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People who play the Blame Game lose status, learn less, and perform worse than those who admit their mistakes

Faith WoodWhen mistakes happen, it is easy to point out loudly and in great detail just whose mistake it is and how it is not at all our fault. Blaming someone or something else is a short-term fix to keep the attention off of people who don’t want to appear foolish, don’t believe they contributed to the problem, or don’t believe it wasn’t their job, responsibility, or fault.

Not only do those beliefs not work, but they ultimately tear your workplace apart.

We come by our blaming tendencies naturally. It’s in our DNA. The Blame Game is as old as mankind. Don’t take my word for it, though. Open the Old Testament. Remember the story of Adam and Eve?

Here are the only two people in the world. They live in a lush, rich garden. Life is perfect. They have all they can eat, no time clock to punch, no neighbours to fight with, and no kids keeping them up all night. According to all we can tell from the biblical account, they’re living well, and life is good. They have a perfect life – until, of course, the serpent comes along and tempts Eve into eating the apple. When Adam follows suit, it is Eve’s fault, not a weak will or miss-step by Adam at all.

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This is the same dynamic we see in the workplace. Playing the blame game is catching. When one person starts blaming others, those watching follow suit. Pretty soon, everyone is blaming everyone else. And ultimately, no one takes responsibility for anything.

So why do people blame others?

One reason is none of us like to be at fault or criticized, especially if it’s not clear that it’s our fault. It often feels safer to blame adverse events on someone or something else to avoid being harmed, blamed or criticized again.

A second reason is that unexpected events are difficult to predict. And unpredictable things, or things we don’t understand, can be scary or frustrating.

Whatever the reason for blame, experts know playing the blame game never works. Research shows that people who blame others for their mistakes lose status, learn less, and perform worse than those who own their mistakes and don’t rely on blame to avoid consequences.

How do we create a no-blame zone?

  1. Create a culture of psychological safety. People who feel secure in their environment and don’t worry about losing face, losing their job, or losing credibility for failure don’t blame.
  2. Be a great role model. Blame is highly contagious, and the urge to point the finger can feel overwhelming. Resist it. Create a culture of support and prevent a culture of blame.
  3. If you must place blame, blame constructively. Some mistakes require public acknowledgement and blame. Place the blame in a way that stresses learning from the mistake, not in a way that humiliates the person or people involved.

It’s never easy to admit culpability (e.g., you did not back up those important files). You may think it makes you look remarkably stupid. But in the long run, being able to say, “Yes, I made a mistake,” and then following up with a solution will be more productive and instill more confidence than trying to shift the blame or, even worse, ignore the problem.

Faith Wood is a professional speaker, author, and certified professional behaviour analyst. Before her career in speaking and writing, she served in law enforcement, which gave her a unique perspective on human behaviour and motivations. Faith is also known for her work as a novelist, with a focus on thrillers and suspense. Her background in law enforcement and understanding of human behaviour often play a significant role in her writing.

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