Not My Fault!


Ever know someone that always, and I mean always, says, “It’s Not My Fault!”  Did you believe them?  Did you wonder how they could always seem to believe this?  Turns out, it is a common problem that has little to do with logic.

It is called Personalized Blame and it has two versions…

1.  You blame other people and overlook ways you contributed to a problem.

2.  You blame yourself for something that was not entirely your responsibility.

These are cognitive distortions that keep us from seeing the world as it really is and, in turn, making it difficult to communicate or even work together successfully.

Here are personal examples of each:

1. You blame other people and overlook ways you contributed to a problem.

A business I advise had a troublesome vendor.  The work from the vendor was erratic.  Prompt and accurate some days, late and incomplete other days.   The problems got worse when trying to address the issues with the vendor’s management.   There was always, and I mean always, a list of people the management blamed.  But never their team.  Not once.  And yet they did not dispute there were errors.  They just expected my client to accept that this erratic performance was okay.

As I talked with the company president about this problem, we realized that the management of the vendor company had a history of this behavior.  The vendor’s management saw poor performance as acceptable.  So they apparently thought it strange we would have a problem with their poor performance.

Furthermore, since the management never accepted responsibility for any of the problems there was nothing for them to correct.  To them, this was not their issue and, thus, nothing they could do about it (at least in their mind’s eye).

My client eventually severed the relationship with the vendor.  Which was a shame for the vendor because the problems could have been fairly easily corrected with some basic leadership and good processes.

2. You blame yourself for something that was not entirely your responsibility.

In dating relationships of my youth, this was a problem of mine.  It really does take two to tango.  But if there were problems, I had this false idea that I alone could resolve the problems.  I could fix things if I was just better (whatever that means) or worked at it harder or paid closer attention.

In other words, I tended to accept most (and sometimes all) of the responsibility for correcting problems.  Now, it did not mean I was successful at correcting problems, just that I instinctively grabbed the blame if things did not go well.

But you know what?  Even if I could have done all things successfully, it would not have necessarily made a better relationship.  I just did not realize at the time that it was really a mutual responsibility.  In fact, the mutual nature of a good relationship is one of its strengths.

Responsibility is very important.  How we communicate our sense of responsibility is often more obvious to others than ourselves.  The first step to communicating this well, is to observe yourself and understand how you process this.  Really listen to yourself.  Playback your exact words in your mind and notice what those words say.

What you’ll learn is something others have likely already learned about you.



About the Author

Glenn S. Phillips works with leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. An author and blogger, Glenn is often quoted in national media, plays a really ugly tuba (it even has a bullet hole) and is a fan of dark chocolate and great puns.