The "Blame Game" is a habit that humans pick-up at a young age. Kids are quick to learn how to pin their mistakes on their siblings, cousins or any other sucker who can get them out of trouble. As they get older, students push responsibility for their failures and shortcomings onto teachers, coaches and peers. You would think that as we mature this behaviour stops, but many adults are guilty of it... some more than others. We've all had those colleagues who are adept at dodging accountability and shifting responsibility -- they're experts at professional dodgeball!
There's no single reason people point blame at others, whether it's intentional or subconscious. It can be a natural form of survival as people try to hide their mistakes to keep their job and avoid consequences. Serial blaming may stem from insecurities, jealousy, office politics or simple dislike for others. It's mostly irrational yet still all too common.
Blame culture, in the workplace or any other aspect your life, is harmful. The aggressive and attacking behaviour hurts feelings, damages relationships, and destroys reputations. It's also contagious, meaning when one person starts laying blame, it begins a vicious circle where others get angry and point blame back. In the end, everybody's now sidestepped accountability and, even worse, absolutely no progress is made on the project at-hand.
Putting an End to the Blame Game
The first step to ending this toxic behaviour is to take a look at your own habits. Things go wrong and mistakes happen, it's a natural part of life. For IT contractors, a bad interview, not getting the interview at all, a project going off the rails -- these are all cases where it's easy to cast blame on the recruiter, manager or team member. While it may be true, there are some important steps to take in order to remain professional:
Point to Facts, Not People. Maintain the big picture of why things went wrong, including the process and environment. Avoid pointing to an individual unless it is absolutely something that was their responsibility.
Admit When You're at Fault. Understand that nothing was 100% outside your control. Take an objective look at what failed and figure out what you could have done differently to prevent that situation and take ownership.
Know Your Responsibilities from the Start. Great communication prevents so many needless problems. When responsibilities are clarified at the beginning of a project, it's less likely there will be mistakes and, if there are, accountability is clear. A tense argument over fault won't be necessary.
While you should refrain from needlessly pointing blame, the same is true on the other side of the scenario -- don't be the person who always accepts responsibility for somebody else's errors. IT contractors are in a position where you get blamed for more than necessary. It's easy for clients and their employees to push responsibility for failures onto you. Even lousy recruiters will tell their boss that you flubbed the interview when, in reality, they didn't prepare you properly. Sure, they all should have been more prepared and communicated better, but why damage their internal relationships when there's a perfectly good contractor to use as a scapegoat? This is where preparation and documentation are key. Double-check responsibilities, ask many detailed questions, and confirm agreements by email, ensuring that if things go wrong, you can back up all of your work.
Whether working on a project or searching for a job, things are going to go wrong. Finding and solving the root of a problem is a difficult process that often includes accepting responsibility and addressing other people's shortfalls... all without hurting relationships. That is not easy. What tricky situations have you found yourself in? Do you think you could have handled them better?