossible to be authentic, because you're so concerned about showing your true nature of feeling that meta feeling of "I'm ashamed because I don't know something and I don't know where to turn to, and I should because I got hired for knowing that." So now it's the shame of not knowing and the fear of not knowing and not knowing anyone and all of that altogether. And in the meantime, the last thing you're going to do is be yourself and you realize that and there's a huge internal conflict, because when you look back, whether it's that evening, or two months later, or three years later, you look back at that situation and you think "wow, if I hadn't felt the shame I did, I would have acted so differently."

Alex Cullimore  9:45 
That's a great point. I love to tie into authenticity because it really does come down to whether you're feeling like yourself, and I think it's probably worthwhile to define our framework for shame and guilt, which is something that we've learned both from personal experience and is best defined most recently in my readings by Brene' Brown. She talks about the difference between shame and guilt. When you talk about shame, you're talking about something that is inherent to somebody's character. It's not that they did a bad thing, it's that they are a bad person. And guilt, on the other hand is the opposite this, it might not be a bad person, they just happen to do a bad thing. I think one of her anecdotes in her book that I remember from years ago at this point, is when she was scolding her dog, and he called it a bad dog or something. And one of our kids came up and said "No, Ellie's not bad. She just did a bad thing." And it was just kind of a good reminder of the difference between the shaming language like that's a bad dog versus the guilting language, which is that dog did a bad thing.

Cristina Amigoni  10:43 
It's a great distinction. And it's really helpful to remember that, I also find it interesting, curious, and also extremely heartbreaking, that shame is used as a weapon so often. So maybe it is people that don't understand the difference between shame and guilt and have never really thought about the consequences, but it seems to be used so often as a weapon to diminish someone to make them feel small. And interestingly enough, it's believed to be a weapon that will motivate someone to work harder, figure things out, change, or whatever it is that we're trying to make happen. And it's opposite. I mean, if you think about kids, and learning how to walk when they're toddlers, you know, we don't shame a toddler every single time they stumble and fall, because we know that's not going to motivate them to keep trying over and over and over again, it may take them 100 times, 200 times, 400 times, I don't know, as a parent, I've never counted how long it took my kids to learn how to walk without holding my hand or without stumbling and falling. So why do we think that with adults, or even teenagers, when kids grow up and get a little bit older, that shaming them into making them feel that they're less than human, less than perfect, less than what they're supposed to be, because of whatever image we have in our head, that will help them and motivate them to keep going. If you ask me, if you shamed me on something, I quit.

Alex Cullimore  12:09 
You're just inducing fear at that point. And at most, you're training the behavior of avoiding further shame, not necessarily even making the connection to what was supposedly causing the shame in the first place, or causing you to react with shame as a weapon. And that's such an interesting one with the kids learning to walk. Because not only do kids learn to walk at different paces, there's kids who are up and basically running around, within a couple of years, there are some that take a lot longer, there are some that just take a little longer to learn to balance or just don't really want to walk. My parents like to say that I learned to walk semi early, but then refuse to and would take a stroller anytime I could. So there's just different styles. And it's funny that we have that patience. And we think it's funny when we look at kids, and then we decide that there is that total dichotomy between that and adulthood. And sometimes we put that the legal age or like "well, after 18, things are clearly different." But it's not different in how we learn things, it's just different how we treat them, we don't find it as easy to forgive people for taking longer to learn when they get older. And it's worth remembering when you're onboarding employees that even if you have a good training program, the rate of learning is not consistent, and shaming will always slow that down.

Cristina Amigoni  13:25 
It really does. Shame slows anything down, we shut down. We focus so much on trying to figure out where we went wrong, and how we can change ourselves at this point, because the shame is back to what you said, Alex, which is about who you are, not what you did that now it's like "wait, but  if who I am is not enough, and who I am is this failure of a person that is incapable of doing XYZ, then how do I fix that? Because now it's it's in me, it's part of my cells."

Alex Cullimore  13:59 
I remember a book that said that the word WHY ends up being very triggering. And if you're trying to instruct and trying to lead, asking a question with WHY can be much more damaging, because if you think about it, in terms of the workplace, let's say you're running a project, and you forgot a task, and somebody says, Why did you do that? The way you phrased that connects not just the task that was dropped. It's asking almost for an entire emotional rundown of what led you as a person to do that, to leave something out. And now that one simple drop is connected in that person's mind. And it's worth noting that this is also kind of a contagious thing. If you say that publicly, everyone else is now internalizing, having to justify themselves rather than justify an action. When you say, why did you do that? Now you've got to consider "are they saying I'm not capable of doing this job? Are they saying that I don't have the communication skills to get through this? Are they saying that?" And one you start to fall down that path, all of your responses are going to be coming from that person defending attitude, you're coming from trying to make sure that you're covering your bases. As a person, you're making sure they don't feel like you are incompetent. And you're making sure you don't seem incompetent to everyone else. And that's really a driving force of shame, is feeling like you have to defend your person. And that's why it's such a block to authenticity.

