Giving Workplace Negativity a Sustainable Lift: Part 3

Ending the Blame & Shame Game — part 3 of 3

By Daniel Robin

“You did it again! How many times have I told you that it is not okay to socialize with your workers … you’re in charge here, and being seen as ‘Mr. nice guy’ undermines your authority.” The boss has spoken.

“I don’t ‘socialize’ with them … we just talk, Bob explains. “Plus, you and I go to lunch sometimes … why is that different?”

“Are you calling me a hypocrite?”

Bob’s boss, Phil, is a long-standing Blame Game champion. Just last week he told the CEO that his department’s failure to meet objectives was because the company doesn’t pay high enough wages. Hmmm. Responsibility anyone?

But rather than blaming the blamer (which requires the extended, 24-hour-a-day Family Edition of our annoying little game), how about if we find a way to help and support Bob’s boss – and people who act like him – to approach problems with a bit more tact and skill?

In most workplaces, when there’s a problem, a person or team automatically takes the heat. This article is about accepting responsibility without buying into the Blame Game.

Recognizing the Signs

The Blame Game stands in sharp contrast to (a) constructive criticism, (b) asserting a clear boundary, or (c) using skill and impartiality to solve problems or resolve breakdowns. How can you tell if someone is coming from blame and shame, delivering a message that makes wrong and puts down? Here are three telltale signs:

  1. The message and general ‘vibe’ tends to focus on what’s not wanted …. In the example above, when Phil outlaws socializing with workers, he’s focused on what he doesn’t want from Bob (weakened authority), but what does he want?
  2.  Focus on the past – and by definition, the past is entirely outside of everyone’s sphere of influence. When there’s nothing that can be done, blame and shame are a sad substitute for forgiveness.
  3.  No acknowledgement of a goal or desired result. If Bob wasn’t caught up in defending himself, he could’ve asked Phil, “So, what do you want me to do instead?”

You see, the object of the Blame Game is to confront issues so forcefully that people have no choice but to comply. Doesn’t usually work. Whenever someone is denied choice, expect resistance or long-term resentment.

Nobody likes to be put down, blamed, or criticized. Therefore, it is essential that problems get surfaced, and criticism gets delivered in a context that makes it possible for the other person to hear and use it.

Shifting from Blame to Aim

Have you ever worked with someone who can make difficult feedback easy to swallow? Some highly-skilled leaders can make a subtle character assassination feel like a birthday present. The key? No matter how bad the problem or screw-up, focus on the future – on shifting the game from Blame to Aim.

Aim Game objective: confront issues so tactfully that others naturally want to work it out. When you “complain” well, without shaming or making wrong, you refrain from the strain and pain that makes people insane (hey that almost rhymes!). Seek cooperation and understanding first, then be on the lookout for joint solutions. This not only takes less work, but also results in sustainable workplace agreements. The payoff: solutions that go deeply to the root cause and get upheld more often.