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Thoughts From Our Director

Whose Fault Is It?

I’ve noticed how often people play the blame game lately (think political ads) and wanted to repost this from a few years ago because I think it is as relevant today as it was then.

Since work involves other people, it is easy to look around at those people and place blame on them when your day doesn’t go as planned. For example, your co-worker fails to follow procedure and you have to fix the mistake in the system. The problem is their fault and you have to clean up their mess. Or another co-worker fails to complete their assignment on time. It is their fault the project is behind schedule, right?

Imagine that you live next door to a family with four lively children, ranging in age from 6 to 12. These children lead active lives and play outside whenever they can; consequently leaving their toys lying all over the place. On any given day, you’ll find an assortment of bicycles, skate boards, bats, balls and other paraphernalia in the driveway and the yard.

You have remarked to the children that they should pick up their toys. They do, on command, but the next day the yard is littered with the contents of the toy shed and the process starts once again. One day, a bicycle left in the drive way is run over as the mom leaves the house to go to the store. She is upset and the child is upset. Everyone is yelling and screaming. Here’s the question? Whose fault is it? Is it the mom’s, the child’s, the neighbor’s? Who is responsible?

It is the same on the job. The co-worker who fails to follow through can represent any of the characters in the preceding story. You show up on your job every day because you need to make a living. Occasionally, your fellow co-workers fail to follow the rules of the game; hence, processes and procedures are not followed and errors are made resulting in re-work and/or missed deadlines. As a consequence, the boss or the customer is unhappy.

Whose fault is it? The boss? Your co-workers? When work isn’t working we need to look inward, not outward and place the blame where it belongs – with ourselves. Each of us must accept responsibility for our contribution to the problem.

In their book Difficult Conversations, authors Stone, Patton and Heen suggest that instead of playing the blame game, we need to look at how we made a contribution to the situation. After all, no one wants to be blamed and so, defensiveness enters the conversation. Talking about blame deflects us from exploring why things went wrong and how we can correct them going forward. Blame equals judging and looks backward. Contribution equals understanding and looks forward.

So, the next time things don’t go right and you want to play the blame game, take a step back and ask – what did I do to create this problem? The answer may surprise you.

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