Return to site

Shame, Guilt and the power of Expectations

Transform how you listen to people and you transform them!

One of my sons is struggling with maths at school. I'm sure this is not an common occurrence but, for him, it's been distressing.

Many of us are dealing with things that distress us at work and in our lives - never so much as now perhaps - so I'm going to tell his story because his journey through tells a lot about how we can manage our own journey's and it also tells us about how to grapple with existential global problems... yes, really!
Back to my son; his distress is sourced not in the problem itself but in the belief that the struggle says something about him. In his mind, he has conflated learning a difficult thing with who is he is. As Brene Brown (my new hero) explains in her excellent podcast on Shame and Accountability, my son (like me) is shame-prone. This means that he experiences shame at a perceived failure. Instead of thinking "I'm a clever person struggling with a hard problem" he says "I'm no good at maths".
According to Brene, not everyone is equally shame-prone but we all have some of it and, once we’ve made the leap from struggling with something to being something we’re stuck. You can always learn something new but if you sentence yourselves to a belief about who you ARE you're stuck with it … forever!
So, my son was experiencing shame and a sense that somehow he was betraying his parents' and his teachers' trust. He was having troubles sleeping and starting to distract other kids at school.
Now, this is where others come in because we often don't do this alone, we're helped along this path. In this case, it was his teacher - she pushed the dial in completely the wrong direction. First, she kept him in at lunchtime to finish the work which shamed him more then, when that wasn’t working, she contacted us and told us we’d have to look at some behaviour assessments.

broken image

Our Role in Creating Shame

The instinct is to focus on the behaviours but it was always the symptom, never the problem.

Behaviour was not the problem. Shame was and, instead of taking shame away, it was being layered on.
If we’d followed the behaviour path and acquiesced to assessments and labels we’d have been compounding the problem and he would probably have acted up even more created a vicious cycle of shame and resistance (you can see where medicalisation of behaviour becomes the logical final step in this progression).

Expectations are EVERYTHING

My son has resolved for himself that his not bad a maths, he's just struggling with it because it's hard.

But our lessons are just starting!
You see, it is in our expectations of people that they get to live and the expectations of my son's teacher were low. He is a great artist so she would say "he only needs to learn enough maths to get by and not be diddled" and this defined her approach to him.
In schools, the role of expectations is well recognised but we don't seem to transition that knowledge to the workplace very well.

Part of this is because transforming your expectations of someone is HARD. By definition, your expectations are built on what you privilege as evidence: "they really ARE that way, their actions prove it":

In essence, you are asking yourself to create expectations that fly contrary to your lived experience. Expectations that accord with the person you want them to become, not the person you already know them to be!

This video explains an exercise I use in my training programs that really give you a handle on this.
When I worked at Landmark Worldwide we called is the ‘Listening’ we have of others (and for ourselves). 
Of every tool, trick and technique it is possible to have in the realm of supporting, training and educating others, this has to be the single most important.
broken image

You CREATE the world in your listening

My son’s teacher had decided something about what he was good at and what he wasn’t. From his actions, she had evidence that he was great at art and not so great at maths. "That's ok..." she probably thought "I'll work with what I've got, focus on his art and make sure he's got enough maths to get by". You can see the logic.

The problem is, that this thinking is a closed-loop. Your expectations form the person (in this case a child) and this reinforces what you know to be true.

Uninterrupted, her expectations, built on this logic would materially shape my son's future. She was acting a commitment to help him, but in reality, her pre-conceptions we leading her to make choices about which paths were open to him and which ones were not.

She thought she was just DESCRIBING the world around her, but really, she was CREATING it.

If you take this concept to its logical conclusion, you can start to see why the world literally looks the way it does.

Through these iterative and cumulative influences we craft how people think, relate, learn, teach and most importantly who they become because, as my son has discovered for himself, we are not good at distinguishing between what we do and who we are.

broken image
I did a short video after a training session I called “How to Change People” that outlines a really simple exercise I train people in in my coaching and my training programs (if after this rant you want to know more about how these programs could help your people, contact me HERE).

Expectations and Climate Change here.

If you've gotten this far - here's the gem of the piece: the MACRO view....

This is an awesome video about how the reintroduction of Wolves to Yellowstone National Park in the US has literally changed the flow and course of rivers in the park. How could wolves change the course of rivers? 
What I am saying is bit like that is a bit like that; something seemingly unrelated (the expectations and assumptions you bring) is literally changing the shape of rivers, mountains, cities, and the weather.
The ‘Listening’ we have of other people, the pre-connected, assumed and unexamined expectations we have of them quite literally shapes the material world we live in. I don’t mean conceptually (though that is also true) I mean LITERALLY and PHYSICALLY.
Forests, rivers, grasslands, coal mines and now even weather-patterns have been changed and reshaped by this simple and elegant process. When God kicked us out of the Garden of Eden and said "its all yours now" s/he told us we got to shape the world in our image... and we have, interaction by interaction. 
We’ve a BIG responsibility in managing our minds – or more to the point, digging into them to see what’s really informing how we listen, relate to and communicate with people. Quite literally, the world depends on it!
broken image

Your (our) Homework  

So, notice how you ‘Listen’ to your boss, your colleagues, your staff (your partners, you kids, your neighbour… everyone you know, especially the ones who shit you 😊) and try to notice how much it defines who they get to be around you.
You might be surprised how much influence you have on people really is!

broken image