Do you know anyone who is confused about how to address inequality on their team, in their organization and in their personal life? Who feels defensive when asked to check their privilege? Who doesn’t understand the cry that silence is violence? These people are likely reacting to shame.

Shame vs. Accountability

As Brené Brown explained in a recent Shame and Accountability podcast, shame is not a tool for social justice; it is a tool of suppression. Rather than motivating us to change, shame triggers a fear of disconnection from our tribe that we inherited from our ancestors. Our brains react to that fear and we fight, flee or freeze.
Accountability is a more effective tool for motivating change. To explain the difference between being shamed and being held accountable, Brené shared this example: when you tell a child he is a liar, he feels ashamed and alone. If you tell a child that he is a good person who told a lie and that’s not OK in your family, you’re holding him accountable for his behavior. That helps him accept responsibility and change his behavior so he can stay in the tribe.

Empathy and Action

When we feel shamed for saying the wrong thing or not speaking up to challenge the status quo, relying on empathy enables us to be curious about the other person’s perspective. Then we must manage our own reactions by recognizing our triggers, breathing deeply and pausing before we respond. Listening first, then considering what to think, say or do differently is a way to avoid getting defensive, rationalizing our behavior or demanding absolution from the person holding us accountable. I recommend Brene’s mantra – I’m here to get it right, not to be right.

Change requires courage, curiosity and commitment. I invite you to check out The Role of Senior Leaders in Building a Race Equity Culture and So, You Want to Talk About Race and consider joining a Brave Conversation about racial inequality. Contact cheryl@csbryan.com today to find out more about small discussion group opportunities or inquire about a custom-designed corporate program.