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  • Dr. Julie Olsen

The Blame Game: Why It Will Only Hold You Back


I like to be right. Who doesn’t? The problem is that I’m also human and therefore I am going to make a mistake, or in my case, a LOT of mistakes. It took me far too long to get over the urge to blame others for my mistakes and to willingly accept responsibility.


According to George Bernard Shaw, the people who succeed are those who look for the circumstances they want, and if they don’t find them, they go make them. Nowhere in that passage is there room for blaming others. Even when others slip-up, it can often be counterproductive to go out of your way to place blame on them.


Because it’s a natural defense mechanism, we can all be tempted to blame others.


The biggest drawback with blaming others is that they are often coworkers, family members, or close friends. It is far better for the relationship and the outcome to avoid blaming others and instead, focus on correcting the situation and moving forward.


Blame is Not Punishment


It’s also important to keep in mind that blame isn’t the same as punishment. It’s fine to take the blame for something and be perfectly fine with it. Taking responsibility for a failed project, even if it isn’t 100% your fault, demonstrates integrity. Owning up to your missteps can often earn you the respect of your superiors.


The best you can do when you mess up is to acknowledge it and try to make amends. If you make it into more than that, you risk seeing the issue rehashed and dwelled upon.


Take a Moment


When a project fails, it’s easy to look for reasons why it’s someone else’s fault. Still, if you can put a wedge between that impulse and your next action, you’ll likely find yourself on a path to greater happiness and prosperity.


While it may seem immediately disadvantageous, the ability to own up to your errors will set you apart from the pack. Most managers understand that everyone fumbles sometimes, but it’s a rare person who can own up to it without trying to shift some or all of the blame onto someone else.


If you can analyze the issue objectively, you’ll have an easier time discovering any mistakes that you may have made that could have contributed to the failure. Remember that actions set off other actions and reactions. You want to move the issue to resolution, not stay in the continuous blame cycle.


Keep Causality in Mind


Somewhere in the chain, something you did or said might have set off the entire catastrophe or simply contributed in some way. If you fail to speak up about your slip-up, it could prove disastrous if the truth comes out later. You have a short window of time after things go sideways to accept responsibility for your part in the event. Be brave and speak up. Once that window closes, any admission on your part may seem self-serving.


If you made an error, you may be able to avoid the next one by reflecting and, as hard as it may be, taking any feedback to heart.

If you’re in a management position, realize that those in your direct line of responsibility don’t, for one moment, believe that you’re infallible. Owning up to your faux pas is an important part of gaining their respect. Without respect, it’s difficult to effectively manage others.


"To become a courageous leader, you must realize that accepting responsibility is

not optional – it's mandatory."

David Cottrell


For more information on this topic and others, contact me at Workplace Advancement Strategies.