If you’ve wondered how best to hamstring your employees, alienate your strongest players and otherwise guarantee the failure of your business, organizational psychologist and consultant Ben Dattner believes he’s found the secret: create a culture of blame. Dattner recently released a book detailing the damage that blame does to effectiveness called The Blame Game: How Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure,
According to Dattner, credit and blame are rarely assigned in a fair, consistent manner in the workplace. And the more that people focus on how to avoid blame and garner credit, the more that office morale suffers. Not only do employees start taking unethical measures such as stealing credit and shifting blame, they focus more on office politics than on their actual work — and honestly, can you think of anything less productive and morale-boosting than office politics?
As a manager, you can do a lot to stop “blame culture” from damaging your workplace. Encouraging honesty and fairness in all aspects of all employees’ behavior (including your own) will lay a strong foundation for preventing the blame game. Don’t overdo the praise, either; praise employees genuinely and sincerely, but don’t devalue your laudatory words by praising them for, say, showing up. (Don’t do that in a sarcastic manner, either; the destructive power of managerial sarcasm deserves a post all its own.)
Closely observing your employees’ output and work habits can help you identify the true sources of successes and failures so the wrong person doesn’t get credited or blamed. If you see someone consistently being overlooked, or downplaying their own achievements, take that person aside and encourage them to claim the credit they deserve.
If you’re not a manager, there’s still some steps you can take to navigate a workplace culture that’s heavy on the blame. Be honest about your contributions to projects and teams (document everything!), whether that means praising a co-worker for doing the lion’s share or showing your manager the documentation you have for how you did the lion’s share. If you tend towards introversion, try to remember that you do nobody any favors by hiding your own light, and that acknowledging the work you’ve done is an act of honesty.
On the flip side, if you’ve been blamed for something rightly, acknowledge the blame but don’t internalize it to mean that you’re a bad person. Learn everything you can from the incident and show your manager what you’ve learned later on. If you’ve been blamed unfairly, take your concerns to a manager you trust, again with documentation of what you have and haven’t done.
Of course, all this advice assumes that you want a workplace that’s functional, harmonious and achievement-oriented. If you’d prefer a dysfunctional funhouse of paranoia and backstabbing, then by all means, play the blame game! (We’re kidding. Please don’t.)
What about you? What tales from blame-heavy workplaces can you tell? Have you ever successfully worked in a place where the blame game was the unofficial pastime? Let us know in the comments!