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Workplace Accountability: Pointing a Finger

Workplace Accountability: Pointing a Finger

When confronted with problems, we occasionally stubbornly sit in a stalled position, refusing to take action. Like the fourth grader who jumps higher and higher in a desperate attempt to prove the laws of gravity don't bind him to the Earth, we ignore the forces of interpersonal gravity. Rather than acknowledging we control no one but ourselves, we insist the other person needs to fix his part of the situation first.

We pretend our private conclusion that "it's his fault" means something. We stew about the problem. We waste energy making a case with those already on our side rather than having a challenging but necessary conversation with the person with whom we have the issue. We indulge ourselves with "I was right, he was wrong" thoughts and occasionally fire off caustic e-mails.

In truth, we shout into the wind when we point fingers at others. If we want to fix problems we need to start with ourselves.

This requires complete honesty, beginning with a dismantling of treasured myths. You might believe you're just bull-headed and that others take you the wrong way when your blunt comments hurt their feelings. You thus absolve yourself of responsibility. Similarly, for years I've maintained, "I'm just a wuss" as if that excused the fact that I don't stand up for myself and let others walk all over me.

What do you gain by maintaining that others need to toughen up so you don't need to learn tact? No more than I achieve with my insistence that those who take unfair advantage of my trusting nature own the full blame.

We need to face the truth. You're not "just" bull-headed any more than I'm a wuss; you and I simply choose the easy way out, and it costs us. We can point fault at those who dislike or use our vulnerabilities, or we can shape up.

Next, we have to come to terms with the fact that we don't see the whole and true picture when we relentlessly focus on our side of the story. Consider what happens when a killer workload stresses you out, a co-worker asks you a question at the wrong moment and you blow up. You may not mean what you say but your rudeness offends your co-worker and she retaliates by telling your supervisor.

You might resent her complaining, particularly if you've overlooked your co-worker's past misdeeds. Often, the more you think about her involving your supervisor, the angrier you become, forgetting the simple fact that you started this chain of events by barking at your co-worker. As you rationalize how the work overload pushed you past your breaking point, you define yourself as the blameless victim and your co-worker as the transgressor.

Regrettably, we pay a heavy price when we overlook our personal responsibility and cast blame on others. Not only do we give away the power to fix problems to others, we open ourselves to continued reoccurrence of the same problems because we refuse to look at how we need to change.

What could we do instead? We could recognize that we see only half the situation and need to learn how we appear to others. We could realize that when we dish out blame, we do so based on distorted perceptions. Instead of advocating for our side, we could start a two-way discussion with the person who most irritates us and listen to what we don't want to hear.

Finally, we could work hard to find a solution that works for the other person as well as ourselves. If we do so, we might find something that helps us become better tomorrow than we were yesterday. What a victory.

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Lynne Curry, Ph.D., SPHR and owner of the Alaska-based management consulting firm, The Growth Company Inc. consults with companies and individuals to create real solutions to real workplace challenges. Their services include HR On-call (a-la-carte HR), investigations, mediation, management/employee training, executive coaching, 360/employee reviews and organizational strategy services. You can reach Lynne @, via her workplace 911/411 blog, or @lynnecurry10 on twitter.

  1. Good post! In my experience as a manager and a coach, I have found that ineffective performers often blame their failures on the same obstacles that star performers overcome. Often, it’s not what happens to us in life that defines us but how we choose to behave. Ask employees what they did to try to overcome challenges … their answers will tell you a lot about their attitude, their problem solving abilities, and their motivation.

  2. Let us as leaders and managers not forget to set a proper example, taking ownership of our own actions and decisions. All too often policies are implemented where “the chosen few” seemingly are excluded from accountability and compliance.

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