The rate with which germs have been flying around reminded me of a conversation I had with a close friend not too long ago. She was wondering why everyone is so quick to point the finger, sending the blame flying around the room from person to person.
“Why do we spend more time figuring out who’s to blame and defending ourselves than we spend just fixing the problem?” she asked.
A recent encounter with a fast-moving virus gave me an excellent opportunity to sit around and ponder this question between sniffles. (blame the germs)
Is it because we are constantly bombarded with news of who’s to blame for the latest political crisis, celebrity scandal, or consumer fraud? (blame the media?)
Is it because the economy’s been through the wringer and many of us are clinging onto jobs, dealing with circumstances different from what we’d hoped for and expected? (blame work?)
Or is it because we’re so quick to publicize the failures and shortocmings of the people around us and we’re afraid that will come back around to bite us when (not if) we make our own mistake? (blame ourselves?)
No matter who we blame, we can be pretty unforgiving. And sometimes it’s for keeps. Especially online.
If we want to understand blame, it’s helpful to begin with two truths:
- I am part of the situation.
- I may see how you are part of the situation.
How do you feel?
I had to stop for a moment after I typed that and screw my courage to the sticking place.
It’s a whole lot easier to focus on the second one, but that tends to turn into putting all the responsibility on the other person and it’s rare for any one person to be entirely to blame for a situation.
Instead of hunting for a scapegoat, it’s useful to think about how we’ve contributed and how the other person may have knowingly or unknowingly contributed to the problem.
You don’t typically go into your work with malicious intent, right?
Well, your co-workers probably don’t either.
There are a host of explanations for why people act the way they do and why they make the decisions they do. If we assume the worst of them and don’t bother to ask them, we’re really only operating with half the play book. At best.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume you’ve made your peace with the two truths and you’re ready to begin putting them into play.
How’s that going to work?
In my friend’s example, after she described her work-place, I imagined some sort of dysfunctional family holiday where she would walk in and announce “I’m part of the problem! So are all of you and I can tell you what you’re doing wrong!” Yikes. Pass the turkey.
You may be in an environment where you’re ready, collectively, to take that big step.
Or you may need practice.
Beginning with the smaller situations may be easier. Ask someone you’re on good terms with to observe you in action and to share their point of view – it could help you uncover your role.
Spend some time disentangling your observations about what someone else did versus why you think someone did something – it could help you discover their role in a way you can share. This is key because nobody wants to be told why they’re doing something (you’ll probably get it wrong). But they can probably have a conversation about what specific things happened and their impact on the task at hand.
It’s the difference between “you always try to undermine me when I speak up in meetings” and “When I tried to share our sales data you interrupted me.”
Practicing with these two truths in smaller situations can help warm your team up for the big game.
This is really complicated and I’m curious what other people are experiencing. I’m waiting for my friend to let me know what changes in her workplace, what about you?
Have you tried to deal with the blame game in your workplace? If so, what do you think?
Do you think the two truths hold?