The Blame Game – Take responsibility and avoid the pitfalls of blame

A couple years ago, my son came home with a “C” in gym class on his report card. His response? “The gym teacher hates me.” I found this to be a big problem. First of all, there’s the issue of how does a boy get a “C” in gym? All you have to do is play games and not kill anyone, and you get an “A”. But, to me, more importantly, there was my son’s near-immediate reaction to blame someone else that was the real issue.

This ‘blame others’ mentality is by no means limited to High School students. You see it everywhere, in business, politics, social circles. You have Republicans blaming the “liberal media” or “East coast elites” for media coverage they don’t like. Or you hear that “the establishment is against us” used by people, from OWS to Newt Gingrich, who are trying to get their message heard. And all the time, at work, you hear that “it was Chris that messed it up”, “Karen didn’t do her part”, or “Molly doesn’t care”. These are the reasons we got into this sticky-wicket.

But this blame-first approach is not good, and it needs to stop. First of all, it allows people to avoid any personal responsibility or accountability. They are essentially saying that they were perfect and their behavior and actions were sound – but it’s someone else, who they cannot control, who was the issue. Thus, they acknowledge no personal involvement in the situation or its results. And the situation should be viewed as aberrant, an exception, and not worth dissecting, scrutinizing, or agonizing over.

Blaming also oversimplifies the world and reduces others to being one-dimensional caricatures. That person is “bad”, the Client is “demanding”, the directions are “confusing”. The truth is, it’s exceedingly rare that anything is so cut-and-dried. There are likely lots of moving parts to any situation that contributed to a particular outcome, especially including one’s own actions.

And, finally, blaming others often will remove any possibility of developing a suitable way forward, other than removing the person/people/thing that’s “at fault”. Otherwise, it’s likely viewed as impossible.

My recommendation?

  1. Take responsibility. First, you need to own it. Say out loud that you are responsible. And then see your own role in the situation. What did I do that may have led to this? What can I do differently next time?
  2. Solve the situation before finding the causes of failure. Usually issues arise in the midst of work. Don’t take precious time to find out who may have set the situation in motion – first fix it.
  3. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Let people explain what they did and what they meant by their actions. It’s important to hear all sides of an issue – for you, and also for the people involved. Plus, understanding why someone did something is as important (even more important) than knowing that they did it.
  4. Learn from mistakes. Make sure you don’t write-off these failures as simply someone’s errors. There is always lots to learn in order to do things better next time.
  5. Get to know people more than just a single adjective. By getting to know them better, you’re better able to understand, empathize with and collaborate with them in the future.

Are you still playing the Blame Game? What are your experiences?


  1. I would add to stop trying to assess blame. In a coprorate environment when something goes wrong we spend far more time debating whose fault it is than we do fixing the actual issue. Whether it is my fault or not, our first priority needs to be to our customers. When a problem arises, fix it, put measures in place to prevent it in the future and then debate whose fault it is if you must.

    1. You are correct – address and fix problems first. It may be helpful to understand why something happened in the first place, though, because it could illuminate a behavior or process that is going wrong unnoticed, elsewhere.

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