The only way to win the blame game

Back to Blog

Share this post

The only way to win the blame game

I’ve often heard it said that the only way to win the blame game is to not play at all. I really like that sentiment and agree that pointing fingers is never a healthy thing. Unfortunately, though, when someone points the finger at you as the culprit for a problem with your CRM system (or any other part of the business, really), you’ve been drafted into the game and have to decide how you will play. Will you choose the “Feel Better” option? Perhaps the “King Me” alternative seems to have worked in the past, so you’re sticking with that approach.  I will cover these options and others like the “Apologetic Hero” below, but would like to offer a different answer for your consideration next time you get sucked into the evil vortex of blame.

I’ll cut right to the chase and tell you my answer and then let’s go through the alternatives, to see how each one plays out and why I think the best choice is clear. Ok, are you ready? Now, I know your emotions are charged because someone just threw you under the bus and copied every director and VP in the company, to make sure you’d never stand up again, but here’s my advice – “Assume that you are to blame.” But in this case you feel 100% sure that it’s not your fault…and a host of other people and their participation are jumping to mind…and you must vindicate yourself or forever wear the cone of shame! I understand, I’ve been there!  I’m not saying you should take the blame, yet, just that you should hold your breath right now and assume that you are to blame. Let’s play out your options.

1. The Feel Better Option

This option is very simple, and I’m sorry to admit that I’ve tried it. You hit the Reply All button (or speak up if this happens in a meeting), tell everyone that you are certain this mess is not your fault and go on to explain how you tried to prevent it, and mention that the person who instigated this inquisition is mistaken and should now be shunned for jumping to conclusions so quickly. Vindicated! Or are you? If you are wrong, everyone on the email will now see you as guilty not only of the original mistake, but of lashing out quickly yourself. Even if you are right, and clear yourself of this one, you will probably come across as defensive and as having declared war on the person who started this thing. The second variation on this theme is to email only the original sender and unleash a torrent of emotions and accusations. The end result is the same.

2. The End Around Option

Perhaps you are not the full frontal attack type of person. There are many other ways to try to clear your name. With end around options, you can surprise your attacker with a death blow from an unexpected angle and give yourself the victory, they just require a bit more patience. Some of these include:

  • The Apologetic Hero who explains to everyone that it’s not the email sender’s fault, but that they were mistaken or misinformed, and you are very sorry for the elevated heart rate this has caused everyone.
  • King Me, where you hop over the opponent and reach out directly to the offender’s boss and ask “How should I handle this problem that your direct report is causing? I just don’t want to offend them.”
  • And there are many others like The Poison Vial, The Poison Dart, and even the Cliff’s Edge, where you patiently coax the person into a precarious position with hopes that it will lead to their own demise.

I’ve seen all of these in action unfortunately, and you probably have, too. They may even appear to work for a time. But while the career elevator seems to keep going up, the cable of trust is weakening, and will eventually snap. This damage from this fall is often far worse than even Option #1 above.

3. The More Excellent Way

Let’s go back to my suggestion and see how it plays out and compare. Assume that you are to blame. Send a short email reply stating that you take this very seriously and are sorry for the impact. Mention that you own this and are going to investigate immediately to seek a resolution and will keep all interested parties in the loop. Now, it doesn’t feel as good I’ll grant you, but what happens now if you’re wrong and what happens if you’re right? If you are actually to blame, you have already taken responsibility and can move toward fixing the problem. People will see you as humble and diligent and willing to own up when you make a mistake. This is a huge save and you feel SO glad that you bit your tongue! If your assumptions were right, and you are not to blame, you can share the facts you discover about what happened and let the facts vindicate you. If done in a kind way, everyone involved (including the person who threw you under the bus) will appreciate your attitude, will want to work with you, and may even think twice before accusing you before they’ve done their homework. Isn’t that the kind of person you want to work with?

So, remember next time a grenade gets lobbed your way, whether it belongs in your hands or not, always start by assuming that you are to blame – it’s the only way to play the blame game and always come out a winner.


Back to Blog