Cristina Amigoni  15:31 
That's a very good point, I heard something and it might have been in the, it was definitely in a podcast. Apparently, that's all I do, listen to podcasts. It was in a negotiating Podcast, where they were talking about how to negotiate with terrorists and kidnappers. And they found out that the most valuable thing was to ask open ended questions, instead of direct questions to try and figure out where they were or the weakness in the system, what was happening and how to negotiate with them. And, and they talked about the questions and the open ended questions and how WHEN and WHERE, and WHAT. WHEN and WHERE and WHO are open ended, but they're closed questions, because there's a very specific answer to those. And WHY is accusatory, just like you said, so WHY increases the chances of somebody being defensive, and taking it personally, and in a good way, we take everything personally, so that's a whole other podcast, we'll have to do. Instead in really questioning themselves and feeling the shame. And so the two questions that are really the two questions that are really key are WHAT and HOW. And if you can stick to those, then you have open ended questions that provide open ended answers, and they continue the conversation.

Alex Cullimore  16:52 
It's hilarious that you bring up that because that is exactly the book that I'm thinking of. The book that I read was Never Split The Difference with Chris Voss, which is I think the podcast you are talking about. Chris Voss was the FBI hostage negotiator that wrote the Never Split The Difference book about negotiations. And that's exactly where I got that piece of advice. It is about asking HOW not about asking WHY. So to go back to my example, the workforce one, if you've dropped something in a project saying, "Why did you do that?" The person's already on the defensive, if you say, "How do we avoid this in the future?" I mean, you might feel a little twinge, you might be like, "Oh, man, I dropped the ball on this." But now you're problem solving, you're there to be like, "I dropped this, I will happily write a reminder to myself in the future, or let's make this part of the overall project plan. If this is something that's going to be repeated, so that we can just make that part of the standard process." Now you're in problem solving mode, you are now part of the team, it's not anyone's personal fault, necessarily. You're not falling to try to defend yourself and make sure that you have a spot at the table still, you're just trying to make the table better.

Cristina Amigoni  17:54 
That's correct, actually, thank you for reminding me that, I heard that same thing in a podcast with Chris Voss. And the title of the podcast was, "If I lie to you, I'm gonna have to kill you, which that's gonna have to be a whole other episode that we do online, because shame is definitely related to lying. But it's true, it's such a different approach. And it's such a way to, it's not a perfect antidote to shame, because shame may be triggered by any other thing, but it's definitely on the right path, to not start with shame, to not expect the shame to just start building up in the person, so now what would like them to do after you shame them? Reverse time? What what's the what's on the other side of shaming someone?

Alex Cullimore  18:40 
Yeah, if you don't ever let go of that, the relationship starts to drown at that point. If you come out with shame, there's not an option for people to really recover from that. You say, why did you do this? Now you're trying to defend yourself. And there's not really a time in the future at which, without it being explicitly stated that I went too far, I wasn't trying to say this is an indictment of you as a person. If you don't ever clarify that there's no way for the person who has had the shame lobbed their way to really come out of that hole. And they will feel that we as humans are acutely attuned to that societal status level that has changed and we feel like we are now defending, we are on the lower status end of this encounter, we're going to have to recover ourselves. And if it starts with shame, there's so many fewer roads to getting to feeling like there's equal footing at which point you're losing out on the relationship because there's not enough comfort for people to express what is going to need to be expressed in harder times.

Cristina Amigoni  19:38 
Excellent points. And if we go back to the workplace peace, whatever just happened, the damage that was just caused to this one person is multiplied, because anybody witnessing that is gonna also now know that it's not a safe place. It's not a safe environment, because they could be the next ones to be shamed. At any point, if it happened to one person, it can happen to anyone. And it's also it's toxic for any type of relationship at that point in the workplace, because it's just damaging to people speaking up admitting that they made a mistake, because again, wwll they know what happens, you're going to get publicly shamed. When that happens, or even not publicly shamed, but then you're going to talk about them. And so and you're going to share your pain. And so people are still going to know about it, there's nothing that's just going to happen in the closure of four walls, and it's going to come out.

Alex Cullimore  20:31 
It's so tricky. And publicly, obviously, that spreads immediately, everybody who sees that public shaming happening, and shaming here I'm defining in my head to be anything from a minor comment that comes across in that character defending way to something that is much more blatant, like, "how could you be stupid enough to drop this call or email? These details that needed to be kept secret", whatever it is, anything along that path, if it's public, everybody will, will digest it. But if it's private, the word is going to get around. I mean, either people will see two people whispering in a room, which was something that happened at workplace we were at some point for a little while there, you see a lot of whispered conversations, and you have to wonder, and it's pretty natural human reaction to assume automatically, it's about you. And of course, in a larger workplace, it tends to not be about you. But that mitrust is already there. Now you're wondering what's going on? Are they talking about me? Do I have to correct something, now you're spending, perhaps, you know, 15 minutes to an hour, or a lunch hour or discussing it with other people over what you might have done wrong, maybe there's something you know, you messed up and you were trying to fix but you haven't gotten everything back to normal yet, you're going to spend that time now on that path, instead of maybe it has nothing to do with you. Or maybe it could have been addressed more directly. And that whole hour, or hour and a half or two hours or days or weeks that you're spending pondering this are now lost, and it could have been spent on something else, both productive for you, and for whatever you're working on.

