Brooke, a business person, walks into work on a brisk Monday morning. So far, she has a reasonable outlook for the day. Nothing too crazy on her schedule but enough to stay busy. As she prepares for the staff meeting, something catches her attention. The numbers from last week weren’t entered into the system, rendering the reports she’s printing inaccurate. Brooke looks at the clock. She has twenty minutes until the meeting begins.
She turns in her chair and asks the nearest colleague: “Who closed the office on Friday?”
He looks at her with a raised eyebrow. “I think it was Samantha, why?”
She sighs. “The numbers weren’t entered, and now the reports are wrong. Where’s Samantha? She needs to get in here and fix this!”
“I don’t think she’s coming in until lunch today,” the colleague responds.
Brooke rolls her eyes. “Well, I’m not going to do it. It’s not my job! Samantha should have done it on Friday. It’s negligence…pure negligence!”
“What about the meeting? Won’t the boss want an accurate report?”
“Probably,” replies Brooke. “But it’s not my fault the reports are wrong. She can take it up with Samantha later.”
The blame game is a sneaky thing. It creeps up on us, sometimes without warning, and distracts us from what really needs to be done. Playing the game is easy. All you have to do is figure out who’s to blame and draw attention to that person’s mistake. Whenever something goes wrong, someone must be responsible. The blame game involves identifying this person and making them correct their error—that is, while you drag their reputation through the mud.
Joining the blame game is easy. In fact, there is no limit to the number of players. To participate, jump in with your input regarding who is responsible for the mess, and keep fueling the discontent. For example:
If player one says, “The client is unhappy? That’s because Susan didn’t call her this morning!”
Player two can join by adding: “Susan is never nice to clients. I bet the client was unhappy even before she forgot to call. That Susan is always making mistakes!”
Now that responsibility for the client’s unhappiness has been assigned to Susan, the blame game has begun.
In the blame game, it is imperative that you never identify the real reason for an issue, and never…ever…focus on finding solutions.
This sneaky game has a catch: nobody wins.
Perhaps Brooke thinks it’s good to blame colleagues for issues that arise, making the argument that it protects her job. Here’s the truth of the matter:
Assigning blame does not make the assigner look good. Instead, it gives them the reputation of a gossip and unreliable teammate. If one of Brooke’s colleagues hears her bad-mouthing Samantha, how will they know she doesn’t do the same thing to them? When a person assigns blame, they show themselves to be untrustworthy and selfish.
The blame game can negatively impact the reputation of the person who gets blamed. It can also cause that person to feel insecure or devalued. It is unfair and unnecessary to make assumptions about others’ actions. We might not know the full story.
In this game, there are no winners.
There are two keys that will help you avoid starting or joining the blame game.
1) Identify the problem, not the person.
2) Stay solution focused.
When we identify the problem, we ask questions like, “What happened?” or “What caused the problem?” in order to prevent the same issue from occurring in the future. Let’s look at the problem in our example and put ourselves in Brooke’s shoes.
Problem?: The reports being printed are inaccurate, and we need correct reports for the morning meeting.
What happened?: The numbers weren’t entered at closing on Friday.
What caused the problem?: The truth is, we don’t know.
We weren’t there on Friday to know what happened. Perhaps Samantha was at the office late and the boss told her not to worry about entering the numbers. We don’t know, and it’s not our place to guess or point fingers. Leave evaluating colleagues’ work performance to the boss. If we were not involved in what caused the problem, we might not be involved in the conversation to prevent it in the future. At this point, we should move on to step two. What can we do to solve the problem of inaccurate numbers?
Solution: Enter the numbers from last week and reprint the reports.
This solution can be accomplished without blaming anyone. We identified the problem and found a solution. Perform the solution. Now, no rumors are started, gossip doesn’t spread, and a positive work environment is maintained.
Identify the problem (not the person) and stay solution focused. In doing so, watch your attitude start to change at work. Instead of carrying frustration towards coworkers, you can overcome obstacles with your positive outlook. Remember, you are one team working towards a common goal. You win or lose together. Stay solution focused, and perhaps you’ll inspire those around you to do the same.