The Language of Blame
Consider these two pairs of statements:
- "We lost the account due to your sloppiness! Now you will be held responsible."
- "If it weren't for your tactlessness, this department would have received a new set of computers!"
- "We lost the account due to something entirely avoidable. This may be held against you."
- "Had you acted more tactfully, this department would have received a new set of computers."
What Difference Does It Make Anyway?
The difference between blame and accountability is particularly significant in the workplace. Fear can induce a person to work, but it cannot cultivate enthusiasm. Fear can also put a person off entirely. Unfortunately, blame doesn't stop at hurting someone. It has the potential to seriously damage a career or a relationship. Fear of being blamed holds people back from acknowledging their mistakes or shortcomings and also destroys opportunities to learn from them. A more productive approach is to hold people accountable. If a mistake is made, it should be acknowledged so that a lesson can be learned for the future. People rarely get fired for making a few small mistakes, but they do lose their jobs if they go on making the same mistakes over and over again.
Holding someone accountable is different from blaming. Blaming is malicious and has the capacity to injure. Holding someone accountable, on the other hand, requires the person to take responsibility. The biggest difference between the two approaches is their effectiveness when it comes to encouraging employees to learn from problems so that future mistakes can be avoided.
Fear of getting blamed prevents new thoughts and ideas from taking wing. How we hate to hear someone say, "This sounds like a good idea, but if it backfires, you will be solely responsible!" Comments like this very effectively nip new ideas in the bud. But with some minor linguistic changes, the same sentiment can be expressed in an encouraging manner.
Mistakes cannot be ignored. Nor can we gloss over them with evasive language. It is important to face mistakes and learn from them. Mistakes must contribute to the quest for perfection and growth. Blaming someone for a mistake allows neither of these things to happen. In the process, it tears down existing structures of confidence and passion—vital ingredients for professional development.