On The Road To Release: How To End The Blame Game
“Don’t be afraid to remind yourself that you are resourceful and resilient. With a little ingenuity, you will make progress towards managing the challenges of shame.” That was the central message in my recent article So Hard To Shake: The Challenge of Releasing Shame, which demonstrated that thanks to our negativity biases and our inner critics, the modern workplace has become fertile ground for shame to breed. I hope that you’ve been inspired to re-lease your career by no longer putting yourself in your place, and have quit making the sort of assumptions that lure you right into the unnecessary trap of workplace shame.
Another unfortunate but avoidable reaction that takes a bite out of our productivity is blame. Blame is an empty calorie emotion that keeps us tethered to the past, much like shame and guilt. It simply gets you nowhere, since it only amounts to venting and deflecting any sense of responsibility. This lends to the decay of future communications at work, which can add up to a vicious cycle. To add insult to injury, blame can eat up your emotional energy like Pac-Man eating dots, and can take your power away, blowing your confidence and affecting your physical health in the process. Let’s take a closer look at Blame, and then navigate the road to release.
Why We Blame
In our current cultural and political climate, where anger and spite are laced into the fabric of so many interactions, it’s become oddly acceptable to spread the blame around. We see politicians doing it, and thus we don’t think twice before doing it ourselves. And we’re quick on the trigger. For this reason, we’re susceptible to becoming steeped in cortisol simply by turning on the TV or reading the paper. But before we give into the amygdala, we must remember what Viktor Frankl reminds us: We have a choice of how to respond in every interaction.
In many firms, however, especially ones with command-and-control leadership, it’s a sign of weakness to own up to a mistake or take responsibility when one was wrong. An admission would be a double slap in the face: You’re confessing that you didn’t protect you interests, and because of that, you deem yourself as weak, unworthy and less-than (cue the inner critic). To mount this huge hurdle, I tell my clients to take a breath and then take ownership of their own mistakes (and learn from them!) Pointing a finger at someone else may be easier than owning up to one’s own shortcomings, but as a wise friend reminded me, when one finger points out, four fingers point back at yourself.
Why We Get It Wrong
Having a crystal-clear perspective is a challenge when it comes to blame. We forget that REAL isn’t necessarily TRUE, and for scientific reasons. Firstly, cortisol fogs the brain and causes trigger-happiness. Angel and Marc Chernoff’s book Getting Back to Happy illustrates how our inner dialogue and our mindset have a drastic effect on how we interpret real-world experiences. The stories we subconsciously tell ourselves don’t just change how we feel inside— they change what we see, hear, experience and believe to be true. As a result, several people can have the same experience but interpret it differently.
Second, bias occurs on an individual level and at team level. We tend to buy into the veracity of the word of our teammates and don’t believe others.
And finally, our memories play tricks on us. We fill in spaces as needed to make the story complete, since tiny details are recalled inaccurately as time passes. I recently caught myself recounting a story to a colleague about a conversation I’d had the prior week. As I misremembered, I heard myself “lying” about a minute detail to make the story sound more fluid. I then had to stop myself and declare that “the details didn’t matter”.
Re-lease Your Career by Accepting
To start the process of pivoting out of the blame game, accept the fact that non-malicious miscommunication happens with as many as 9 out of 10 conversations. People typically aren’t out to get you, but are caught up in their own lives, priorities and furthering their own agenda.
Then, gain some perspective by remembering that hindsight is 20/20. We were doing the best we could at the moment, and now is the time to learn for the future. And remind yourself that there are three sides to every story: Yours, theirs, and the truth.
…and by Recognizing
Instead of holding onto blame, decide what can you learn from the situation. YOU are the captain of your career! Taking ownership may seem scary or inappropriate, since you may not want to seem pushy or entitled. But you must control the reigns of your career before you become lost in the current of others. Create some protocols and boundaries. Try tuning into the patterns and habits of those who manipulate you, and practice adaptation with perspective. If you know Bob is always late to the meeting, instead of blaming him for being late again next week, tell him the meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes earlier.
Using the power of forgiveness of others and of self for not being perfect is a wholesome way to remove yourself from the blame game. It doesn’t even have to be verbally stated to those who have done wrong by you. Simply forgiving, in your own mind, opens you up to releasing the blame and moving on.
And finally, remember that each of us is doing our best, not the best. We’re all managing the fog of perpetual stress and overwhelm, and with a little perspective, we can pull it off gracefully.
Check back next week for resources we rely on when managing the emotions of the past.
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