Do you Play the blame/shame game?
What type of manager are you? Do you blame your problems on others, or do you seek to find the solution? Do you create a hostile work environment, or one that makes people want to do their best work?

Recently I was talking to a client who works for a very difficult boss. When the boss walks into a room or comes to the store, the ambience changes. Defensives go up and everyone walks around gingerly and tentatively as to not generate the ire or attention of the boss. It doesn’t sound like a very fun or empowering place to work.

I wonder if the boss is aware of the kind of work environment he is creating? He is constantly creating fear by looking to criticize and blame someone for the company’s woes. He loves to play the blame game and he is the only one who is playing. I wonder if he understands who’s really to blame.

Strange as it may seem, in my experience, I find a surprising number of companies and retail operations that are being run by owners, managers or bosses that believe generating fear or using coercion is the effective means to manage productivity or sales results. Studies have proven that these methods are the least effective at generating a highly productive workplace. I, personally, remember a time when I worked in distribution that my boss threatened that all our jobs were on the line if we didn’t sell out the inventory of a certain product. As if it were our fault the product was not selling.

However, instead of motivation, all the threats and blame did was to generate anger and disgust. I certainly wasn’t motivated to give my best effort. My motivation was to solely protect my back. Maybe that’s why W. Edwards Deming, the father of the quality movement, said that we must eliminate fear from the workplace in order to maximize employee productivity.

Many bosses are clueless about how their behavior negatively affects the motivation and the performance of their employees. That’s why awareness is a key characteristic of street-smart managers. They observe what works and what doesn’t work, what’s effective and what’s ineffective. When plans and strategies don’t produce the results that are expected, they don’t look for employees to blame or to verbally abuse. Street-smart managers have learned that blaming employees creates a fearful workplace and de-motivated employees. That’s why good sales managers have teeth marks on their tongues.

In addition, blame is self-defeating. Blame takes the pressure off us temporarily, but long-term it actually sabotages our ability to take action and get results. Blame alleviates our guilt or responsibility, but at the same time it makes us feel powerless and out of control. And that’s where it becomes self-defeating. Whenever we blame someone or something for our problems, we give away our feeling of control. That lack of control generates within us a feeling of helplessness. It’s the same feeling that is generated when we fail at something.

Failure momentarily makes us feel helpless. It reminds me of the times I tried to learn to wind surf or snow ski. I fell so many times that I actually came to believe that I never could learn to do either. Once I came to those conclusions, I simply gave up and never tried to master either again. The fact is, success in any endeavor requires persistence. Mastering any skill takes time and practice. What have you tried once or twice to learn or do and then given up? As Thomas Fuller said, “All things are difficult before they are easy.”

Implementing change in organizations or creating new habits takes work. Helplessness sabotages motivation and the work effort. Mental health experts say that the primary cause of depression is helplessness. What do helpless and depressed people do? Nothing! They just sit there hoping that their problems will go away or that someone will come to their rescue. How many people do you know who were looking for jobs in this economy and have given up simply because they tried and failed a few times? And that is why blame is so self-defeating. We defeat ourselves by handing control to others. Playing that game causes us to give up more easily, and get depressed more often.

A corollary of the blame game is the shame game; same result, different recipient of the blame. You make your inadequacies and your faults the problem. A person playing the shame game will say, “It’s just the way I am,” or “You know how I am,” or “I am just that way.”

All imply that you are stuck where you are because you cannot change. Since you know you are unable change, it makes you helpless to even try. I’m reminded of a lady in one of my customer service seminars who justified her loss of patience and temper with a customer by saying, “I’m just a hot-headed person.” Paraphrasing Popeye, the cartoon character, “I is what I is and that’s all that I is!”

But Mahatma Gandhi taught,“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”  We will not change or take action if we believe we can’t or feel helpless to do so.Gandhi also wrote, “As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world – that is the myth of the atomic age – as in being able to remake ourselves.”Our ability to be aware of our weaknesses and remake ourselves with our independent will is what separates us from all other living creatures. It’s self-defeating to say we can’t!

So, when we think the problem is outside of our control or in others, that very thought is the problem. It’s the blaming that self-betrayers do as they shift responsibility for what’s going wrong to someone or something else or to their genetics.

Street-smart managers do not play the game. When things are not going well, they affirm, “I am the problem.” By becoming the problem, they can become the solution. They know they cannot force or coerce others to change; they must change themselves. If they are not getting the results in their people or their business they want, they do not blame or shame. They ask, “What can I do differently?” Instead of using their creativity to worry like most adults; they use their creativity and imagination to discover new solutions and new actions.

When your life or business is not working, don’t look for someone or something to blame. Don’t play the game. (By the way, if others are listening, it takes only minutes to tell if you are.) Playing will only create frustration, disappointment, and anger. It will make you feel helpless and hopeless. Blame alleviates your responsibility, but at the same time makes you feel powerless and out of control. It will dampen your motivation and productivity and do the same to those around you. Decide to be the solution, not the problem! It’s easier and more effective.


Sam Allman is president of Allman Consulting and Training. He is an internationally recognized motivational speaker, consultant, trainer and author who delivers inspiring programs in areas such as leadership, customer service, management development, team building, retail sales and personal quality management. He has developed many audio and video programs and has created hundreds of training and educational learning systems.

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