Cristina Amigoni  22:05 
And that's when engagement decreases, productivity decreases motivation to work hard, commitment, teamwork, change, agility, solution, problem solving, you name it, everything that you would expect to be happening in a workplace in order to be successful, and be able to provide excellence or even just provide service or products and move on and grow and actually be valuable, it's all out, it's out the window. And it's because of like you said, I like the fact that you brought up how it can be something as drastic as calling someone stupid. And so instead of in front of other people, or something as small, as giving a presentation that you want everybody to pay attention to in the room and two people stand up and start a side conversation. That's very shameful.

Alex Cullimore  22:54 
Absolutely, I was actually just going to bring up something like that, the idea that if people aren't paying attention to you, or if somebody contradicts something, I've seen a number of cases in consulting, where on the consulting team itself, the group of consultants will have some meeting, we'll talk about the strategy, how the project is going maybe a little bit more candidly than you might with the client, because you want to make sure that you aren't presenting anything that would miss manage expectations. And then you agree that, "okay, we need to take this course of action, it's more than that this is about to be a risk. And let's tell them that this is a hard line, we believe this is the right way to do something. And even though they disagree, we need to just make it clear that this is how we need to go moving forward." And I've seen that go right into a meeting with the client, where that gets thrown out the window. And you might have brought up like we can't, there's a there's a danger here, we have got a risk that's not being addressed. And then you get into the room and the person presenting totally  blows that away, or, or just ignores it. And now you're wondering to yourself "did I say that? What did I not come across on the same page?" That also starts to become shaming because you start to believe that whatever you've contributed, doesn't have worth. And anybody watching, who has recognized that lapse in what he has said, has to wonder how much else is not being said. This is when seeds of mistrust start to sow in the team and in the customer. And the unease starts to grow.

Cristina Amigoni  24:21 
I've seen that happen quite often too. And you're right, it destroys trust. Trust is the first thing that goes out the window, along with all the shame stuff that comes into the window. But it alsoI think it destroys integrity. Because integrity. If I define integrity as walking the talk, then I have no idea what's going to happen and what your talk and your actions are because well, whatever you say then turns around and becomes mute  five minutes later. So then you're constantly trying to figure out "what's going to happen in this meeting that I may have to backpedal or I may end up standing alone when I thought I was standing with the group? Or even worse, I may get thrown under the bus."

Alex Cullimore  25:04  
And that I think, for me personally sounds like the most immediate way to explode and entirely end a relationship if you, especially if you feel like you're on firm ground, especially if you felt like you were on a team up to that point, and then you get just tossed under the bus. I can't think of a single experience that would be more immediately damaging to the trust, because now you have to doubt every situation that led up to that point where you did feel comfortable. It's not like you can just pretend like that was a one time thing. Your your brain has already written together the pattern that I felt comfortable here, things seemed Okay, and then everything blew up. They now you've lost that trust for a very long time, if you especially if you've misled, which makes sense. I mean, that's the definition of trust, saying something and doing another, that would be an immediate lack of trust. But that's something that would easily send you into a shame spiral. Because you're like, Did everyone else know this? And I didn't, were they all talking behind my back? How often was this happening? How long was this happening? For? Now, every time you've been vulnerable with those people before comes into question. It's a spiral.

Cristina Amigoni  26:13 
I can feel the shame bubble up inside me just as you say those words. So then it makes me wonder where does my shame come from? When I hear that, or I think about those situations, which we've all been in, at some point in our lives, whether it's in a friendship, or in a work situation, or in a family situation, or hopefully not so much in a family situation. But, you know, we've all been in those types of situations. So I think that shames comes up, because well, you trusted someone and you thought that there was a certain type of relationship and like you said, solid grounds. And now you're left questioning all of it. And so then you're wondering, was I crazy? Was the relationship all in my head? And that I make it all up? But was it actually real? You know?  So then a thing, the relationship, I felt like I was successful or respected or valued, does that mean I'm actually not valuable? Now I'm questioning my own value, because everything is being questioned, everything is on shaky grounds. And on top of that, how is that going to impact future relationships, besides the one that's done.  In future relationships, you're now going to question people even more, and maybe not trust as much because you just don't know, you don't know, if things are just in your head.

Alex Cullimore  27:26 
It's gaslighting. I mean, it is taking what you consider to be reality telling you that's not reality. And then insisting that you could, you would have been foolish to assume that was reality from the get go. And now you have to wonder, in your own mind, what was real, what wasn't. And even if you have the strength to understand that maybe this was just this one person, and that doesn't necessarily carry over to the rest of your relationships, which is something that can really only come with experience, and with enough embodied self compassion and worth. Even if you do have that, you then have to assess every interaction with that person, on that level. Now, there's going to be so much extra mental work and mental cycles to try and figure out if the person that did this to you is going to do it again, is doing it again. That is where the relationship damage comes in all over again.

Cristina Amigoni  28:15 
And one of the things that I have started to think about as I turn this around, and we look at gaslighting and trust and the erosion of teamwork, and workplace engagement and productivity, when it all revolves around something like shame, which we live and breathe every single day, I think about why would someone cause shame? Why would someone feel the need to shame somebody else? Assuming that it's not malicious for the most part, and assuming that they don't know they're doing it? So what could motivate, what causes that? And I kind of go back to something that Bren' Brown has said, and many other people and have said as well, which is "hurt people hurt others." When you're in pain, you want to get rid of the pain. And so the immediate reaction is to cause pain to somebody else.

