Avoiding a Blame Culture

Avoiding a Blame Culture

The Covid enquiry has shown how easily one can slip into blaming others, which achieves nothing but rancour. The dilemma is to create accountability without blame. Every business, organisation, and Government needs accountability, but without creating a blame culture. In fact, accountability should be for the positive and praiseworthy aspects as well.

“When you point the finger of blame, remember there are three pointing back at you”


In their book The Oz Principle, Roger Connors, Tom Smith & Craig Hickman define accountability as a personal choice to rise above one’s circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results. You need to see the issue, take ownership of it, find a solution, and then implement it. This is not about blaming people.

See it, own it, solve it, do it.

The Oz Principle

Alternatively, Brian Dive in The Accountable Leader describes it as ..”a key concept in leadership and the design of organisations.  Positive accountability occurs when one is answerable to another for the provision of work, husbanding of resources and the delivery of a service, product or set of results that can be measured in terms of quantity, quality, cost, and time”.

Achieving basic levels of accountability is no longer enough; it needs to be embedded in the culture at all levels. It requires trust, setting of expectations, taking ownership, and reporting back. At the lowest levels, basic accountability is seen merely as an obligation that must be met, relying on an honest and ethical character or the meeting of the contract, policies, and procedures.   As accountability becomes more deeply embedded in the culture, there is the recognition that the policies and processes must not only be in place, but there must be evidence that they are being effectively used and lead to clear accountability outcomes.  When accountability is fully embedded in the culture, it results in a transformation of the organisation. Blame has no place on this journey.

‘It is not only what we do, but also what we do not do, for which we are accountable’.


Why We Blame

Accountability is often seen as a negative thing because with it can come blame. Blame achieves nothing good, so why do we do it?

The psychological definition of blame is related to projection: i.e. attributing one’s shortcomings, mistakes, and misfortunes to others in order to protect one’s ego. Blaming others (projection) is more common in those who are experiencing negative feelings and are unable to regulate their emotions. They can turn the spotlight onto someone else.

Blaming others is an unconscious defence mechanism, which protects the finger-pointer and blame-shifter from experiencing unpleasant feelings, such as guilt or shame. Blaming others for how we express inappropriate actions enhances our sense of being justified for those actions. E.g., ‘If he wasn’t so unreasonable, I wouldn’t need to get angry’.

Blame and the Self Deception Box

According to the Arbinger Institute, we are human beings with an innate sense of what is the right thing to do. Although what is deemed as ‘right’ may vary from person to person. When we betray that sense, we commit an act of self-betrayal. Self-betrayal is the germ that creates the disease of self-deception and leads to blame. Unwittingly, we become the problem. We focus on ourselves not on results, see people as objects not as people, and we get into a ‘box of self deception’. Our ego works to protect itself.

When you are in the box, you need people to cause trouble for you. You need problems to justify your self-betrayal. However bitterly you may complain about someone’s poor behaviour toward you and the trouble it causes; it can also be delicious. It proves that others are blameworthy, and you are innocent. What you complain about is your self-justification. This is a complex subconscious game we play.

Does blaming others help them get better? Does your behaviour invite people to be more enthusiastic and creative about their work or less?

We can tell how people feel about us and it’s to that that we respond. If you feel someone is just a resource or an irritation in your daily plan, then they will sense that. If we are to come out of the box, then we must think of people as people. It is not about being ‘soft’ on accountability. We can be hard and invite productivity and commitment, or we can be hard and invite resistance and ill will. The choice isn’t about being hard or not, it’s whether we are in the box or not.

Blame Throwing and Self-Betrayal

When you blame others you betray yourself, you enter the box and become self-deceived. You then tend to:

  • Inflate others’ faults.
  • Inflate your own virtue.
  • Inflate the value of things that justify self-betrayal.
  • Feed the flames of blame.

Avoiding Blame

As humans, we will spend time in the self deception box, but success comes by how much time we spend out of the box and not blaming others. It’s not about perfection but focusing on being better and better to improve relationships, the company’s culture and bottom line.

“To be completely honest with oneself is the very best effort a human being can make” 

Sigmund Freud

The main thing is to be aware of when you are blaming others and why you are doing this. What is going on for you right then? Some things to try are:

  1. Stay out of the box of self deception.
  2. Be aware of how you may have contributed to the situation and hold yourself accountable.
  3. Be brave in holding people accountable, balanced with empathy.
  4. See people as people and not objects. Understand their needs and vulnerabilities.
  5. Listen to their perspective. Get the facts and be non-judgemental.
  6. See mistakes as learning opportunities.
  7. Look for mutually beneficial solutions.

If you would like to know more about avoiding a blame culture, please contact me.

Also published on Medium.

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