Dealing with the finger of blame

Many years ago I was sent to a management training meeting with the top guy in our company and he told me about the ‘finger of blame’.

At the time I thought he’d invented it but as I’ve seen it all over the place since I suspect that was merely naivety on the part of a very young manager!

Put simply the theory is that when the finger of blame points outwards, three fingers point back.

This is very useful because it shows the ratio that you should use when not only apportioning blame but thinking about remedies.

So look, as far as I am concerned blaming someone else for something that has gone wrong is largely counterproductive*. In fact there’s very little (if anything) positive that can come of it.

Blaming someone else for a problem just means that you can absolve yourself of all responsibility for making sure it doesn’t happen again in the future.

Blaming someone else for a problem just means that you can absolve yourself of all responsibility for making sure it doesn’t happen again

A little story

This is a true story although I’ve changed the name to protect the not so innocent.

I saw Dave in town and asked him how it was going.

“Terrible” he said, “I’ve just been flooded out at the factory and the water has destroyed loads of stock.”

“It’s all the council’s fault” he continued “they should have made the banks higher round the river”

“Oh” I said

“and British Waterways, they should have dredged the river so that it flowed faster and didn’t break its banks”

“Oh” I said

“And as for that manager of mine, Steve, he didn’t even bother to lift all the stuff off the floor. And don’t get me started on the weather forecasters, they said there wouldn’t be any more rain!”

So by the time he’d took a breath he’d blamed Steve, BBC Weather, British Waterways and his local council. It certainly did sound like everyone was against him.

I tried to find a positive “At least you’ll have the insurance money to fall back on” I said.

“Oh I don’t believe in insurance” said Dave.

Taking something positive

So Dave was in a really bad position.

Now he COULD have made alterations to the building he was in to avoid being flooded.

or he could have asked Steve to raise the stock off the floor or he could even have insured his business but none of that would help now.

The only positive thing that Dave could take from this situation is to learn something.

But whilst he was blaming everyone else he wasn’t thinking about how he could do things differently in the future. So he wasn’t learning.

And the whole situation was negative.

So what should you do?

Whenever something bad happens you should resist the temptation to blame anyone else.

I know it’s hard, we all struggle with this but you need to get something positive out of your very own flood.

The technique I use is to simply ask myself “What could I have done differently that would have affected the outcome”?

Caveat here: you can’t always predict or avoid bad things happening. Sometimes you have to give yourself a break.

Bad things happen to everyone and you’ll never be able to avoid them.

So next time something bad happens to you, resist temptation and just ask yourself what you could have done differently and get something positive out of a bad situation.

*So here’s some of the bad things that happen when you blame someone else; They get defensive, They bear a grudge against you, you look petty, it fills the air with negativity, your team think that’s the way to behave, you look like a really crappy manager and a really crappy person, nothing actually gets fixed.

Please comment below if you can think of any others.

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