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.