Why People Blame Others


Imagine your boss screws up – everyone screws
up from time to time – but they blame you for their mistake. You could speak up, but most likely you’ll
have to take the heat for something you never did – or blame it on someone else below
you. This is often called the kick-the-dog effect. It seems like this is a natural psychological
reaction most of us have. But that doesn’t mean we should do it. This is the first episode of my Field Guide
to Bad Behaviour. Let’s take a journey into the wild to spot
crappy behaviours and discuss how to manage or avoid them. In the challenge for survival in society,
a human may use blame shifting, which is defined as the act of attributing a personal failure
to another human or event. Camouflaging as an innocuous behavior, blame
shifting is unusually pandemic over a large area of the planet and plays an influential
role in shaping the ecosystem of human relationships, sometimes even causing chain reactions leading
to the eruption of disasters. Blame shifting is easy to spot. It tends to hop back and forth over several
entities. One prominent sign to look for is finger-pointing. You are more likely to find it alongside certain
personality traits. Pessimists and narcissists are more likely
than others to ditch responsibility for their mistakes. Side note: It is important to note a highly
perilous subspecies of blame shifting, called victim blaming, which we’ll cover in a future
episode. Blame shifting can easily thrive in a closed
small environment, but due to its highly contagious nature it can spread in large organizations
as well. Researchers have found that when people are
exposed to blame shifting by a politician they are more likely to copy the behavior
themselves. In one study, participants were split into
two groups and read a news clip about a failure of former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In one group’s clip, the governor took full
ownership of the failure. Though in the other group, the governor blamed
special interest advocates for his failure. Later when participants wrote about an unrelated
personal failure, the group exposed to blame-shifting were twice as likely as the other group to
blame someone else for their own mistakes. Researchers called it blame contagion. When the spread of blame shifting is not controlled
it becomes embedded in the culture of a group and leads to lower creativity, reduction in
innovation and bad performance. It can even cause great consequences. The Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003,
for example, is linked to an outbreak of excuse making and finger pointing in NASA’s culture
over a period of time. Now people shift blame to protect their self-image. But it backfires. Serial blame-shifters are often perceived
negatively. For example, research shows leaders and managers
who ditch responsibility for their mistakes are ultimately perceived as powerless. But you can be better! With careful actions, you can reduce the prevalence
of blame-shifting. The solution: take responsibility when you
should. While it might hurt at first, ultimately it
will help everyone problem solve, cooperate and develop mutual respect. When it’s not your responsibility, prevent
contagion by being more intentional about what you say publicly and privately. Think of giving praise for a job well done
publicly, and offer constructive criticism in private. The human ecosystem can be a dangerous environment
to navigate – overpopulated with bad behaviours. So please endeavour to take necessary precautions
and make sure you have the right equipment with you: mainly thoughtfulness, intelligence
and knowledge. Until next time.

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