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How to Stop the Blame Game

| July 13, 2010

by Jim Bruce

Today’s reading “How to Stop the Blame Game” is by Nathanael Fast, assistant professor of Management and Organization at USC’s Marshall School of Business.  It appeared in the May research blog of the Harvard Business Review.

Fast points back to the recent “grilling” of three oil company executives by U.S. Senate committees.  He noted that the executives “fell over each other in attempts to shift the blame.” And, that “No one was impressed.”

Fast continues by noting that playing the blame game never works, that people who blame others for their mistakes lose status, and that they perform worse relative to those who own up to their mistakes.  He also notes that resent research shows that blaming is contagious.  Merely being exposed to someone else making a blame attribution for a mistake is enough to cause people to turn around and blame others for completely unrelated failures.  All you have to do to “catch” the blame virus is to be exposed to someone else passing the buck.

He suggests five practical steps you can take to reduce the spread of this virus:

1.  Don’t blame others for your mistakes.

2.  When you do blame, do so constructively.  When you do blame, the goal is to learn from the incident, not to humiliate the person who made the mistake.

3.  Set an example by confidently taking ownership of your mistakes.

4.  Focus on learning.

5.  Reward people for making mistakes.  

We all make mistakes.  Acknowledge your failure, learn form it, and move on.  As Bill Clepsch says, “Fail fast” so you can get on to the solution.


Have a great week.  .  .  .  .   jim