Whabout retropectives & defeating the shame monster?

I just wrote a long (2 part) post about retrospectives and blame. I didn’t post it here, because, well… it wasn’t really a question, at the time. I didn’t feel like I was coming from a “please help me understand” place. This is where I know my stuff.

But anyway, you should read them. I don’t even know how to begin to summarize, so I wont. It’s
Retropectives, blame and the Prime Directive, Part 1
Retropectives, blame and the Prime Directive, Part 2

The good news is that at the end a question came up! Which gives me an excuse to post them here. ^__^

Here’s the question: Whabout shame?

So to coaches who are into accepting what is, not blaming, looking at root causes and meeting people with honesty, empathy and fondness (see part 2, above), what do you do about the shame people bring to the situation? What if you want to ask with HEF :) “what might be going on for you when you show up at 9:20 when our meeting’s at 9?” and you’re met with defensiveness and obfuscation?

I’m not talking about the occasional outlier, who’s extra defensive about everything. I’m talking about the whole range of folks, from that, to people who are pretty laid back (and/or practiced in meditation, because they’re not at all laid back—that would be me). All of us have a hard time with criticism, to some extent. Some are more aware, and some are less. How do we get past that shame on an individual basis, so we can talk about what is happening with an eye to improving things?

(I want to hear what you have to say regardless, but I imagine my question will make more sense, and your answer be more relevant to that question, if you read the original posts first.)

Geeps speaks…

Hmmmmm. This, I think, is why we pay you the big bucks, bringing up complications like these.

Shame is a tremendous force in most people’s lives. It seems to urge a body towards excellence, but what it really does is tell a body to feel bad. Ooops.

In our way of excellence, shame is an enemy. Shame is the thing that prevents people from trying.

5 thoughts on “Whabout retropectives & defeating the shame monster?

  1. Joel Helbling

    First: awesome that you mention fondness, because it’s one of my favorite team dynamics. It ought to be present in any healthy team to some extent or another. When people enjoy working together, that enjoyment manifests as fondness or friendship.

    Now, as for that laggard, there are several things to think about before we ever get around to introducing anything like shame for the 10 o’clock scholar. First off, if it’s a once off occurrence, I say let it be. The core premise in an agile team is that you’re working with a team full of functioning adults who want to succeed. If Mr. 9:20 is not, or doesn’t really want to succeed, it’ll show up in much more than the a one-off tardiness. So leave the lone straw alone, and work on the haystack.

    Second, just my opinion, but I really think there is not much benefit in amplifying any quantity of shame. Let’s say this guy is consistently late, but otherwise seems gung-ho enough. In short he has a tardiness problem. Rather than rumble what the f*#$! is his problem in front of the whole team, instead maybe inquire (to the group) if it would be helpful to just move the meeting to a later time? Presumably he doesn’t really wish to waste 20 minutes for the entire team by being late all the time. If the whole rest of the team expresses resistance to moving the meeting back just so slow hand Luke can linger over his latte, well, tell it to the team.

    On the other hand, if he’s consistently late because times are tough and his wife needs their one car, so he’s car pooling with somebody who really couldn’t give a flip how late anybody is…maybe take his case and sell the team on readjusting the meeting time.

    9:30 is a small price to pay for real fondness in an agile team.

  2. Angela Post author

    @Joel, I love the place where you’re coming from. I imagine it’s pretty sweet to be on a team like that. But I’m curious if you’ve had folks for whom it was hard to even have the conversation, because their own shame got in the way? (Or, sometimes, anger they use to cover that shame?)

    @GeePaw Yep, yep. And I always forget this part, so I appreciate your mentioning it.

    It seems to urge a body towards excellence, but what it really does is tell a body to feel bad. Ooops.

    And I’m still wondering what we do about it.

    Sometimes, I need to practice more letting go, leaving people to manage their own shame. But I’m still guessing there is more I can learn that will help us sidestep the demon, so it can’t take over the conversation.

    Any pointers? Or am I the only one who finds myself working with folks who spend a lot of time in shame-land?

  3. Pingback: Defeating the Shame Monster

  4. June Kim

    Hi, Angela.

    You ask deep questions. I usually prefer concrete questions with specific contexts but the question you asked seems a bit abstract to me and I had to fill in some “flesh” and color it. That’s how my mind works so I am sorry if my answer is headed wrong.

    I reminded myself of specific experiences which I had with shame-land people as you described to answer your question and tried to recall what worked and how I approached it:

    1) I believe shame is a natural emotion. It isn’t bad or good by itself. What matters is what you feel when you feel shame inside (and how you behave/express it) : feeling on feeling. I try to talk about this and other internal processes with the person and try to connect with her. I also share my feelings and feeelings on feelings. This is the start. I try to have one-to-one meeting with her often and try to support her and help her build up self-esteem(kind of personal coaching).

    2) When a person is constantly having problem, that is usually a systemic problem. That is, there are many other people contributing to the continuity of the problem. An incongruent person needs other incongruent people around that in order to continue the incongruence. So I approach this systemically, meeting other team members and talking about how they feel. At the same time I look back on myself if I have been contributing to the problem.

  5. Angela Post author

    Hey, June,

    Your answer doesn’t seem headed wrong at all. It goes right to what I have been thinking about.

    I agree with you that it’s our reaction to emotions that gets us in trouble, not the emotion itself. Seems to me that shame is already a reaction to emotion, though. It’s some kind of judgment of our experience (of fear or sorrow or whatever) as “not good enough.” I love your approach of one-on-one coaching as a solution.

    And, wow… An incongruent person needs other incongruent people around… to continue the incongruence.” That is something I plan to remember.


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