Monday afternoon I found myself sitting in a mostly empty parking lot, having arrived early to meet a friend for a beer at a local microbrewery. I was chatting on the phone when I noticed a Corvette creeping into the space behind me…creeping, and creeping, and creeping…until BUMP.
As I hung up on my friend and yanked the earbuds from my ears, I stepped to the back of my ride where Mr. Corvette was now standing, peering at our closely situated bumpers. My intention: to get out and say hi, see what was up. It was a really light bump. Not a big deal.
His intention, however: blame. He made that really clear with his first comment, “Your car is parked over the line.”
Wait what? My curious smile immediately turned into a furrowed-brow frown, and I tilted my head in disbelief, questioning if I had heard correctly.
He repeated: “Your car is parked over the line.”
With that accusatory comment, the situation changed. Defenses went up. Righteousness simmered up inside my belly. Shock and confusion took over. Within seconds, what could have been a simple “Ha, ha that’s funny, you hit a parked car, no big deal!” turned into quite the big deal in the parking lot.
Why the big deal?
We’d entered the blame game. I couldn’t help but think of how often I’d seen this game being played with companies I work with.
Winners of the blame game? No one. Ever.
Results of the blame game? A straightforward situation becomes a complete disaster, generally within seconds, with the ramifications lingering on forever.
Unintended consequences of the blame game? Emotional exhaustion, bad attitudes, crappy morale, lack of productivity, erosion of trust, dis-engagement, blurting out things we regret…to name a few. On this particular Monday, a certain someone screeching out of the parking lot, peeling down the street at high rates of speed in his ‘Vette.
To ensure you are playing this fun game of blame to its most dramatic, let’s walk through the strategic moves:
Step one: Shots fired, fingers pointed, which sounds like, “You did something wrong” or “It’s your fault.”
Step two: Emotions kick in, because let’s face it, no one likes to be told “you’re wrong,” or “it’s your fault” because that makes us FEEL stupid, or bad, or naughty, or shame, or a whole wave of other fun feelings that bring out our best selves.
Step three: Emotions high, we channel our inner two-year-old and point the finger back, saying IT WASN’T ME, IT WAS YOU! This time the finger point is more like a jab, which makes the original pointer double-down and jab back, harder this time.
Step four: Now we’re really heated, digging in, not backing down, fingers flying, the conversation has nowhere to go but down, and the original situation–which wasn’t that big of a deal in the first place–has become this HUGE deal because of things stated in the heat of the moment, accusations thrown, and things being blown out of proportion.
It’s such a fun game!
I’m thinking it sounds vaguely familiar, like that team at work that never seems to make their deadline, causing you to miss yours. Or the shift before you, who never can complete their orders and always leaves the place a mess, when YOU finish everything you’re supposed to do and leave the warehouse spotless, nonetheless. It’s always the other guy…
When we are looking to blame, point fingers, or find fault in the other guy, disaster happens. When we play the blame game, I guarantee the ending of the game is worse than the original situation, every time.
What can we do instead?
First, pause. When we jump to blame, our emotions take over. We quickly lose sight of the best outcome for the situation, what really matters, and lose perspective of the significance of the situation in the grand scheme of things. Ask: Is it really that big of a deal? Will this matter in five minutes, five weeks, or five years? What is the best possible outcome for this situation? Once you determine the outcome, craft your response with the outcome as your guide, NOT your emotions.
Second, switch from blame to ownership. Switch from accusation to curiosity. Instead of immediately looking to see what the other person did wrong, instead look with curiosity as to why they did what they did. Adopting an empathetic posture in moments when we want to jump to blame is a perfect pause to see the situation in its entirety and keep perspective.
Third, own it. Admit to your role, your actions, and your involvement in the situation. Don’t spew a bunch of excuses, just lay down the facts. Objectively stating your part and taking responsibility is one of the most powerful ways to diffuse any situation.
Fourth, apologize. Genuinely. When necessary. An honest, sincere apology AFTER you own the issue is another surefire way to squelch the drama.
Finally, move on, move forward, move up. Keep your eye on the vision of what really matters, on the vision of your team, or on the vision of how you want to show up in this world.
Monday, that vision of what mattered was me getting a cold beer in my hand. By the time my friend arrived, the ridiculous of the situation had become hilarious. (There were further accusations by Mr. Vette before he peeled out. Other highlights included me demanding an apology for him hitting my PARKED CAR because apparently, I think it’s important to school people in my teachings in parking lots.) As I told her the tale with all of its gory details, it occurred to me how differently the situation would have played out if ownership instead of blame happened. It made me realize how often we make it so difficult by finger pointing instead of just looking in the mirror and owning our stuff. It also made me realize, when we ditch the blame game, we can get to the funny a whole lot faster, because it really all is hilarious.