Placing blame starts in childhood with a minor incident like a spilled glass of milk. A mother becomes upset and then hears…
“He did it, not me.” “It’s not my fault.” “She made me do it.”
Kids learn early to try to avoid being blamed for anything, even when they know it was their own fault.
Unfortunately, the habit too often lasts into adult life and is carried into the workplace, usually with very negative results. Anyone who has ever done any type of supervision knows this scenario:
A problem arises (if there were no problems we could all be replaced by machines). Maybe the problem is a missed deadline or a mixed up order. When the boss becomes aware of the problem, she calls in those involved and suddenly feels like she is back at a table of three years old with a spilled glass of milk, but in this scenario, they are placing blame on their coworkers:
“The work was late because he did not give me the input on time,” or “How could I when she changed the specs at the last minute?”
On it goes…
First, everyone is getting upset. Placing blame creates bad feelings and controversies and no one is dealing with the problem at hand. Fear of being blamed, chastised or worse leads workers to defensiveness and rationalizations. As things become more heated, bosses, too, can get emotional. In this scenario the atmosphere in the workplace is poisoned and productivity drops. Everyone is just thinking about covering their own butt.
A better scenario and a happier, more effective workplace results when attention is focused on the problem and how to fix it rather than who did it or why. Yes, the deadline was missed. Now, how soon can we finish the project? Who will call the customer to explain the delay? Problems, errors and mistakes have consequences that need to be dealt with, so let’s deal with them.
Once workers (or children) realize that problems, mistakes and accidents result in consequences that have to be fixed rather than play the blame game, everything becomes calmer and more effective. Spilled milk needs to be wiped up. Delayed work needs to be done now.
When blame is eliminated, issues are reported earlier and are more easily fixed. Teamwork improves once colleagues can stop pointing fingers. People are more likely to report a difficulty sooner and to think of and offer a suggestion about how to deal with it once they do not have to fear having their head bitten off for making a mistake.
Of course, if a worker does not learn from mistakes, this will have to be dealt with. Training, coaching, a different position or even firing might be needed, but these are long-term solutions that are part of on-going evaluation and human resource management.
In the short term, handling the current issue works best for all concerned.
Blaming others for something we have done or they have done is what many of us have been doing for much of our lives. It is a hard pattern to break. However, the blame habit can be broken. Concentrating on fixing the problem is easier when one has definite steps to follow or to offer to others.
For a long time, I kept a helpful question on my desktop. “Why is everyone fixing the blame and no one fixing the problem?”