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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Blame Game

Sooner or later, if hasn't already, it will happen to you; someone will blame you for something to keep attention off themselves. It may be something simple like you were supposed to make those copies or call that customer and didn't, when it really wasn't your job. Or it could be something big like a major and costly mistake. What do you do when someone tries to throw you overboard to protect themselves? How do you uphold your values, and the company's, and protect yourself and your job? To answer that its first important to know who blamers are and why they do it.

Blamers have one thing in common; they are afraid. They may be the staff member with a fragile ego who is afraid to be wrong. They may be your cubicle neighbor who is afriad for their job and who feels that they can't afford to "look bad". Or, and this is unfortunately too often the case, they are that individual who is underpowered intellectually or too fragile emotionally to get the job done and who can only hang on to their position by blaming others for their performance deficiencies. In any of these cases, the high road is the only road for reasons I hope will be obvious below.

A wise executive (who thankfully happens to be one of our senior leaders) said it best recently in an email to me: bad fish eventually smell. As such, the best tactic with blamers is to keep your emotions in check, avoid defending yourself unless absolutely necessary, and only if necessary defend yourself in private to your supervisor (and no others). If you fire back at your accuser you've lowered yourself to the lowest common corporate denominator of the feuding co-workers. If you vent your frustrations to your co-workers you're engaging in the next lowest form of corporate behavior, that of the water cooler gossip. Blamers aren't by nature brave people, so they usually won't come looking for you and for trouble. Avoiding conflict and confrontation, setting the record straight in private to your supervisor, and then letting the bad fish smell on its own is your best strategy. The outcome of blamers is almost always the same: either they give up blaming (absent any career gratification) and/or they fail without your help.

Our corporate values include taking responsibility when we're wrong. For people to feel comfortable doing that requires that we all give each other grace when mistakes are made. If you want a workplace free of blame and blamers then be kind and forgiving whenever possible when others make mistakes. Never roll in the proverbial mud with those who would throw blame, and keep your focus on excellence in your job. By our works, good and bad, will we all eventually be known.

Finally, as hard as it may be, pray for the blame throwers, for theirs is often a miserable work experience.