A Tendency to Blame and an Inability to Confront

I am on vacation this week, and will be going back to the vault for some ‘oldies but goodies’ posts. I hope you enjoy them: I’ll be back in a week or so with new material.

Over a delightful lunch last week, a client said to me, “I don’t remember where I got this, but I have a saying I keep nearby in my office:

"All management problems boil down to two things: a tendency to blame, and an inability to confront."

“I know where you got it from,” I said; “you got it from me, and I got it from Phil McGee.” Credit where credit’s due, Phil.

And here’s why credit is due.

A tendency to blame. To “blame” someone means to falsely suggest that they are responsible for some negative thing. The problem starts with ‘falsely,’ and gets worse.

To lie about someone makes you a liar. It means we cannot believe what you say. It means your motives are suspect, and therefore all actions that follow from them.

And lying about someone’s responsibility isn’t just lying–it’s lying about someone. It is an indirect form of character assassination. “Blamethrowing” is an apt pun, for blaming is ferociously destructive.

Finally, it’s evasive. “It-was-him” means “it-was-not-me.” Blaming means manipulating the listener—for the blamer’s own hidden purposes.

Inability to confront. Blame goes hand in hand with an inability to confront others directly with the truth. “The truth” is very simple—it’s what happened, what someone felt, what is. It’s reality.

I mean “confront” here not in a negative sense, but in a sense of being able to speak, to another human being, that which is true. Inability to confront means inability to have an honest conversation with another about the truth.

Evasion. Insinuation. Insincerity. Implication. Avoidance. Dodging, fudging, skirting, deception, fabrication, distortion. These are accusations we level against those who cannot confront.

Yet the accused doesn’t hear them—because their inability to confront extends to themselves. “I didn’t mean to hurt,” they say—often sincerely. But partially "good" motives do not excuse wrongful actions—or inactions.

Is Phil overstating the case when he says “all management problems can be reduced” to these two? Let’s see. What about:

• Giving and receiving feedback
• Interviewing
• Delegation
• Teamwork
• Engagement
• Leadership
• Morale
• Collaboration
• Crisis management
• Persuasion
• Trustworthiness
• Problem definition
• Project management
• Relationship management

Blame and inability to confront affect each item on that list, and that list covers a multitude of management issues.

What is the opposite of a tendency to blame and an inability to confront?

Someone who speaks the truth. Who speaks it in a way that can be heard by all. Someone who accepts his own responsibility—no more, no less. Someone who simply sees things as they are. And who is willing to assign responsibility exactly where it belongs, equally whether it’s his or someone else’s.

When we can see things as they are, and confront them as such, “blame” disappears. There is simply truth, and our various roles in dealing with it. Once seen, it is easily spoken.

The trick is to see things as they are.

6 replies
  1. Eric D. Brown
    Eric D. Brown says:

    This definitely fits into the ‘goodie’ category (as in oldie but goodie).

    I’m seeing this exact issue with a collegue…it’s easier for him to blame someone for not doing to their job than it is for him to confront that person.

    Reply
  2. Fred Wiersma
    Fred Wiersma says:

    Thanks for the ‘golden oldie’, I didn’t read it the first time.

    Blaming is very pervasive, it’s so easy to blame our parents, siblings, colleagues, managers, the government for whatever is bothering us. I blame it on, oops…

    Goldratt writes in his book ‘the Choice’ about this phenomenon too. He claims that blaming limits our possibilities. A book I fully recommend.

    Reply
  3. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Hi Charlie,

     

    Happy vacation!

     

    So, blame is an art form in our culture. Pointing fingers and looking at externals, rather than "confronting ourself first" and looking inside for what’s underneath our need to blame is a first step-in self-awareness, a first step in emotional and spiritual growth.

     

    Much of the dysfunction that exists in teams and relationships centers around one’s (a) inability to and/or (b) unwillingness to, be self-responsible, to own one’s propensity to blame or to maturely and respectfully confront another. Blame is a symptom of emotional immaturity.

     

    In any relationship, at work or at home, blaming is a lose-lose equation. The blamer remains defiant, in denial, overtly or passively aggressive, and inconsiderate, while the blamed often reacts with guilt, shame, resistance, resentment, confusion, frustration, anger, and/or isolation. Those who resort to blame generally relate to others as a victim and a child, challenged by feeling helpless, fearful or out of control.

     

    In the workplace, and in the management "problems" you list, we often find a huge number of avoiders – folks who are aware of issues, for example, yet won’t confront them. They hate conflict of any kind, no matter how benign.

     

    Learning the blame game happens at a very young age. The child hears, sees and somatically feels the energy of one or both parents or primary caregivers as being judgmental, and nothing or no one is ever good enough. And so it goes as it leaks out in adult life – at work and at home. The mantra early learned is some flavor of "it’s your fault." As a result, blamers spend too much time looking for "victims" to blame, too much time finding excuses for why they are not as capable as they want to be, not being self-responsible and for not leaving their past. Blaming is just another form of futurizing our past.

     

    All of life is relationship and most of the challenges we experience in life come to us in relationships with others. When we do not appreciate and value the circumstances and the people involved when we are challenged, and when we feel afraid, threatened or angry in facing our challenges, we will tend to see these others as the cause of our challenges. They may be the "stimulus," but the "cause" is always inside. The truth is that, through the Law of Attraction, we’ll continually attract folks and situations that will trigger our reactivity, our need to blame if we refuse to take responsibility for emotionally growing up exploring what it is that gets in the way of our being self-responsible.

     

    When one looks through the list of management "problems," behaviors (opportunities?), it’s important to understand that all of these "problems" have their root inside of us. Even the blocks, the "difficult people," that appear on our path are only reflecting back to me an issue I have inside that I have not yet owned. Once we address our inner issue, the outer situation, the "problem," most often ceases to trouble us.

     

    As Socrates said, "Know thyself," and thy self is the first person we need to confront, openly, honestly, sincerely and self-responsibly. Once we do, the need to blame most often metabolizes and melts away.

    Reply
  4. Wally Bock
    Wally Bock says:

     

    Let me weigh in on the confront part. One of the key questions we should be asking about potential bosses is "Is he or she willing to confront others about behavior and performance?"
     
    If the answer is "yes," we can teach techniques to do a better job. Show up a lot so you’re familiar to your people. Have conversations. When you observe something that needs comment, do it right away. Don’t wait. It’s easier to "confront" another person if you do it frequently and if the issues are small. If you let things go, the problems, like dinosaurs get bigger and harder to deal with.
     
    Learn some straightforward techniques for the confrontation. I’ve blogged about those in detail at
     
    I know the techniques work. I’ve taught them to new supervisors for a quarter century and followed up to determine how things worked.
    Reply

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  1. […] on why blame is anathema to both trust and good management, from our friends at Trusted Advisor Associates, or brush up on ten common partnering barriers in […]

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