Attitude Adjustment: Nobody Wins the Blame Game
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6 Ways to Optimize Performance Through Openness & Accountability

By: Ethan Schutz

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” — Victor Frankel, survivor of a Nazi concentration camp, Man’s Search for Meaning

Attitude is the lubricant that makes our organizations hum. When we have positive attitudes, problems are simply obstacles to overcome. With negative attitudes, problems seem like potential disasters and the source of much drama, dysfunction, and frustration, all of which leads to poor business results. The key, it would seem, is to promote a Continuous Positive Attitude in every person throughout the organization through our company culture.

But first, what specifically does this attitude look like? We usually have an intuitive sense of the attitude that we would like to see in others, but often lack the exact words to describe it. Here’s a simple, yet very powerful attitude to adopt:

In all situations, each and every person is 100% responsible for the situation and no one is to blame.

Let’s explore each part of this.

“Every person is 100% responsible” means that each one of us is fully responsible for everything that we do and choose not to do, as well as everything we say and choose not to say. This is not blaming. Instead, this is simply being aware that every single one of us is choosing our behavior at every moment and in any group of people. If we look for the ways in which we can solve problems and move work forward, we increase our chances of being productive, efficient, and successful.

Because each one of us is fully responsible for our own behavior, it means that we are all contributing to the situation as it is, no matter what situation we have. If any one person were to change what they are doing, the situation becomes something else. Instead of blaming other people for our fate, this reorients each and every person’s search for solutions.

So, why would we choose to take on 100% responsibility? Clearly, other people contribute and at times fail, sabotage, don’t have our best interests at heart, or act only for themselves. All of these things may be true but taking a purely defensive stance and making certain that other people do not malign, sabotage, undermine, or beat us results in a zero-sum game. With that attitude, the best we can do is avoid all problems. There is little room for achieving greatness when we are simply defending ourselves against anticipated attacks.

Taking 100% responsibility is not the same as saying we will accept attacks from other people or take on responsibility for actions that we did not do. It is neither self-blame nor self-protection. It is also not looking to pin accountability and blame others. Rather, taking 100% responsibility means continually looking for the ways in which we are contributing to what is happening and how each of us can contribute to solutions. In this way, we keep relentlessly focused on moving toward our goals and viewing obstacles simply as problems to be solved together.

No one is to blame. At first, the idea that no one is to blame can sound idealistic or even foolish. After all, we are human; we make mistakes and do bad things at times. But blame doesn’t solve problems. Notice how much emphasis is put on assigning blame in the world and how little it resolves anything. The news is full of reports of terrible things happening with much of the emphasis on who is the responsible—blamed—party. In our organizations, “accountability” is often a euphemism for who will be blamed if something goes wrong. All this blame demonstrates where we put our time and energy, which could otherwise be put toward productive use.

What happens when you stop the blame game?

Real change can happen when we slow down enough to notice how our own attitude affects others and actually helps to create the situations we don’t want. By treating people as incapable, we prompt behavior in others that we don’t like. Returning to our example of the health care facility launch, a critical moment was reached when the team started to look purposefully for the ways in which other people were making effort, contributing, and learning, rather than unconsciously focusing on what they were not doing well. The team started to monitor their own attitudes. When they noticed that they were viewing others as incompetent or stupid, they stopped, took a breath, and said nothing for a few moments. Inside, they would ask themselves what attitude they wanted to have. These seemingly simple momentary pauses made it easier to maintain and model a positive attitude.

Choosing to be positive helped the team change the way they interacted. They began to listen to each other to understand rather than to correct. When they didn’t understand somebody else’s point of view, instead of assuming they were crazy, they asked another question so they could understand the reasoning in the other person’s terms. Even when they disagreed.

Shifting to a positive attitude is an important first step. Maintaining that outlook and making it intrinsic to the company culture is the next challenge the team faced.