Alex Cullimore  29:07 
Yeah. And I think that's a great way of looking at it because somebody may be causing you shame because they are feeling shame. And that is pretty easily transferable in the workplace. If you think about expectations, if somebody even we see this, especially in corporate hierarchical dynamics, where somebody is trying to maybe impress the boss and trying to lead a team or something. They may feel like, yes, we had this side conversation, manager and an employee had some side conversation in which they agreed they have to bring up something that is a company problem and we'll have to go change processes. Then when the CEO comes around and asks the manager, boss turns around doesn't say anything about it. It's the situation we were describing before, but it may be because they were feeling the shame and they may be feeling like they need to save that face. The CEO seems non receptive and he would have probably started to self justify it, anybody would have done the same in their shoes, this is something that they clearly needed to save face, they don't even have to explain themselves, because it's clear that they felt the pressure to save face and the employee will understand because they would have done it too. And that's where it can become really dangerous to have those internal assumptions and not be managing our own shame. Because it's very unlikely that employee is going to have as generous a view, because they're seeing it from their personal point of view, where they had an idea that they felt backed up by the manager originally. And now it's been tossed to the side. They're not, unless they're very patient, very empathetic, going to be trying to see that from somebody else's point of view. And it's worthwhile practice to try and be empathetic and understand where people's motivations might come from. But it becomes incumbent on ourselves to understand our own shame, to not be creating more shame.

Cristina Amigoni  30:53 
It helps with the understanding that the person that's feeling the shame, whether it was the beginning or the end, or the middle of the journey of the shame is in a tunnel. And fear typically is what causes that. So whether it's fear to disagree with the boss, fear to lose your job, if you disagree with your boss, fear of being shamed, and being called out if you disagree with your boss, whatever it is, but fear triggers that kind of really strong tunnel vision. And once you have the tunnel vision, that's when you don't know you're shaming somebody else, you may not even know that you're backing away from what you just said five minutes ago, because that's what happens in tunnel vision. It's like you're in survival mode. And survival mode is like "I'll do whatever it takes here to not to not be destroyed, to not lose, to not be fired, to not be kicked out whatever it is, and I don't see anything else, all I see is I have to survive."

Alex Cullimore  31:54 
And that's where our fight or flight becomes dangerous to other people as well, even if we're on the flight path.

Cristina Amigoni  32:00 
Yes, yes. On the flight path, especially in a workplace. And especially in a place where and I don't know, workplaces where this wouldn't happen, but in a workplace where teamwork and collaboration with other people is at the premise of everything. And it's the only way to actually do things successfully. When you're in the flight mode, you take people with you. It's not just your flight here, I don't know, was it Eagles that fly on their own?  You're not an eagle, you're taking everybody down

Alex Cullimore  32:35 
It's an interesting way of looking at it because, that is where, again, that's why I feel like shame is the root of so many negative and toxic cultures. Because it carries out in all these different ways. Either you might be shaming other people, at which point it's shutting them down, they start to feel disengaged, they start to leave, they start to walk away from work, they start to spread gossip to other people, they might feel like they have to defend themselves. Or maybe you get into your own flight mode. And now you're taking other people down with you. There's so many different paths for that kernel of shame, to start to grow into something more toxic if it isn't a dress.

Cristina Amigoni  33:16 
And when you think about other cultures, another Brene' Brown podcast, because again, we listened to those a lot,  was talking about how the Dutch culture actually has an antidote way of living and words to combat guilt and shame because they realize that there's no point in carrying around those feelings or causing those feelings in others. You just ruin life. And so I started thinking about that in Italy, I mean, we've got, you know, your original sin. So with the Vatican and the history of Catholicism in Italy,  there's no getting away from being sinful. But I think that the carries so much in it, that even the word for shame, which is vergogna  When we were looking this up the other day on Google, I guess, alternatives to explaining the word of going in Italian are sin,  dishonor. And if we think about the military, and how if you think about, you know, dishonor and sin and you talk about being dishonorably discharged. It's one of the worst things that could happen to you in the military. And yet we dishonorably discharged people in the workplace every day, all day.

Alex Cullimore  35:00 
Just to go back to your point on vergogna, the idea is that that's basically contextually and culturally understood to be one of those like last resort words where you only come down to it if things have gone so far south that it feels like this is really the only word that's going to capture how destroyed I feel about the relationship that I'm expressing this about.

Cristina Amigoni  35:22 
Yes, and it's definitely very, about the being not about the doing. So when somebody says something like vergognati, which means you should feel ashamed, it is about me as a person as a being it is not at all about what I've done. Or that's not the intention. Usually, it could be unintentionally used to provide guilt. But it's so just raw to even hear that, then you just, you know, it's the consequence of that it's so toxic,

Alex Cullimore  35:55 
That's fascinating that it would be so separated, because in American culture, and generally in public discourse, and certainly in internet discourse, we tend to see shame. The shame is reached for immediately you reach out with "How could you be so stupid about your viewpoint on this?" And wow, "what kind of moron would believe that or whatever you jump down", we are jumping almost immediately to the shame. And we attack the person. And they I think there's some special Latin phrase for making an argument of that type are essentially attacking the person instead of attacking any of the things ad hominem, when you attack the person rather than the situation. And that seems to be what we go to, almost entirely avoiding the issue sometimes.

Cristina Amigoni  36:40 
And I wonder why, I wonder how much fear and how much pain the people inflicting that are in, what's causing that?

