About 98% of the time I meet with a coaching or counseling client, or even consult with a business executive, one of the first things I hear is what someone else is doing or failing to do that is creating the problems, distressful and unproductive climate, or lack of happiness or job satisfaction. Blaming other people or circumstances seems to be the way most of us look at conflict or unpleasant situations.
Employees blame bosses and co-workers, spouses blame their partner, business partners blame each other or their employees or their competitors. Everyone finds something or someone to blame.
My Work Experience:
I don't know how many of you have had the experience of working for someone whose constant mission in life seemed to be to find someone to whom he or she could assign blame when everything didn't work out as he or she had expected. I worked for someone once who was so committed to blaming that before every staff meeting or individual conference, I imagined creating a cut-out of a person with each employees name and playing a version of Pin the Tail on the Donkey--only this would be Pin the Blame on the Employee. It seemed that even if a random name was hit, it would be OK because it would provide a scapegoat. To save our sanity, we came to joke in the office about who was going to get blamed and when the tirade would start.
However, living in a blaming climate produced some other effects:
* fear of taking a risk
* fear of taking responsibility
* fear of making a decision
* fear of offering a different opinion
* fear of being creative or finding more effective ways to do even routine tasks
* people keeping their own personal notes about every call and action so they could defend themselves
* reduced productivity
* decreasing loyalty
* decreased desire to communicate with management about anything
* sense of increasing powerlessness and discouragement
These are just the ones that come to mind!
When I think about a climate of blame in a love relationship, many of the same effects show up. Additional ones may include decreased passion in general-- and certainly in the area of sexual intimacy.
Blame brings a cloud of despair, powerlessness, and unhappiness to any environment.
One of the reasons most of us revert to blaming is because it seems to work for us! It allows us to put responsibility on everyone and everything besides ourselves! It means we don't have to experience the discomfort of looking at our own faults or responsibility for the situation. Then, WE don't need to change--the OTHER person is the one with the problem! We can just stay in our comfort zones.
Blaming allows us to attribute to others parts of ourselves that we don't like--consciously or unconsciously. You've probably heard the saying that what you hate in someone else is also probably in you. It's true! It doesn't necessarily mean that the other person DOESN'T have the quality, but that most likely you do too!
Another way that we project is that a part of us that was not OK to have or express will be seen as negative in another person. For example, if we were not allowed to need anything, we will hate any sign of 'neediness' in other people. We may also view others as "selfish" when they take care of themselves. (We will probably look at this more in a future edition.)
This week I saw a perfect example of blaming n our own Orlando Magic basketball team (of which I am a BIG fan!). Any of you who follow sports probably heard about the comments Penny Hardaway made about the fans, the media, the city, the management, his teammates, etc.. One of biggest complaints was that the media criticized him too much. Orlando, the team and coaching staff didn't let the real Penny come out. Other teammates were considered 'the Man' by the media and fans. Other players weren't quick enough. Everything and everyone you could blame, he did. Then the next day, after national media blasted him for what he said, he blamed everyone for misunderstanding what he said!
One of the things Penny has said in the past, and his teammates have echoed it, is that Penny is extremely self-critical and puts enormous pressure on himself to be perfect. So when he has an off night, which is normal for any player to have now and then, he beats himself up. Does the media criticize him? Of course! But Penny is his own worst critic which is why he is extremely sensitive to anything he perceives as possible criticism. And yet, he is critical of everyone else--and himself. That is projection.
His tendency to place blame on others creates for him those results I just spoke of: stress, paralysis, resentment, reduced productivity, decreased loyalty and most of the others.
Worst Part of Blame:
The most destructive consequence from blaming is that it leaves you thinking, feeling, and acting like a victim. It makes you feel powerless to change things. You feel trapped and your energy is depleted. It seems that the only way to make it better is to leave the situation--the marriage, the job, or the team. By blaming, you give up your power. It feels like others, circumstances all have power over you.
It is time to take back your own power--today!!!!
CONTRIBUTION Is the Answer:
To regain your power, to reverse the consequences of a blaming environment, you must look at your contribution to the situation. You cannot be in a situation and not contribute something to it--by words, actions, lack of words or actions, or attitude. When you take the courageous step of recognizing and owning the part YOU play, then you have the power to change the situation.
Here are some examples:
1) Mary's boss is upset with her because she often turns in her reports a little late. Mary blames him for having unrealistic expectations and not understanding the demands on her. She's stressed out and ready to look for another job. When Mary looked at ways she might be contributing to the problem, she came up with the following:
* Because she wanted the reports to be next to perfect, she spent an enormous amount of time first thinking about all the points she wanted to put in, trying to say it in just the right way, and feeling more and more pressured as the deadline drew near. She put off starting it and labored over it as she wrote the report, frequently going back and changing things she had written.
* Sometimes she tried to guess what her boss wanted the focus of the report to be instead of clarifying it with him from the beginning.
* She frequently stopped to the answer the phone while she was working on the report.
2) John is about ready to tell his wife he wants out of the marriage because she always seems to try to pick a fight about the dumbest trivial issues. In spite of his efforts to not get caught up in the arguing, she just doesn't let up. The next day, it's something else. He's tired of it. Home is not a pleasant place to be anymore. When he looked at his contribution, he discovered:
* his wife points out something he did or didn't do. He tries to explain. She accuses him of being defensive, he shuts down and says he doesn't want to argue and walks out of the room. When he does that, his wife thinks he doesn't understand and doesn't want to work things out, and feels alone in trying to make the relationship better. She feels anxious and tries to engage him again by pointing out another issue.
* He realized that by trying to explain right away without listening, his wife didn't feel heard or understood and accused him of being defensive. He also realized that by just walking off and not talking about things, it made her feel more disconnected and more anxious and she found even more to try to talk about.
In both of these examples, the other people involved are also contributing, but by beginning to name your OWN contribution, you have points of transformation. You can take positive and productive action to change the situation, instead of sitting around either hoping the other person will change or things will somehow just get better--or worse, feeling like the only solution is to get out. What actions could Mary and John take in their situations? Try to come up with as many options as possible.
Discovering Your Own Contribution:
1) Realize that the only person you can change is yourself.
2) Any time someone is pointing a finger at you, ask yourself what kernel of that is actually true. Be brutally honest with yourself, because there is ALWAYS at least a tiny piece of it that's true about you. I know that's a hard pill to swallow, but it is liberating and empowering to own your own stuff!
3) If you don't know what you're contributing, ask what you are doing, saying, failing to do or say, or the way you are doing or saying it that might POSSIBLY be impacting the other person(s) in a negative way.
Another thing you can do is to imagine looking at yourself and your actions through the other person's eyes. Why might they every think or feel that way when they interact with you?
Another way is to imagine yourself called in as an expert consultant in this situation. Look at all the parts of the situation, including the person with your name, and as an impartial 3rd party, list how each person contributes (whether or not they intend to!)
Look at a situation in your life where you have been blaming someone else. List all the possible ways you each contribute to it. Take one positive action each day for the next month to take care of the part YOU play. See what happens--both to the situation and to the way you feel!
Be patient with yourself, but persistent. Owning your own stuff and taking effective actions are skills that you build. The more you do it, the better you will become at doing it and the more of your power you will take back. Don't blame yourself for not doing it perfectly!