The waste of blame

Friday, September 29, 2017

AME Boston Conference Co-Chair

Recently, a group and I were working on problem solving. I kept running into this attitude of several people in the group feeling powerless and even victimized by their work.

We were discussing steps to follow to identify opportunities and make changes, and many of them were looking at me like “you don’t understand. We can’t really do anything about our problems.”

You may know this as the ‘blame game’ mentality. It keeps people stuck.

One of the men in the group, Ethan, was arranging a meeting with people coming in from out of town. He had the meeting scheduled, but then found out at the last minute that one of the key people in the meeting, Angela, had taken a trip and forgot to put it in her calendar. He had to cancel the meeting including all the airfares, etc.

To him, the big problem was “that people in a higher authority level just do things like that.”

From my point of view, it was obvious that working together they could likely come up with a way for that issue not to occur again. He would need to have a meeting with Angela to discuss the impact of the situation and brainstorm with him how things might work better in the future.

But it wasn’t obvious to him. It became clear to me that this was more of a mindset issue than an issue of carrying out ‘problem solving’ steps.

This is the “Waste of Blame.”

Making work life better, using things such as problem solving, are actions people take once they’ve decided to step out of that space of blame and judgment.

When Ethan blamed Angela, he got stuck. Until Ethan can move out of a place of blaming her, he can’t get to the other side of it. The key is that he made a judgement of her action.

The fact that she didn’t show up to the meeting meant something to him that may or may not be true. From our conversation, it became clear that he took her actions to mean: she didn’t care, doesn’t realize he needs her to keep her calendar up to date, and doesn’t care about the team that was having the meeting.

Do you ever see people take the actions of others to mean something they may not mean?

Sometimes when we talk about how to do continuous improvement, we assume that it’s just a series of tasks. We ignore the mindset required to step into action, have difficult conversations, and develop the communication skills to create positive solutions when problems occur.

This situation shows that many people struggle with the confidence in themselves and in their teammates to work things through. Remember: A lot of this improvement work does involve building personal leadership skills and shifting your mindset to address issues.

But how to make the change isn't always obvious.

Below are three steps you can work through today to shift from a mindset of blame to an empowered state where you can problem solve and make real change.

1.    Become aware of when you are ‘stuck’ in blaming others or yourself and then work on changing your mindset. Recognize when you're stuck in the victim mentality: a mindset of “I can't do anything” or “they are doing it to me.”

2.    Once you recognize that you are stuck in ‘blame,’ take two actions in the direction of making a change. They can be big or small steps, but identify two actions and take them to move out of being stuck.

3.    Create conversations with people who create problems for you. These challenging talks need to be based on respect, openness and a desire to seek out potential solutions. Invite the other person to have an open dialogue about a situation and remember to focus on the situation rather than the other person. Remove any sense of blame or judgement.

When you find yourself in the ‘blame game’ because of someone’s actions, I invite you to ask yourself: what did you take the action to mean?

When you step out of judgement of others and yourself, you create the energy to actually solve the problem.