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Blame in the workplace: How to break the cycle

When a project fails, the first step can be to figure out who to blame. Psychologists say this is bad for your team – and bad for business.



Who spilled the coffee: Laying blame in the workplace

We have probably all known someone in our office who we can categorize as a “blamer.” In fact, each of us at one time or another may have worn the hat of the “blamer” or even worse, maybe we were the person on the receiving end with the coveted title of the “blamee.”


Someone to blame

I would posit that the blamer-mentality can spread like wildfire within an office or organization and to an extent is even welcomed by employees. Why? Because as long as there is someone to blame, it deflects attention from other team members and specifically the blamer. Blaming does nothing however in terms of fostering teamwork or increasing productivity.

Anger displacement?

According to workplace psychologist Gerri King, blame is often the result of anger or frustration. But it’s really an issue of lack of control or maybe better to say feeling powerless. Furthermore, laying blame tends to create followers and not leaders. And why not? As was pointed out earlier, if someone is to blame and that someone isn’t us, it means the attention is directed to someone besides ourselves.

Blaming environment vs. a blame-free environment

Psychologist Brene’ Brown rightly points out that as a form of punishment, blaming someone rarely works. It may change behavior if people care about the consequences, but is not likely to change values. In fact it often conditions an individual to continue making more mistakes. If you think about it, criticizing and blaming are almost like forms of revenge and that does nothing to foster a positive environment. Contrast this to a “blame-free environment” where the commitment among team members is focused on working things out. Good communication is really the key.

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Bonding over failure

In any work center, things can go wrong. There are a lot of reasons that employees don’t do what they’re supposed to do or why a project doesn’t birth the expected results. When individuals make mistakes there is always a reason: perhaps expectations are not clearly defined or adequate training was not provided. Or worse yet, the individual anticipates future, negative consequences. A blame-free environment should foster the teamwork necessary to seek a solution without retribution. When teamwork and responsibility is shared people are much more willing to acknowledge the part they played and take responsibility for rectifying the situation.

The takeaway

Gerri King points out that if negatively-delivered criticism is removed, and a trusting, character-building, supportive environment is created – where everyone involved takes responsibility for what went wrong – long-lasting behavioral changes are generated from within. And just as important: things get done.


Written By

Nearly three decades living and working all over the world as a radio and television broadcast journalist in the United States Air Force, Staff Writer, Gary Picariello is now retired from the military and is focused on his writing career.

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