top of page
  • ybethel

The Anatomy of Blame

Updated: Jan 2, 2023

I always marvel when I sit in meetings when assigned actions were not taken and the responsible Manger would say, “I gave that project to one of my supervisors and they were unable to finish.” The underlying message in this blaming statement is that the manager delegated the responsibility so he doesn’t have to be held accountable.

What is Blame?

When you blame others for your short comings you are appointing fault or responsibility to someone else in an effort to distract attention from your responsibility. This approach can slow down the decision making process in some companies as the issue degenerates and becomes “Who’s fault is it?” instead of, “What went wrong and how can we fix it?”

We all play a part in unmet goals. If you are a leader, it may be as simple as seeing someone struggling and not offering assistance because it is their job or it may be that your instructions were not clear. Whatever the reason, blame is based on your perception of the facts and people who become agile blamers are usually great at the art of spin.

Blame is usually intended as a criticism and is driven by emotions. It is really a form of cowardice, a lack of courage to admit to your mistakes or short comings. It sometimes happens in the presence of the person being blamed. In cases like this, the person being blamed may not feel they are in a position to contradict the blamer because of their influence or position. This is just as cowardly as blaming someone in their absence.

Types of Blame

Finger pointing: This is a straightforward form of blame. It is about using your perception of the situation to formulate a way to displace fault.

"You” Language: When you use “You” language you point out how someone else contributed to the situation overlooking your involvement. It takes you out of the equation altogether and is perceived as an attack.

Excuses: Many people come up with rational, compelling excuses and expect accountability to be waived. The bottom line is that the project or assignment should be done and an authentic discussion should occur if you were unable to do something. Take ownership and make a commitment to correct the situation.

Planting the seeds of doubt: Some people have a system of blame they develop over time by planting seeds of doubt about someone else. This is done by questioning people’s competencies or relentlessly pointing out their shortcomings. Constant complaining is another tactic. Persons who use these tactics usually do this behind the backs of their coworkers when something goes wrong it is very easy to assign blame because you set the stage. Sometimes this approach works so seamlessly that the blame will automatically shift to the persons.

Why does blame happen (root causes)?

Blame usually occurs when there is fear and distrust. In an office environment, when accountabilities and responsibilities are not clearly defined in job descriptions there can be misunderstandings caused by responsibility overlap. As a leader, one of the first steps in ensuring you create the groundwork for an environment for professionalism and collaboration is to prepare job descriptions.

Blame is a self preservation tactic. It is used to cover up your perceived incompetence because you are afraid of embarrassment or being attacked. Some of us prefer to deflect than to suffer humiliation. Another reason why blame occurs as a self preservation tactic is because a person may read any form of criticism, constructive or otherwise, as an attack. Rather than suffer through a perceived attack, they prefer to deflect responsibility.

Another reason why people may blame others is because they link performance to their earning potential. They don’t want their salary increase or bonus to be affected by anything or anyone so they protect their earning potential by blaming others. Always keep in mind that making yourself look good by making others appear incompetent is not a sound tactic. It can catch up with you and expose you.

There are people who assign their self worth to being perfect. They fear any perceived form of failure. They associate failure, no matter how small, with reputational risk not realizing they are sacrificing their reputation by blaming.

There is another type of person who blames others because of jealousy. They feel you should not have gotten that promotion or you should not be making more money than them. They perceive agrave injustice has taken place and they are seeking to restructure the playing field by proving themselves more suitable for your job.

The Aftermath of Blame

Blame is a destroyer of trust. At its root is a lack of integrity and a lack of emotional discipline. Here is how it can affect your team:

  • Reduced productivity

  • Reciprocal doubt – When doubt is created, it has a way of being reflected back at the person who created the doubt because distrust moves like a virus.

  • The real team issues may remain undefined and unattended because they are buried beneath the blame game.

  • No-one can win the blame game. If you are a blamer, it may appear that you have won but you are whittling away the trust of the team.

  • Creating a Blame Free Environment

  • Take appropriate responsibility

There are people who take responsibility for more issues than they should and there are others who take responsibility for nothing at all. If you are assigned a project, whether or not you delegated the project or parts of it, you are responsible until the goals are met. If things didn’t go the way you planned, ask yourself questions like, “What part did I play in the creation of this situation?” “What could I have done differently?”

How to Avoid Setting up a Situation for Blame

Build your integrity: Admit when you are wrong, say what you intend to do to correct the situation and then correct it. If you are a leader, remember, don’t blame your team, they are an extension of you.

Focus on What Happened, Not Who Was as Fault: In this way you don't automatically create opportunities for deflection, denial and cover-up. You will still determine who did it if you take this route.

Avoid taking sides: In many instances multiple parties contributed to the situation.

Stick to the facts: If you can extrapolate the facts and focus on a solution you can get things done. Otherwise you will get mired in unproductive discussions about who is at fault. Use discernment to understand the real issues and then set the objective to take a fair course of action

Use emotional intelligence to change your blaming behavior: Identify your emotional patterns: Do you feel destabilized when something goes wrong? Is blaming someone else an optimal solution for you and the team? Once you identify your emotions and patterns, take responsibility for the circumstances. Fear usually drives blaming behavior. Identify your fears and take concrete steps to overcome them.

Think about the consequences of your actions: As a leader or member of a team you should always be aware of the possible outcomes of your actions or inaction. If you can master this skill and think about possible consequences of your actions and course correct, you can proactively seek to circumvent problematic outcomes.


As a leader, manage blaming discussions by focusing the group on the facts and not taking sides. Also, remember to recognize your biases or assumptions. Blamers will always come to you with spin and draw you into their web if you allow them.

Protecting yourself from blame

You can’t stop anyone from blaming you for anything but you can nullify the effects of blame by establishing sound relationships with your coworkers and boss.

One way to do this is to let your boss know what you are doing. We tend to feel we shouldn’t have to “blow our own horns” but keeping your boss in the loop (within reason) can protect you. Be sure your boss and coworkers have facts that can be proven so that other people’s opinions can’t compromise your efforts.

This means you need to communicate effectively. Keep in mind that some of the right people to communicate with need not be the bosses. There may be persons of influence at lower ranks within the organization that your bosses and coworkers listen to and trust.

Maintain your integrity. Be someone your boss can trust so if you say something, you will be believed and respected. Especially when things go wrong and your coworkers are actively pointing their fingers at you.

With knowledge gained from over 30 years of Fortune 500 and consulting experience, Yvette shares her rich experience and proprietary model for changing businesses from the inside out. She is a thought leader in the areas of trust, leadership and organizational ecosystems, an award winning author and cultural consultant.


bottom of page