This happened to me a few years ago at an executive roundtable – the lessons I learned were invaluable.
After focusing on launching my business, I decided I wanted to branch out and expand my local networking circles. Since I’m a connector, have a strong business background and love to brainstorm, joining a local mastermind seemed like a natural fit.
As part of most roundtables, a good chunk of time is spent with each person sharing a particular issue then benefiting from the wisdom of the crowd through their insights, resources, ideas and suggestions.
The dilemma I shared involved having fear about launching new program that would require a significant investment of time, money and resources without having fully established my business yet.
True to form as part of this exercise, the group set to task and spent a few minutes brainstorming on paper what they would recommend and then went around the table sharing their most valuable insights. The first person to report back to me was a woman who had been clearly agitated and confrontational from the beginning of the meeting.
She pointed her finger at me and said, “SHAME on you for making it about the numbers,” following it up by saying, “you should be ASHAMED.”
Hun? What? Immediately, the facilitator intervened and asked her to refrain from such accusations to which she threatened to leave.
I was taken back. It’s not at all what I was expecting and I was stunned by her intensity.
I hit a nerve in this woman and she pounced on me like a saber tooth tiger projected her fears of shame on me.
Had this happened a couple of years ago, I would have either immediately gotten defensive and said “screw you” OR more than likely absorbed her anger by retreating internally, only to question, what did I do to deserve this?
But having invested substantial time in developing deeper levels of self awareness and self management, I’ve learned to shift perspective on the fly, this time I chose to take a deep breath and check in.
“Do I feel SHAME for having fear about launching something big?”
Nope, not really. As a matter of fact, it took a lot of guts to honor what I was feeling and share a fear with a group I didn’t know. This was clearly her issue not mine.
Then I got curious. I wanted to know what she had to say. I listened. She had a decent point — don’t play small, shoot for your dreams, don’t wait to take risk. I get it, but her caustic delivery eroded any empowerment in that message.
Some might consider not reacting a sign of weakness – why wouldn’t I stand up for myself and fight back. However, I consider it to be a great sign of accomplishment. A huge part of being true to who you are is not taking on what doesn’t belong to you.
Consider for a moment a time you’ve been humming along, feeling just fine, then you had a conversation with someone that left you feeling awful, pissed off, or helpless. It’s a natural tendency to want to hurl back an insult or stew on the internalized negativity. But those are both forms of taking on the other people’s stuff.
What I did was refrain from immediate reaction, gain some mental distance from her insult and looked at what she said objectively. It takes practice and restraint not to react, but I promise you it’s well worth it. The secret to success is being clear on who I am and how I feel. Do I fear uncertainty? You betcha! But shame, no, that’s not mine.
After the meeting, a couple people approached me and said they didn’t think they could have handled that situation so gracefully and wouldn’t have known how to react. I was quick to point out (no pun intended), the advice she was giving me, is most likely the advice she needed to follow herself. I saw this woman’s outburst as a cry for help. It was so clear to me that she was struggling with her own stuff.
While my heart truly went out for her suffering, no one should ever be shamed, especially not for expressing fear and taking on other people’s dark cloud doesn’t help anyone.
A quick Google search reveals the opposite of shame is honor and respect and this is my greatest lesson. I have learned to honor the integrity of my emotions, energy and time and respecting myself by not reacting to other people’s stuff and to me, it doesn’t get anymore powerful than that.
So I encourage you, the next time you find yourself on the receiving end of someone’s accusation, anger, frustration or shame — before you react, take a deep breath and ask yourself, is this my issue and respect what you hear? Is there anything to be gleaned from what is being said? Then take what’s helpful and relevant and leave the rest behind.
And remember when someone points a finger at you, there are 3 fingers pointing back.