Alex Cullimore  36:50 
I have an interesting thought on that or anecdote. Along the way, when I was growing up, my family was very harsh on cleaning. And it got to the point where there was certain instances where you'd feel guilty if somebody else was cleaning, and you just happens to not be cleaning at that moment. That wasn't really acceptable. You should be cleaning too, or are you sure that everything that is your responsibility has been taken care of. And it internalizes over a long time and years later, I was with my long term partner now, Raechel, she had sent a for a Valentine's Day gift, she sent a maid to our apartment where we're living in New York to just clean it for us because we were tired of having to clean it every week to stay livable in the tiny square feet that you get in New York. And so this was a gift. And in retrospect, of course, it's a great gift. But I felt deeply ashamed and immediately triggered into shame, because it immediately felt like she was saying that I hadn't done enough, I was clearly not cleaning enough of our shared living space. And it spiraled very quickly into something that was much bigger than the actual situation. And it wasn't until later when I kind of unraveled my own mental trigger and immediate thought loop that I started to realize that it was clearly unfair accusations "why would you say this about me? Why would you say that? I'm lazy about this? Why would you say?" And of course, she was saying nothing of the sort, none of that actual context was tied to it. It had just been tight enough in my memory, that I believed anybody commenting on someone else's cleanliness or sending somebody else to do your job was telling you that you had failed. And it's interesting that we encode it that way. Because we have started to encode certain things that will create our own shame, which we may or may not know, we're stepping on in a place like the workplace, maybe somebody has been chastised before for some certain communication pattern or had in encoding, maybe chastised before for using some inefficient algorithm where they should have done better, and maybe they hit it again. And now they are down that shame spiral of "last time this happened, I was accused of not knowing how to do my job not being worthwhile as a programmer." And maybe it's something that we tend to carry on and can be easy to step on accidentally, even for other people.

Cristina Amigoni  39:08 
There's definitely a few things there that I found extremely interesting as you were talking about them. One is the fact that even something  given as a loving gift, could be interpreted as shame triggering because of your history and because of your past. So there's definitely a lot of potentially innocent shame causing out there that we need to be aware of, and communication around it, because communication is the only real way to understand what's going on. And then the other interesting piece is that as you were talking about the workplace, it reminded me of a conversation I just had this afternoon on how one of the common things that leaders struggle with is being in front of a room of people that may not be speaking as much as they would like they don't ask questions or if they do, it's rarely, they don't speak up when they don't understand something, they go down a path of not, you know, knowing what to do and without really asking for help. And so we were trying to figure out what causes that? And then how do you fix it? And I would say, you know, the cause is shame. I mean, the cause is that at some point, it was a learned behavior, they learned that if they ask a question, there's punishment, whether that's "how could you ask that? Again, I've already explained it," to themselves or somebody else in the room. So again, a witness that, or it could be "Oh, now that you ask questions, well, you know, we're not gonna invite you to meetings anymore because you ask questions when you in the meetings," or whatever it is, there's various passive or active ways to cause shame around the one time behavior, and not everybody is going to keep trying, not everybody's gonna say like, "No, I know that I need to do this, and I'm gonna, you know, work past my shame and past embarrassment. And I'm gonna keep doing it."  Most people won't, for most people is just learned behavior. Well, if you get burned every time you put your hand on the stove, well you're gonna stop putting your hand on the stove.

Alex Cullimore  41:10 
That's a great metaphor for it. And I was just thinking, when you're talking about asking questions, specifically, that feels like something that is trained into us from school days on, if you think about how school tends to be structured, you are rewarded for learning as quickly as you can, you're rewarded for learning as best as you can. And then you are tested on that with tests. And there are harsh punishments for cheating, there is no helping each other, there is no asking, and I'm not condoning that people should start, you know, cheating on tests, there's the code of ethics that says you shouldn't be doing that. And you should probably just be doing that as agreed ethics. My point is that, when we have the entire system built up to tell you that you should be doing this on your own, that you should know all of it on your own, you should know enough of it and be able to produce enough of this to do well, based on whatever grading framework you're in for that class, you are trained to turn away from help and to make sure you aren't asking for it. And that starts the pattern of, don't look for other people look for yourself. And that comes out in the workplace and starts to be part of that, what I like to call the glass door policy of yes, the manager says that you can come talk to them, or please go bring up problems as they come up. But there is some learned behavior, either in that person, or in the culture of the company that is stopping people from actually taking that open door idea. And it has become more of a glass door. You can see through it. But there is a barrier.

Cristina Amigoni  42:33 
And that's when you start having ethical issues in organizations. And people are not bringing up issues because it's not safe when they're not asking questions, because they get punished or shamed. You know, when they can't collaborate, they can't really talk to each other for whatever reason, when there is no trust, because what you explained at the beginning is like this, "I'm on my own, it means I can't trust anybody around me", which means that the culture has no trust. That's when ethical behavior goes out the window as well. And there's lots of examples and lots of articles and podcasts and studies around things like Enron, or other big ethical lapses that became economic crises, worthy of the news, where it really started with this culture of lack of trust and shame, because people couldn't speak up.

