The Blame Game

by Alli Polin on July 2, 2013

just stop playing the blame game

This weekend our house was full of little children, parents and grandparents, all convened to welcome our family back home for our visit to the USA.  A fly on the wall would confirm that there was lots of laughter interspersed with intermittent yelling, biting, screaming and crying too.   The screaming and crying was mostly from the children and the yelling primarily came from the adults that were fiercely protective of their little angels.

Over and over one or two children would come running up from the basement, the kid-zone, to report on recent injuries and hurt feelings.

“What happened?”

“Max is pushing.”

“Oscar is not sharing.”

“Jamie is not playing fair.”

The adults would quickly take the word of kids, ranging from ages three to nine, as the gospel, get ready to place the blame, and punish the perpetrator.  Seriously?

Why are we so quick to berate and what role does our desire to have a scapegoat play in teaching the behavior of “passing the buck?”  Ask a three-year-old if they colored on the wall, they’ll say “yes!”  Yell at them and tell them how bad they are, and the next time they do it, they’ll quickly learn to deny it or point the finger at another child instead.  We need to keep our focus on behavior “what you did was really bad” vs focus on the person “you’re so bad.”

How does this show up at work and in our adult lives?  We become masters of the blame game and far less skilled with collaboration, accountability and responsibility.

When a work project or a personal relationship fails, we hear the same answers that the children had for the adults this weekend.

“What happened?”

Pushing, not sharing, not playing fair, hoarding information, not enough time, limited resources, ganging up on me, I hit them because they hit me first, on and on. 

Ending the Blame Game

Stop the finger-pointing and placing blame.  It doesn’t matter what others do, it does matter what you choose to do.

Take responsibility

You may not be solely responsible for the situation but you are in the mix.  Stop living as if everything happens to you and take responsibility for your role.

Life isn’t fair

You’ve been wronged, someone threw some big-time obstacles in your path, and the stars did not align.  So what?  Accept the challenges and keep moving forward; don’t waste your time complaining and finger-pointing.

Work together

With the kids, they needed to work together to clean the messy basement no matter who took out most of the toys.  At work, instead of getting hung up that one co-worker can’t get the job done and is holding up the team, help them.  In your relationship, instead of yelling that friends can’t come to the house because it’s such a disaster, clean it together.

Get it done

Scapegoats don’t stick around forever, they either get frustrated or fired and either way they’re eventually out of the picture.  Instead of listing all the reasons why you’re golden and everyone else messed things up for you, the team, or the project, just get it done. It’s a much better story to tell about how you tapped into relationships, supported your friends and colleagues, stepped up into your personal leadership and simply got things done.  No bullying, no histrionics –  it’s called leadership. 

This weekend, eventually, the question for the kids became:

“Is someone bleeding?  If not, work it out.”

Take on the same challenge:  Stop placing blame.  Work it out.

How have you put an end to the blame game?  What advice do you have for others?

(Photo credit)

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Kaarina Dillabough July 2, 2013 at 8:09 am

Favourite line? “Is someone bleeding? If not, work it out.” That just makes my day! Cheers! Kaarina


Alli Polin July 2, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Thanks, Kaarina! Not so sure my kids liked that line when I said it to them. 😉


Lalita Raman July 2, 2013 at 10:12 am

Good post Alli. Blame game is something so easy to engage in yet so disheartening and discouraging. We have issues with the behavior or an act & yet we dispel the person not the act.
Generalization and stereotypes results from the blame game too.

Great post


Alli Polin July 2, 2013 at 8:24 pm

Absolutely, Lalita. More often than not we generalize the blame to the person instead of focusing on the behavior. We start when kids are young too and by the time they enter the world of work it’s second nature. It’s time to teach another way. Many thanks for sharing your insights here!


Lolly Daskal July 2, 2013 at 10:55 am

Great post.

I always used to tell my kids, when you point your finger at someone else, you usually have three other fingers pointing back at you.

Stop the blame game is a great article thanks for sharing.



Alli Polin July 2, 2013 at 8:26 pm

I love that, Lolly! So true. Going to share it with my own children now! It’s an image that adults and children alike should bring to mind when they are quick to blame others. Appreciate you!


