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BK Blog Post
Posted by Liz Guthridge, Managing Director, Connect Consulting Group.
Liz Guthridge is a coach, consultant and facilitator who helps leaders turn their blue-sky ideas into greener-pasture actions. She uses applied neuroscience, behavior design and mindful communications.
On the other hand, if you find yourself playing the blame game every now and then, you should find this content of value – if I do my job right.
The biggest players in the blame game these days seem to be journalists, especially those in main stream media – as much as it pains me to write this. (Before I moved into corporate communications and then organizational effectiveness and change work and now leadership development and coaching, I was preparing to be an investigative reporter.)
“Who’s to blame?” is a popular line of questioning among TV newscasters, especially the news show hosts these days.
Yet, the more newscasters and others play the blame game, the more everyone loses – regardless of the playing field, be it politics, the community or business.
Finding a scapegoat – either legitimate or convenient – is bad behavior on a number of counts.
Here’s why. Blaming people makes them feel like failures, and can put them in a defensive, fearful and threatened state, which hurts their ability to function.
When you and anyone else feels under attack—perceived or actual—threat takes over your attention. It becomes very hard to refocus your brain. You tend to freeze, flee, or fight – the basic instincts that protected your ancestors back in the day when they were worried about wild animal predators.
The rush of adrenaline you feel improves your motor functioning to help you flee. Your field of vision contracts which keep you on track, although it hurts your ability to see what’s outside your narrow path, both literally and figuratively.
You also experience symptoms that hurt your ability to think clearly, which is a detriment to workers in today’s cognitive age. Your working memory shrinks, your creativity and imagination falters so it’s much harder to come up with clever ideas or insights, and you can make errors on the side of pessimism.
Also, your self-esteem can suffer, especially if you think your status is dropping among your peers or others whose opinions you value. That also makes you feel even more defensive and threatened.
Furthermore, blaming the individual for acting poorly ignores the effects of the environment on how the person behaves. Environment influences our behavior more than any of us like to acknowledge. Yes, we are creatures of our habitat and our culture.
For example, consider two recent companies in the news, United Airlines and McDonald’s, and their employees’ actions under duress.
United Airlines, like many airlines, is known for its formidable rule-based culture. The company expects its employees to follow its strict policies and procedures, which the crew did that fateful April evening when they called the police to remove passengers to make way for other crew members on the fully-booked flight from Chicago to Louisville, KY. (For more about this, see the Wall Street Journal article, Behind United Airlines’ Fateful Decision to Call Police; Airline’s rules-based culture in spotlight after man was dragged off flight by law enforcement.)
By contrast, consider how the “burger-flipping” employees of McDonald’s reacted when the “Facebook Live” killer pulled into the line at their drive-in window. One of the workers recognized the alleged killer and called authorities.
The workers gave the killer his order of Chicken McNuggets but delayed finishing up his fries to allow the police to arrive. Holding back fries is probably not part of McDonald’s standard operating procedures, but it worked for the greater good of society in this case. (Check out the CNN report, Quick-thinking McDonald’s worker leads police to Facebook killer.)
When you recognize that your brain is designed to minimize danger and maximize reward, you’re more inclined to take actions that help yourself and others work in a “positive” (reward) rather than a “danger” (threat) state – or at least a neutral setting.
Rather than demand “Who can I blame?” change your line of inquiry. Ask other questions that put people more at ease in a challenging situation. These questions include:
In addition to shunning the question “Who’s to blame?” don’t bother asking “Why did you do it?” or “Why did he or she do it?”
Asking “why” about behavior hurts more than it helps because you generally don’t know why you an others we do things, even when it’s your own behavior you’re trying to figure out. Very few people have the self-awareness to do a root cause analysis on their own behavior much less the tools to understand others’ motivation and behavior.
So please follow the advice of this former journalist, respect the brain and avoid the temptation to play the blame game, especially at work. You’ll win more than you’ll lose.
Are you willing to give up eating crow and instead enjoy munching fries?
Loving to blame others looks like a sickness that needs to be treated. They must read this one.