Alex Cullimore  43:24 
Yeah, that's a great point. And that's how things I think spiral into things like that "me to movement", calling out many producers and celebrities in Hollywood, that's a culture where speaking out of two recent days, where enough brave people have come forward, and enough people are supporting it, there is no speaking out, at which point that kind of unethical behavior can start to run rampant. It could be as simple as somebody's like, "well, I probably won't get punished for it this time." Or it can be somebody who is specifically looking to do something unethical, and they realize there's not going to be a lot of consequences At which point, the envelope and the barrier is already so far away, it's not too hard to push it a little farther.

Cristina Amigoni  44:04 
Exactly. So if we look at all these consequences of causing shame, and how it takes so little to do that, so it's not this big thing.  Shame is a big thing and yet it takes nothing. It takes a tiny little trigger to cause shame, then, how do we fix it? What's the antidote to shame? As Brene' Brown explains very, very well.  (This needs to start being the Brene' brown commentary podcast, what we learned from Bernie Brown, maybe we should change our name)

Alex Cullimore  44:34 
(Application of Brene' Brown in our lives.)

Cristina Amigoni  44:36 
Yeah, exactly. Just like they did the West Wing commentary podcast on the West Wing episodes. This feels like it's all about Brene' Brown. She's just that inspiring. But you know, she talks about empathy as the antidote of shame. I look at shame as like vampires in the sense that you bring them out to the light and they die. At least whatever version of vampires does die in the light. Just shame is the same way. So if you stop shoving it down and keeping it a secret and keeping it inside, which is how shame actually grows, because that's kind of the whole point is to stay inside, and you share it. And so you share a shameful experience and the feelings that you had during that shameful experience with somebody else. And they give you empathy by showing that they heard you, and they value you, and they listen clearly and deeply, and they're there for you, then it goes away. And for the two of us, it just happened, we were talking about a story right before the podcast that I don't think I actually shared with anyone, I was so ashamed of it. Because I thought it was me, I thought I was the problem in that story. And I now realize that as soon as I shared it, I'm like, wow, it's gone.

Alex Cullimore  45:48 
I love the bringing to light metaphor for both of those reasons. Because you might be shining your own empathetic light on it, you might have your own mindful practice, which is, I bring that up, because that's how I've tended to cultivate more empathetic thoughts, both for myself and others. But whatever practice you have, you may be able to essentially offer your own empathy. And it's just something that you'd had locked away for long enough, you hadn't shown any empathy on it up to that point. So saying it out loud, you have the chance to bring that into your own light, and saying it out loud to somebody else, you have the chance of somebody else shining that light on there. And that's why trusting relationships in close relationships tend to be so helpful and so supportive in anything that we're trying to do. Because we can allow ourselves the vulnerability to show something that we would might otherwise be ashamed of, with the assumption that there will be some form of support, and that this is somebody who understands that, even if I feel like I did a bad thing on this, they will see me more as a full person. And I won't have to defend everything about myself just to discuss this, that is eating me on the inside.

Cristina Amigoni  46:52 
And I would say step two, so after we bring it to the light, and we kill the immediate shame, which some of it is still going to linger, depending on how big the event is, or how destroyed the relationship could have been. But I think that the second step is to then look at the interpretation of the situation. So once we get to the point where we can be a little more objective, and we're less in a fight or flight mode, and in a protection mode of ourselves, because now we're out of the tunnel. Okay, if we know that shame is caused by someone in pain, then what's the pain? What are they scared of? What is their fear? What is their pain that's causing them to shame others, that's causing them to gaslight, to lie, to do all these things that they're really doing to protect themselves?

Alex Cullimore  47:43 
Yeah, that's a great question to ask about them and of yourself, if you want to start to dig into why.  I know that when I started into software development, when I started that, as a general career, I didn't study software development in school, I wasn't in computer science, I had taken one or maybe two coding classes, from high school through college. And then I happen to kind of fall into the field. And I was working with people who did graduate in this, they'd studied it for four years. And there was so much imposter syndrome, so much shame around what I didn't know that I felt like I should have known and that nobody you shouldn't really hired me until I did know these things, because that seemed to be such common knowledge. And when I think back on that, in terms of what you're saying, as far as fear, that was the fear that kept bubbling up as shame it kept bubbling up, as "I am not worthy of doing this job, I have not proven enough to myself to others, to where I should be allowed to do this job." That was the fear driving me. And I can see it now, years on, having learned enough to do this, well on my own, do a lot of it on my own, and look back and be able to help people that are just starting out, you start to see that in them, you start to see people who maybe took a boot camp, and they're worried that they didn't do a full college or they had just kind of fallen into it, doing it on the side. And now they're wondering if they really belong there. You can, in noticing your own fear, start to more easily diagnose that in others, or at least address it ahead of time, to be clear that like hearing my expectations, I'm not saying you should know all these things, and you can sometimes visibly see the person across the table relax.

Cristina Amigoni  49:21 
Very good approach for sure. And I was just thinking through that, as we were talking about, what, as leaders, what can we do? Now that we know we have allow for shame to come to the light, we have to address our own shame and provide empathy to ourselves as well as to others. But then practically, what is it that we do and I think being open about expectations is one of the best things and then it goes back to transparency and communication. I mean, if people know they're not alone, they will risk, they will be okay they will ask questions. So when somebody asks questions celebrate that, celebrate that they had the courage to ask the question instead of judging why you're asking the questions.

