Blame and Responsibility

anger disbeliefYou know the difference, right? Blame drowns in shame while responsibility pulls a wake of pride behind it...or it can.

If your job is to find someone to blame, everyone who could be your someone will be so far under water in shame that they dare not open their mouths. To take in even a sip of the ocean of blame, is to drown in personal shame.

It's a link forged in our toddler years, before we could form coherent thoughts, let alone think logically. This blame-shame connection is buried deeply, subconcious in its action. 

Feeling shame when there is blame in the air is one of the most common of human conditions.

Responsibility is another mother entirely, and one with whom most of us did not grow up.

Here's how it could work: I can take responsibility without shame, because blame is not the point of responsbility. Responsibility says, "I have an impact on people. I am heard and seen. What I do and say matters." Blame says, "You have made (or ARE) a mistake! You have done wrong. You are a 'bad' boy or girl."

Let's suppose that in an interview with a prospective employee, I ask what--for me--is a neutral question, "Why was employment terminated at your last position?" My candidate's response, sharply emotional, pain- and tear-filled, includes a hotly defensive reply of, "I was NOT terminated!"

Clearly my "neutral" question wasn't entirely neutral for him. I hit a nerve with a word choice that held different meanings for us. So I had an unintended and unpredictable impact that hurt. I can take responsibility for my part in that series of events, without shame. i am not 'to blame' for the impact but I am responsible. It's a subtle but significant difference. 

To hold someone responsibile is to see them as answerable or accountable for something. To blame them is to find fault; to censure them for the action for which they're accountable. In the interview example above, I might hold myself accountable by saying, "Oh, I see that my word choice had an unintended impact. I meant to ask why your last employment didn't continue. How did your tenure there come to a close?"

I can only hold myself answerable in this way for unintended harms, when I don't drown myself in shame, censuring myself with fault for the candidate's triggered response. Our human struggle is that the shame/blame pattern is automatically triggered in most of us, because of that early childhood programming. You can't remember it, yet it drives all your emotional responses. 

That is, it does until you make a change. When teams glisten with the 7 Facets of Team Success, including the Independence that separates fault from accountability, this kind of responsibility can become the norm. All it takes is a few "developmental do-overs!"


I am on my way around the country on a speaking tour, and would love to find myself working with your team as I travel through your city! Contact me today to check for dates in your region.


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Dr. L. Carol Scott.

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