The blame game

You’ve probably seen the diagram of a small circle, labelled ‘Things you can control’ with a larger circle around it, labelled ‘Things you can affect’ and a much larger circle around that, labelled ‘Things you can neither control nor affect’. That huge outer circle includes things like the weather and the economy. In the ‘Things you can affect’ circle are matters like your family’s happiness and the results you get at work. In the ‘Things you can control’ circle is basically yourself: your behaviour and your attitude.

That diagram of three circles leads us to Denial, Blame, Excuses and Responsibility. So imagine this: You’ve had a hard day and you’ve finally made it home and are sitting comfortably with your feet up, trying to chill out. The kids are in the kitchen and you hear a crash, tinkle, tinkle. ‘What happened?’ you ask. And what’s the response? ‘Nothing!’ That’s Denial; something has clearly happened.

So you say, ‘Don’t tell me nothing! I heard something break!’ And you hear ‘It wasn’t my fault, it was his fault.’ That’s Blame.

So you say, ‘I don’t care whose fault it is–what happened?’ And you hear, ‘The bottle was slippery and it fell out of my hand.’ That’s an Excuse.

Wouldn’t it be nice to hear, ‘I dropped a bottle. I’m just getting a mop to clean it up.’ That’s taking Responsibility.

Quite a few adults have turned Denial, Blame and Excuse into something of an art form, which means they focus not on the little inner circle of Control, but on the big outer circle of No Control. So nothing changes.

Let’s take a look at the first refuge or the irresponsible: Blame. Someone slips on the pavement. Do they blame the council for not sweeping up fallen leaves or do they take responsibility for not taking care how they’re walking? Blame is a great defence mechanism. It preserves your sense of self-esteem by avoiding admitting to your own shortcomings. But you’ll keep slipping on leaves.

Someone leaves the sausages in the frying pan too long and they burn. Do they take responsibility for being distracted or do they blame their partner for not doing their share of the housework so they have to multitask. Blaming others is great when you’re in attack mode. And it’s great when it’s easier to blame someone else rather than accept responsibility. But you’ll just start an argument and keep burning the sausages.

Blame is also handy when you think you can lie and get away with it. ‘I didn’t drop the bottle and leave the mess behind.’ Then you cross your fingers and hope no one saw you drop the bottle.

Of course, not everything is our responsibility. But when it is, we need to step up to it. The more we play the blame game, the more we lose. And the less we learn.

Managers, team leaders and parents take note: Step up when you need to. And teach your team members and your children to step up, too.

Start the new year off right

Welcome back! I hope you had a wonderful holiday. And I hope you like our new banner; it’s based on the cover of the new edition of Management Theory and Practice.

Now then, here are some words of wisdom to heed as you begin the new year.

‘Besides the noble art of getting things done,
there is a nobler art
of leaving things undone.’

Lin Yutang said that. So before you launch into your usual routine, take a few moments to reflect.

  • What are your challenges for 2016?
  • What problems remain unresolved from 2015? How would resolving them make your working life better?
  • What can you do to help your team be more successful?

If your team functions as a team, or perhaps to help them function better as a team, try opening your next three team meetings with one of these questions:

  • What are our challenges for 2016?
  • What can I do to help you as a team be even more successful this year?
  • What problems linger from last year that we can resolve so we can work more effectively or provide a better service?

Would individual meetings with team members work better? Then you can adapt these questions to open your one-on-one meetings.

Once you have the answers to these questions, you can build working on them into your schedule. Commit to working on at least two every day.  Otherwise, you may find yourself drifting through the year without making any great leaps forward. And that won’t do your team, your organisation or your career much good.

Set yourself up for those great leaps forward by starting the day by completing, or at least making significant progress, on at least one important, value-adding task. Yes, even before you check your emails.

Seven ways to make your messages memorable

Whether you need to make a point about health and safety, establish a standard operating procedure, train a team member or introduce change, here’s how to make sure your messages hit home:

  1. Use positive language by stressing what you do want, not what you don’t want. For example, don’t say or write ‘Don’t go up an unsecured ladder on your own’, say or write ‘Always have someone hold the bottom of an unsecured ladder while climbing it’.
  2. Use a photograph or illustration when you can, because, as they say, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. For example, when your safety instructions or standard operating procedures say ‘Always have someone hold the bottom of an unsecured ladder while climbing it’, insert a photograph of two popular team members doing exactly that. (Because images stick in our minds, make sure the photo or diagram shows the right way, not the wrong way.)
  3. Write actively, not passively to keep the word count down and make your points more ‘alive’ and memorable. For example, ‘Always have someone hold the bottom of an unsecured ladder before climbing it’ is active and more interesting than ‘Unsecured ladders should always be held by another person while being climbed’. (You’d never say it like that, so why write it like that?)
  4. Keep your messages short and simple, and in the (polite) language of the workplace so they’re easily and quickly read and understood.
  5. Use the ‘you’ word: writing personally makes it clear your message is for the reader or listener. For example, you could write ‘You should always have someone hold the bottom of an unsecured ladder when you climb it’.
  6. Remember the WIFM—What’s In It for Me? Give people a reason to listen or read. For example, ‘For your own safety, always have someone hold the bottom of an unsecured ladder before climbing it’.
  7. Repeat your most important messages often, using different words, different examples and different mediums (e.g. computer screen savers, emails, face-to-face meetings, posters and Twitter).