Alex Cullimore  50:02 
That's a great point I have had a number of times I feel like where I am explaining something. And I will forget some piece of it. I think you'd shared a picture the other day of how normal people tell stories versus how I tell stories. That's how I feel like I explained things for, for context. The idea was that like, normal people seem to tell stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. But I always feel like I'm telling stories with like a beginning. No, wait, I forgot about this piece of it. Oh, here's like four other details. I feel like that's how I tend to tell stories. But it's also how I explain things. If I haven't put some thought into it. I haven't had the time perhaps to put some thought into a more structured approach a more step by step. So my point being, I have been deeply relieved a number of times when in the middle of an explanation, somebody will ask a question. And your point is very much worth celebrating that like, "Oh, totally, I absolutely forgot that that is an important piece of this. And that's something that will be necessary for you to understand the next five things I'm going to say. So thank you so much for bringing that up." That's hugely important. And I think another great way to help out as from a leader point of view, is to lead by example, not both notice your own shame. And if you can address it publicly do so, just be like, "Hey, I didn't show up my best here." Or if you feel like you were shaming, make sure you address that, again, probably publicly, if it's at least, you know, an approachable situation, if it was very personal. If you happen to do something very personal, probably talk to that person, one to one. But if it's something that just kind of was an offhanded comments, you realize it might have been causing shame, or the team has seemed uncomfortable since then, address that publicly start to set the example that we should be comfortable bringing these things up, and that we should be comfortable with the idea that we're going to make mistakes, and it doesn't have to be a shaming incident, it can be something we just feel guilty about. Having done.

Cristina Amigoni  51:52  
Very good points. I like all of those really good suggestions. And as you were talking about them, it reminded me of it, you know, some other things to do, which is check in, I mean, use the some of the open ended questions, we talked about the beginning, use WHAT and HOW, instead of WHY or closed ended questions, and really check in and start from the assumption that first of all, not everybody's in our brain, well, nobody's in our brain, except for ourselves. So there's lots of voices, but they are all coming from the same place. The you know, we all interpret things differently, we all see the world as we are not as it is. Not everybody comes from the same background or has the same knowledge. So let's not expect them to understand things the way we understand them. And, you know, if we go back to a learning strategy as bite size, bite size information. You know, if we inundate people with information, things are going to be missed. But if we do bite size, and we check in, and we ask whether there's something that was missed, or misinterpreted or not explained well, then we can catch it at that moment, as opposed to after a two hour lecture on something, and then you go back, and you're like, Yeah, I know, I understood 50% of it. But don't ask me which 50% I did and which 50%. I missed.

Alex Cullimore  53:14 
I like a lot of what you said, but one of the things that really stuck out to me is the idea that people are coming from a different place. And I like to think of that example, we were just talking about earlier with vergogna, there's an entire word in Italian that is next to off limits in arguments, because it is harsh, that's an entirely different approach to life and to conversations, then I would have growing up in the American culture, it tends to be a lot more like we were talking about earlier, reaching for shame first. And that's this is an example of talking about shame. But it's also a good example of how you can come from such wildly different background and it can take comfort, then, from the American point of view, to have somebody like you, Cristina come in, and you're very straightforward, you tend to tell unflinchingly tell the truth that you have, and that you want to deliver. And without the understanding that that is not about the relationship, sometimes people will immediately feel their own shame triggers will decide they feel that more personally than it was intended, if there's not that shared understanding, and that's just an example of having a different place where all coming from not only just as people, but in how we process and communicate shame.

Cristina Amigoni  54:28 
Being mindful about whether we're using shame. And that it may be the case, even though we may not see it that way. Another thing that I really go back to when we go back to is the emotional piece. We're not checking emotions at the door, emotions don't just pop up and happen every once in a while they're part of us. And so, when I think about the sentence, even something like "you take things personally" again, it's very shameful to me to heear that? And to say that because "Well, yeah, I don't take things personally, because first of all, the way I see the world is very different from the way everybody else sees the world. I am an emotional being before I'm anything else. And so the emotions that are going to be triggered by this experience, or sentence or action or decision, or whatever it is are personal because well, they're mine." They're not anybody else's. So how is taking things personally an insult? When it's reality? That's the only way we can take things is personally,

Alex Cullimore  55:32 
In my mind that sets up an unfair personal comparison, because what you're really saying, when you tell somebody, "you're taking things, too, personally", is, at least in my mind, my interpretation is what you're really saying is "you are taking things more personally than I would". And that is already setting up a value judgment. Because if you're saying it like that, the implicit statement that's going unsaid there is "you should be working to be like me, because I've got this piece figured out," which is again, some shaming.

Cristina Amigoni  56:05 
I'm gonna need a whole lesson on not taking things personally.

Alex Cullimore  56:09 
Well, that's my point, though, I think it's fine to take that personally, I just think when people say that, and lob that as an insult what they're really saying is "you're just taking that more personally than me and you shouldn't." And that's not really fair to say, you can't tell somebody how much they should or shouldn't react. If you feel like it's an overreaction. It's worth probing into with the open ended questions you were talking about a second ago? Go in more open than "Why would you take this personally?" Go in with, "how did that make you feel? What were you thinking about when you heard me say that, and when it caused a strong reaction?"  That's a much more reasonable and questioning and probing approach and curious approach. And that opens the door for empathy, as well as opens the door for the person who might be feeling overwhelmed or something by what has been said, or just be taking something and seems more angry than they should be or something, or seems more sad than other people might have thoughts. It's not that they are wrong for thinking that it's probably worth investigating why they feel like that's happening. And without using the word Why,  "why did you feel that way?"

