Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Are you playing the "blame game?"

The “blame game” usually starts and ends in a stand-off.

Nobody is moving, nobody is talking and yet everyone is right…in their own minds.

We see it all the time at work and at home; with bosses, colleagues, parents and with spouses. It isn’t until some time has passed, that you even know that you were participating in a blame game. However, you can save yourself some angst if you can recognize the signs of being locked in a “blame game” while it is happening.

The truth is that when you lock horns in the game, you aren’t able to get the results of what you want (unless you want conflict and angst.)

Someone once said to me “would you rather be right or get what you want?” I wanted to say “both,” but I knew that was the wrong answer.

It is hard to get what you want if you always need to be right.
When you are so fixated on being right, you forget what your broader objective really is; whether that is to get the job done, get a promotion or have a long-term, loving relationship.

So here are some tips for recognizing when you are in a blame game:

Tip #1: You see only black and white: You are right, and they are wrong.

I once had a colleague who I could not stand. Everything he did seemed to rub me the wrong way. I believed he favored people and was rude to those that weren’t useful to him. I believed he operated in a way that didn’t enhance the team, but instead created a culture based on exclusion versus inclusion. I thought he was more interested in himself above all else. Of course, the vision I had of myself was exactly the opposite. I believed I treated others equally and wanted to enhance the team and to create a culture of inclusion.

In a nutshell, I could do no wrong and he could do no right.

However, the truth was somewhere in the middle and a little bit grey. He wasn’t a perfect leader, but neither was I.

Once you see that you are doing this, one way to get out of this “blame game” is to recognize that you are not as right as you believe yourself to be and your nemesis is not as wrong as you want to believe. Redirect some of that judgment to yourself and start chipping away at your own self-imposed perfect image.

Recognizing you are both flawed is a much more powerful starting point to get the results you are seeking.

Tip #2: You look for alibis to support your black and white position; you are right, they are wrong.

Complaining husbands and wives do this all of the time. They seek out friends to corroborate with and seek out other examples to trash their spouse. Colleagues also engage in this behavior regarding their bosses. Siblings have been known to gang up against their parents with all the things they think they do wrong. Oh…and Democrats and Republicans do it to each other. It becomes a feeding frenzy with no real productive outcome.

When you find yourself doing this; STOP. It only feeds your need to be right and doesn’t get you closer to reaching your objectives.

Instead, spend your energy identifying your own shortcoming and work on improving them. Step into the shoes you are criticizing and do it better.
Becoming a great parent is the best way to forgive your own parents’ shortcomings. Becoming a leader is the best way to forget your worst boss. Becoming a loving spouse is the only way to bridge and strengthen your relationship.

Tip #3: You are not listening.

A clear cut sign of when you are participating in the “blame game” is that you know you are right and it doesn’t matter what anyone else is saying. In that moment, you are in the comic strip Charlie Brown and all you are hearing is “Wahhh, Wahhh, Wahhh.”

So, how do you make a move that helps take the stale mate out of the situation? Ask a question.

Curiosity is the one of the best antidote for the game. By asking questions, you will likely realize that this person is not on such an opposite side after all. It can allow you to start seeing the areas of agreement between you as opposed to solely focusing on those areas of disagreement.


One thing for sure about the “blame game” is that if you are frustrated while being in it, the other person is too. When you take the first step to try to get out of this game by following some of these tips, chances are you will break the standoff and start to get some movement towards achieving your objectives.

And after all, don’t you want to get what you want, even if you don’t have to be right?

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