Communication, Developer growth

Quit blaming others. It’s your fault!

When working in a team trying to deliver software things don’t always go right. Quite often they actually go wrong. Sometimes though they go so wrong that there are consequences for others. And when things go wrong, someone is to blame.

It’s natural to protect yourself and make sure all attention is on the next person by blaming and pointing. Perhaps you just sit idly and let others deal out blame and this helps you get by on a day-to-day basis. If you and the people around you are dealing out blame, you aren’t only making it bad for those around you, but for yourself.

TL;DR

Mistakes in this article refers to errors and mishaps that happen on a day-to-day basis at your workplace or in life in general. Deleting the wrong database. Losing your temper with a colleague. Forgetting to tell about an external deadline. Cutting someone off in traffic.

What it doesn’t cover in this article is being negligent, breaking the law, harming others and other acts of hate or clear recklessness. There are laws and regulations that govern these matters.

Blame’s best friend: shame

There are two perspectives when placing blame on someone, or a group of people. Someone placing blame, and someone receiving blame. With a blame-mentality, people that do something wrong are punished. They are failures on some level and need to know this. When you give out blame as a superior, you are shaming the person on the receiving end.

Now shame is a funny thing. When shaming others we are reducing from their potential. Not only have they made a mistake, they’ve also now been told they aren’t worthy on some level. Shame is such a powerful emotion that it can break someone completely.

If blame is a natural part of your team culture, you foster a culture of shame-avoidance. When people are on the defensive then petty issues become blown out of proportion. Team members cannot work together, or they prefer working in their own areas. Departments stop working with each other and against each other. Innovation and growth comes to a halt and a culture of mistrust and hostility may evolve.

Responsibly taking the blame

To stop this vicious cycle is actually really easy. Stop blaming others. When something bad happens that affects you, someone near you or especially someone “below” you, you need to step up and point the finger at yourself. This isn’t about martyrdom or “taking one for the team”.

Instead, try to take a step back and assess the situation from another perspective. Take responsibility, own the mistake and seek to learn the truth about it. If a team member has messed up then you can let them know that actions they have taken have had negative consequences. Also, let them know that you take responsibility since some flaw in the system has allowed this mistake to happen.

To fix a mistake that has arisen, you need to look at how you can improve yourself, your mentoring or the possibilities so others can’t make the same mistake again. The idea is to learn from the mistake, and not punish the person in question. You open up an opportunity for that person to grow, and at the same time strengthen the relationship and add marbles the trust-jar.

Great relationships don’t just happen. People have made mistakes together and have learned. It’s through mistakes, we challenge each other. It’s then up to you to decide if you want to help each other out or tear each other down.

Quit blaming others! Responsibly take the blame yourself and look for how you and those around you can grow.

Thanks for reading! 🙂 If you enjoyed it, share it with a friend!

The concept of looking for ways to take responsibility for events vs dealing out blame is a powerful one. It’s also something that will allow you and those around you to grow. If you want to learn more about this, check out this video where I dive deeper into the topic.

  • I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical with some of these points before I watched the video. You really hit home with your examples there.

    It’s a really healthy think to go into situations thinking “What can I do to help with this?” or “What could I have done to prevent this from happening” even though in the “traditional” sense it’s someone else’s “fault”. I certainly don’t have this mindset truly internalized, but I’m gonna write it down and try to keep it in mind in the future.

    Even before you mentioned the 7 Habits book, I thought “Oh, this is just another perspective on the circle of influence!”.

    When you started talking about some of the examples, a bunch of my own previous experiences came rushing back. I started thinking about how I could have reacted instead of blowing it of as someone else’s fault. What could *I* have done?

    I have to say Pav, this was probably my favorite post from you so far. I spent a lot of time reading, listening and thinking about what you said. The video was what that really got it through to me. Thanks! Keep it up. More stuff like this in the future please 😀

  • Taking responsibility for yourself is indeed hugely important. But I also think that part of the solution is being able to “blame but not shame”. You definitely ought to try and get other people to confess their problems as well. This is however best done in a non-judgemental way. I think that trying to blame someone in a constructive way can be just as effective.

    • Thanks Daniel, I can’t agree more!
      Non-judgemental feedback is indeed important. Encouraging a culture of owning mistakes and speaking about them is crucial. Otherwise feedback will probably be interpreted as judgemental no matter how careful you phrase yourself.

      I wonder if leading by example and sharing your mistakes first is a good way to open the door to speaking about others mistakes?

      • I think that it is a good way. You do have to keep one thing in mind as you do this though. I know some people, myself included, who find it too easy to blame themselves. In taking the blame upon yourself you must make sure that you only do this if it is indeed your fault. If you just keep taking the fall for everybody they won’t be likely to learn from it.

        In the end I think that the only way to change people is to lead by example. So that is what I’ll try, both in taking the blame when I deserve and trying to help others take responsibility for, and avoid their future mistakes.

    • I missed something in your comment, namely “shame”

      You are so right about avoiding shame. When people are shamed for their choices it’s hard to be open and inclusive. It’s hard to build trust, and as a result it’s hard to internalise learnings and grow together.

      Scott Ford and Andrea Goulet speak about this in our talk on the Legacy Code Rocks podcast: http://codingwithempathy.com/2016/12/20/coding-empathy-legacy-code-rocks-podcast/