Cristina Amigoni  57:17  
Yes, exactly. By using the words WHAT and HOW, and especially the sentences that you brought up, which are excellent, you take the judgment away, there's now no unsaid, unheard, unwritten, standard of where the line of personal versus not personal enough  versus too personal is, or whether I shouldn't feel insulted or shamed by what was happening. There's just curiosity. And when you have curiosity, you've already shown empathy. And as we just explained, you're already fighting against the shame, because you showed empathy, because now it's not about what you said, it's about the fact that you care that I'm hurt.

Alex Cullimore  57:21 
And you have a chance to bring that to light. And then a chance, get rid of that vampire.

Cristina Amigoni  58:03 
Yes, exactly. Get rid of vampire slow vampires, but it can't live in us. Well, that was a lot around shame. And I'm sure there's a lot more that we would like to talk about. But it's it's there. It's every day, it's shame were a soft drink, I think you would sell more than coke.

Alex Cullimore  58:23 
Yeah, we'd all be buying it because we do it a lot.

Cristina Amigoni  58:27 
We would all be addicted to it. Because all we drink all day long and just take so little.

Alex Cullimore  58:34 
And it's so easy to get away from you in the workplace. When we do things like say check emotions at the door. When we tell people that that's when we start to open the door for their being shamed, because you're going to be holding on to feelings, you're going to be holding on to taking things personally, that you're not gonna be able to share. And so with that you're left only with, seemingly only, with shame as an option. And that's why it becomes a very negative company culture. And I feel like that is really the kernel for bad cultures and something that is worth working on, if you want to improve a company culture, it's working on the things that might be coming across as shameful or definitely are coming across as shameful.

Cristina Amigoni  59:13 
And if you're not sure ask,

Alex Cullimore  59:15 

Cristina Amigoni  59:17 
It's that simple. It's just about curiosity. It's just about the empathy. But let's not just assume, you know, like you said, just because like, I may not feel ashamed in this situation, or if somebody said that, to me, that doesn't mean that that's the norm. None of us establishes the norm.

Alex Cullimore  59:34 
And even if somebody reacts outside of the norm, it's still worth the curiosity. It doesn't mean they're wrong. It means there's something going on that they have noted that they feel is important enough that they have a strong reaction to and it's worth figuring that out, not just glossing over it and pretending like it didn't happen,

Cristina Amigoni  59:52 
We're human beings, not human doings.

Alex Cullimore  59:56 
I love that phrase. We're here to be not to do.

Cristina Amigoni  1:00:01 
Except in the workplace, because in the workplace, as soon as you walk in, you're here to do you're not a being you don't have any emotions, you shouldn't feel ashamed.

Alex Cullimore  1:00:09 
And that works out 100% of the time. No negative consequences.

Cristina Amigoni  1:00:13 
No, no, exactly. I mean, I would just give up on having a business, honestly, if I didn't figure that out. No shame there to anybody.

Alex Cullimore  1:00:29 
Here we are spouting shame.

Cristina Amigoni  1:00:31 
That's probably the end of the podcast, right?

Alex Cullimore  1:00:36  
That's it go forth and feel shameful everybody. I really do think it ties into authenticity, though. And I'm glad we brought it up, because it is something that is a direct block for authenticity. And whether it's some personal Gremlin you feel or you feel like somebody else is suppressing you, or telling you you shouldn't be how you are. All of those are blocks to being authentic. And when you are blocked from being authentic, you're now blocked from accessing just your true regular self, your calm self, your productive, creative, enjoyable self, where you feel best and you feel like you're showing up best,

Cristina Amigoni  1:01:10 
and feeling your best is absolutely needed to be able to show up as your best.

Alex Cullimore  1:01:17 
And it's something to keep in mind when we have all the external stresses of today. We're all living through a pandemic, and we're all at home. And we're all trying to figure out what to do, how to be safe, how to be healthy.

Cristina Amigoni  1:01:30 
I mean, not to make this episode extra long, but just the shame around the masks. It's a whole other episode.

Alex Cullimore  1:01:36 
Yeah, we should talk about that. We talked about shame in the workplace. Let's talk about shame in society next.

Cristina Amigoni  1:01:43 
Well, thank you for joining us again, and hope that you know you can find a way to bring your shame into the light or recognize it or be curious about it.

Alex Cullimore  1:01:53 
Thanks so much, guys. Be authentic. And be curious.

Cristina Amigoni  1:01:57 
Thank you. Thank you for listening to Uncover The Human, a SIAMO podcast.

Alex Cullimore  1:02:02 
Special thanks to our podcast operations wizard Jake Lara and our score creator Raechel Sherwood.

Cristina Amigoni  1:02:08 
If you have enjoyed this episode, please share, review and subscribe. You can find our episodes wherever you listen to podcasts.

Alex Cullimore  1:02:15 
We would love to hear from you with feedback, topic ideas or questions. You can reach us at or on our website, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook.

Cristina Amigoni  1:02:34 
Until next time, listen to yourself. Listen to others and always Uncover The Human.