Karen Jolly July 2, 2013 at 12:10 pm

I love this post Alli – the blame game is one of the biggest energy wasters of all time. Life gets so fun and exciting when we take responsibility for everything in our lives. And the wonderful thing you discover is that once you are taking responsibility instead of blaming – you don’t feel such a need to protect yourself.

Isn’t it funny how many things we are taught when we are young that we have to UN-learn as grown-ups. Maybe we’ll finally catch on enough to stop passing this stuff on to the kids. 🙂

Thank you for this Mindset of the Day: “It doesn’t matter what others do, it does matter what you choose to do.” Love it!!!


Alli Polin July 2, 2013 at 9:39 pm

Karen – I appreciate you and the joy you have for being alive so much! You’re right! When we take responsibility, life is good! We own our experience, choices and responses – we get to create our own stories instead of being the victim of someone else’s evil ways. Blame gets in the way of fully stepping into our lives and co-creating solutions instead of throwing our hands up in the air in defeat.

You’re right – we do need to un-learn a lot as grown ups. It’s time to start out owning our truth and helping the next generation create a legacy of personal ownership for individual and shared success.


Johann Gauthier July 2, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Once again Alli you bring smiles to my face !
reading you on a weekly basis has become part of my personal and work routine !
I’ve scooped your post on #leadwithgiants.
You are so right. Blaming others may feel good, elevates our ego, but what does it do to relationships? It destroys them…
Talk about uplifting leadership!
It’s easy to blame for it detracts attention to our own issues. Values should drive all relationships and behaviours. Your post hits it out of the park on this level. Plus I so much like when you’re drawing personal stories into the mix, perhaps because I’m also a parent and know exactly what you’re talking about.
Then we choose / decide what’s better!


Alli Polin July 2, 2013 at 9:20 pm

You really hit the nail on the head, Johann – Blame destroys trust and relationships. Blame says that I’m more important than you and that is simply false.

It’s amazing that when we watch our children and the way that we engage with them how much we learn about ourselves. Leadership lessons are everywhere one we are open to seeing them!

Many thanks, Johann!


Terri Klass July 2, 2013 at 5:00 pm

I really loved your post, Alli, and couldn’t stop laughing as it brought me back to some whacky times with the kids! But you are right that it does begin in childhood where we learn to blame others instead of taking responsibility. We are actually taught to do that. After all, who wants to be yelled at? The truth is that we have it within our power to help out during difficult times and be the team members we want to model. It is merely a mindset shift. Thanks for sharing your family visit with us and reminding us to be accountable. It’s really not that hard.


Alli Polin July 2, 2013 at 9:22 pm

I think you’re right, Terri – it is a mindset shift. We learn for so long growing up to blame someone else and to distance ourselves from what’s going wrong instead of working together to make things go right.

I learn from my kids every day and I love that I have people like you to learn from as well!!


Alice Chan July 3, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Alli, another great way of drawing the connection between children/home life and leadership. This piece reminds me of an old boss who had a reputation for going on the “witch hunt” all the time and having a “penalty box” in which someone’s always there. We all made darn sure we weren’t in it! We spent a disproportionate amount of time trying to figure out who to blame for something not going perfectly, instead of what needs to be improved or how do we allay our client’s displeasure. If we spent more of our energy solving the problem and moving forward, instead of the “witch hunt,” all of us would fee better and our time would be spent more productively. So, my suggestion is to focus the bulk of our time and energy on the solution and not who was responsible for creating the problem, beyond what understanding we may need to prevent the problem from happening again. Thanks again, Alli, and enjoy your family time!


Alli Polin July 3, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Wow, Alice. The “witch hunts” and the “penalty box” – I can see why blame was a part of the culture! Avoidance is a powerful motivator. I agree with you – focus on the solution instead of lingering on the problem and change will happen. Your story really shows us how blame can create dysfunction in the workplace. I appreciated that you shared here!


Jon Mertz July 5, 2013 at 9:51 am

Yes, this is the only way to make progress forward! We need to work together, take responsibility, and make it happen. Great reminders we need to live each day! Thanks!


Alli Polin July 5, 2013 at 3:28 pm

Absolutely, Jon! Together we are stronger, can accomplish more and are unstoppable. Blame splinters our strength and paves the way for long term failure.


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