In meetings throughout organizational life, it becomes clear that many people, across the world, use blame as a strategy to solve problems. It doesn’t work. Leaders who blame others seek to find a solutions to the problem at hand, but cannot do so through blaming, which makes them feel even more frustrated, scared and unskilled in the face of challenges.
Blaming behavior achieves:
- temporary reduction in stress in the person blaming, so s/he doesn’t have to feel the complete feeling s/he’s afraid to feel
- increased fear in those blamed, and anticipated fear in those not yet blamed
- the reinforcement of a blame culture through emotional/behavioral contagion
- a convenient scapegoat, yet the problem still exists
- reduced creativity in finding clever solutions (fear blocks creativity)
- a focus on symptoms —a focus on someone’s behavior, instead of the core issue; the core issues is found when inquiring about the context and the reasons for the behavior
- misuse of time, effort and emotional energy
- decreased trust, problem solving effectiveness, efficiency
Let’s say we all know that blaming is ineffective. Then, why do people do it? The basic reason is FEAR! Here’s an example of a leader’s triad, when they’re scared and blaming others:
- “I don’t know how to fix this problem”
- “I’m in trouble”
- “I’m going to get fired”
- “I’m alone”
- scared and weak
- unskilled at solving the problem
- unable to deal with someone blaming him/her
- fear of being labeled as “a bad team player” or “incompetent”
- anxious to get “rid” of the problem asap
- avoid responsibility
- focus on problem, not the solution
- focus on a scapegoat(s), not the solution
So, how do you get someone who is blaming YOU or someone else, to shift out of that mindset, into one that’s resourceful and useful?
Shift him/her from BLAME to GROWTH mindset.
The blame mindset we explored above. The growth mindset is a way of being that facilitates and enjoys learning. You can learn more about it through a book named, Mindset, written by Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford. In her definitions, the fixed mindset “fixes” people into specific thought, feeling and behavioral patterns and the growth mindset allows change in thoughts, feelings and behavior in the spirit of learning and growing. The former creates results that nobody wants and the latter creates unlimited possibilities. People in fixed mindsets tend to blame; people in growth mindsets tend to search for solutions.
To get someone from the blame to growth mode, you’ll need to LEAD. You need to REORIENT him/her toward solutions and UNDERSTAND what s/he needs. To probe into those needs, ask questions such as:
- what is the ideal outcome you’d like to achieve?
- what is the core issue that concerns you?
- how do we solve the concerns?
- how do we achieve the ideal outcome?
- which criteria are important here?
- which priorities are important here?
This can shift him/her into a GROWTH TRIAD, which looks like:
- “I know what I want”
- “I do have good ideas”
- “I’m going to help find a solution”
- “I’m not alone here”
- listened to
- less scared, if scared at all
- focus on solutions
- become more creative
- accept responsibility as a team player
- shift from blame, without even realizing it (!)
While you’re shifting someone from blame to growth mode, YOU need to stay stable in your focus on the solution, transcending any possible nasty comments, impolite behavior or attempts to move back into blame by repeating his/her fears. Remember, when people are scared, they can easily spiral into emotionally reactive behavior that transfers negative energy. If you see someone going back to blame, it often means they don’t feel safe enough or focused on the outcomes they want. Any assurances you can offer and guidance in focusing on the solution will help. Such assurance and guidance can include:
- “We’re all committed to finding a good solution”
- “Let’s brainstorm for 5 minutes on possible solutions”
- “I see your point, I agree that we need to find a solution”
- “Let’s talk about solutions, as well as the core issues that created this outcome in the first place”
- “Which is the ideal outcome you want to achieve?” “How might we prioritize our projects to ensure this happens, amidst XYZ constraints?”
If you wonder how you’d EVER shift someone from blame to growth mode, consider the following:
- do you blame others, whether you realize it or not? ask your family, friends and colleagues for their opinions
- what are your assumptions about blame, responsibility, accountability, honesty?
- how do you focus on the solution? or can’t you?
- can you separate your emotions from the emotions of others or do you get trapped by it?
- can you separate the emotions someone is expressing, from the need they’re seeking to fill?
Leading people out of blame and into a resourceful state is a powerful leadership skill. Enjoy mastering it!