How To Move From Blame To Empowerment (and Why It’ll Make You Feel 1000 Times Better)

When something goes wrong at work, it’s easy to move into the ‘blame and complain’ mode. Here are just a handful of scenarios that might lead you to get the Blamemobile out and take it for a ride:

  • A current policy means it takes twice as long as it should to complete a task.
  • Your boss is micromanaging you.
  • Another department didn’t do what they were supposed to and so you now need to “wear it” from your customer.
  • The company is trying to do too much all at once and so you and your team are totally overloaded.

In each of these situations, it’s totally understandable to blame the other party, and yup – it may well be “their fault”. But although this may help offload your frustration for a nanosecond, it’s got a number of shortcomings.

The most obvious is that it gives away any power you have to others. And we all know that powerlessness is not a great feeling.

Secondly, where there is blame, there is no learning.

So, if you’d rather regain power and accountability and increase your learning than get into blame mode next time you strike a problem, here are some pointers:

  1. Remember that others are acting rationally from their own perspective. Given what they know, the pressures they’re under and the organisational constraints that are influencing them, they’re usually doing the best they can. At least make this your starter stance. Give others the benefit of the doubt and avoid the Fundamental Attribution Error – one of the greatest destroyers of teamwork.
  1. Identify your role in the scenario (and yes, you probably have a role, no matter how miniscule). What are you bringing to this situation? What can you take accountability for? Ask, “If I was looking at it from the other perspective, what would I see?” Write your thoughts down. Your behaviour may be influencing the other person’s actions and may be producing some unintended effects. Keep in mind that we tend to justify our own actions and point of view and discount the other person’s perspective – once again, watch out for that leadership gremlin, the Fundamental Attribution Error.
  1. Take a closer look at your own emotions and reactions. Ask yourself, “How am I affected by this situation? What is it about this situation that is frustrating me or demotivating me?” Often something that really bothers us about someone else is something we don’t like in ourselves. There’s power in just admitting to yourself, “I’m angry and upset because I feel marginalised and left out of the decision and that worries me because I might be seen as ineffective.”
  1. Identify possible actions that are within your control. Ask,What can I do?” Brainstorm some options and write them down. Ask, “If this was happening to a good friend of mine, what advice would I give them on how to handle the situation?” Get creative and come up with as many solutions to the problem as you can. You could apply some brainstorming techniques such as these, or ask a trusted mentor for some sage advice. There are always aspects of the situation you can control, even if it’s changing your mental model or reframing the situation in a more positive way.
  1. If it’s in the past, examine what you may have done differently. What would you do next time to bring about a different outcome? If it means providing feedback to another person, you could try raising your concerns directly with them. A good framework is:
  • This is what I have experienced (not necessarily what you intended)
  • This is the impact that this experience has had on me
  • This is what I would like for the future (and these are the benefits to you, by taking this approach)
  • Negotiate a mutual commitment
  • Reaffirm your commitment to maintaining a good working relationship and find a way to express your fundamental respect for the person.

When we move from blame to accountability, we can take the lesson learned from the frustrating situation on board and move forward with a positive attitude. And that feels a whole lot better than playing the blame game, don’t you think? From the Blamemobile to the Empowerment Rocket – I think that’s a good upgrade.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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