The Blaming Manager Versus The Problem Solver

Irritated African American female with raised arms looking at camera while shouting loudly near wall in light room at home

Do you empower staff to solve problems or blame for past sins?

Part of the mind-set needed to help you stay balanced, your feet firmly on the
ground, involves understanding the difference between a blaming mind-set and a problem-solving mind-set. After you understand the difference, you must commit to a problem-solving approach. If you don’t, you
become a gasoline thrower.

I’m sure you have come across people who seem to be more interested in finding someone to blame when things go wrong than figuring out why it’s gone wrong and ensuring that it doesn’t happen again. In fact, we listed this as one of the difficult behaviors that people use that drive others crazy.
You know the type. It’s the person who says:

If you hadn’t stalled so much, we’d be on time with this project.

Hey, you didn’t tell me you wanted it that way. How am I supposed to know, read your mind?

Well, I finished the report last week, but Fred obviously didn’t get it typed on time.

The blaming mind-set is a way of thinking that finds someone at fault, rather than focusing on preventing the problem from reoccurring.

The person who is never at fault and constantly blames others for problems drives most of us nuts. It’s easy to recognize when other people behave this way, but it’s a lot harder for us to see it in ourselves. The truth is that most of us go through this blaming process now and again, particularly as we get more frustrated or feel under attack.

As a manager of difficult people and situations, you don’t have the luxury of getting into blaming mode. You can’t use language, either intentionally or unintentionally, that conveys that you are focusing on trying to pin the “blame tail” on a handy donkey. If you do, you are almost guaranteed to make things worse.

The irony of this is that things will get worse even when you’re right about who is to blame — just talking in the blaming mode creates problems.

The other problem with a blaming mind-set, or use of blaming language, is that it doesn’t get us closer to solving the problem. Take a look at the examples we provided. Let’s try the first one: “Hey, if you hadn’t stalled so much, we’d be on time with this project.”

How is this a helpful or useful statement? Does it help us figure out why there was a delay? Does it tell us how to prevent delays from happening? No!

If you think about it, the comment is a jab, something that the person hearing it is going to react to in a negative, defensive, or aggressive way.

What’s the alternative? Certainly, people mess up, and in the case of difficult people, they do things that cause problems for you and others. You can’t ignore it.

Rather than using blame-oriented language and a blame-oriented mind-set, you use a problem-solving mind-set and problem-solving language.

Problem solving is different from blame finding in that it …

➤ focuses on the present and future, not the past.
➤ involves identifying causes and effects of problems.
➤ involves asking more questions to get information rather than stating opinions.
➤ focuses on thinking rather than emotion.
➤ is non accusatory.

Let’s look at an example. Suppose Philip is difficult at a team meeting. He interrupts constantly and acts like he has a chip on his shoulder. You decide to talk to Philip after the meeting (these kinds of things are best done in private).

A blaming tone and mind-set would sound something like this:

You: “Philip, you’re always interrupting people at our meetings you’re annoying, and you’re making the meetings a total waste of time. I want you to stop before you cause more damage.”

Weigh the odds. Do you think this is going to result in a constructive discussion about this difficult behavior? Probably not.

Now, a problem-solving mindset.

You: “Philip, I could be wrong but sometimes I think that you’re a bit frustrated
at some things around here, because you seem less patient at our meetings. Is
that possible?”

Philip: “Yeah, I’m getting pretty tired of a few things, and I don’t figure people
are listening to me in the damn meetings. Frankly, I’d rather not attend.”

You: “OK, why don’t you and I see what’s going on here and see whether we
can find out about the listening part? Let’s talk about the possibility of your
going to only some of the meetings. Does that make sense?”

In this example, you, as the manager, stay balanced. You don’t react emotionally, while trying to find out what is going on. This opens the door to find solutions cooperatively. Notice: no blaming, no accusations.

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