How To Brave A Blame Culture At Work
Blaming others is a natural human pastime. From Adam & Eve to the person who just cut in front of you in line, everyday life and its consequences can feel like an endless series of cause-and-effect. Some would argue it is the basis for our legal system.
This is all not to say that people should not be held responsible for their actions. They should. But I fear that the current climate has created more opportunities for lawyers than to build the self-esteem required to directly communicate with one another.
It is heartbreaking when someone accuses of something you didn’t do. Worse when it occurs behind your back without the opportunity to defend yourself. The joke goes that it’s customary to blame the person on vacation.
So what can you do about it?
For every character like this in the office, there is a target. Sadly, traditional corporate hierarchies also seem to encourage this conduct with up-or-out policies. Hurt people indeed hurt people.
First and foremost, when someone throws you in front of the bus – remember it.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
Just as it’s natural to blame people, it’s easy to make excuses or grow bitter. The balance is to forgive, not forget.
Your job is to know them and know yourself. For example, I knew a lawyer who agreed to be an executive assistant in order to break into the entertainment industry. At every event, she made sure everybody knew that she was a lawyer. Her growing resentment caused her not to fulfill her responsibilities as an assistant.
You can probably guess how this story ends.
She blamed everybody else for her lot in life. Her inability to be truthful to herself created a cancer in the department that spread to the point where, for unrelated and related reasons, the department does not exist today.
In the heat of the moment, sometimes the best response is no response. Many people who sat around that assistant wore headphones to avoid interaction. Stay away and stay busy.
We cannot control how other people may distort the truth. But we can control how much energy we put into the socializing, ruminating, and analyzing with them.
Some gaps cannot be filled. And that’s ok.
Make An Offering
When blamed, your best chance for survival is to redirect the conversation to a solution. Take a deep breath and say, “What can I do to help?” – or make it right, amend, renew, etc.
Then be quiet. Zip it. Resist any temptation to be defensive.
People who cause trouble seek trouble. If they are already blaming others, you will not be able to convince them rationally in my experience. They are looking for a scapegoat. Generally, this type of person thrives on being the victim and the attention it construes – even though they are the source of their own pain. Consciously or unconsciously, they are in fight mode to preserve their ego.
Offering help compels a request and an action. The quicker you can redirect the blame into something practical, the better. Focus on the future and hope they do too.
A final word of caution. A lawyer friend was consulting a woman being targeted by her employer. They created a hostile work environment in which they would say they wanted her to stay, but acted otherwise – to get out of paying out her contract.
This was the conclusion: “They’re making you feel bad about yourself, which unfortunately is not against the law.”
She ended up leaving the firm.
I share this story because although blaming and shaming others is not against the law, it is an indicator. Consider deeply why you are working for a person or place that prompts this behavior.
There are no perfect work cultures. Just like there are no perfect people. It seems to me the only way to brave a blaming culture is with a heavy dose of compassion while getting the most out of the work: whether it be a humble paycheck or acquiring the skills to turn the page.
“Concern yourself more with accepting responsibility than with assigning blame. Let the possibilities inspire you more than the obstacles discourage you.”