The Problem with Pointing Fingers

Bob Larson, CPC

Career Report

September 2018 Issue – 223

The Problem with Pointing Fingers

When things go wrong at work and mistakes result in a problem or even the loss of business, employees often get annoyed and want to place the blame on someone. But before pointing a finger at a follow employee, it’s important to take a step back and look closely at the situation. In the following Q&A feature article from The New York Times, careers columnist Eilene Zimmerman provides some important insight on the subject while also offering guidance on the importance of crediting employees for their good work when credit is due.

  1. How can you place the blame for a problem or mistake in an acceptable, professional way?

The last thing you want is a reputation for throwing co-workers under the bus, the article pointed out. Instead, it’s far more politically savvy and productive to approach the mistake as a team problem. “Recommend a post-mortem analysis of what happened, where you look at the chain of events, what occurred and what didn’t, and questions get answered in a good-faith process,” said Ben Dattner, a management consultant and author of “The Blame Game: How the Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure.”

Even if it was clearly just one person who made the mistake, it’s helpful to look at ways the entire team can make sure the error isn’t repeated. Jodi Glickman, president of Great On The Job, a communications training firm in Chicago, said that little is accomplished by focusing on one person’s mistake. “It’s not about the one error,” she said. “It’s about the breakdown in communications or the lack of understanding of responsibilities.”

You can, however, speak privately to the person, letting him or her know you are aware that the mistake is their responsibility, and ask how you could help prevent it from happening again.

  1. What if someone blames you for something that isn’t your fault? Can you protect yourself without seeming overly defensive or childish?

Avoid a knee-jerk response and take a step back instead, said Lynn Taylor, chief executive of a workplace productivity firm in Santa Monica, Calif., and author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant.” She suggests putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to try to understand why he or she is blaming you. Show empathy to help defuse the tension, letting the person know you understand that there is reason for concern.

Keep your tone professional, and stick to the facts. Acknowledge that while you weren’t involved with the problem, you will be happy to help resolve it.

How does all the finger-pointing in a workplace affect its culture?

Unfortunately, finger-pointing or scape-goating is fairly common, said Jill A. Brown, an assistant professor of Management at Lehigh University. When people are insecure, they tend to shirk responsibility for their mistakes, she said. Indeed, a culture of blame can create a very difficult work environment, added Alina Tugend, who writes the Shortcuts column for The New York Times and is author of “Better By Mistake.”

Research shows that people in the workplace tend to copy blaming as a behavior, whether consciously or unconsciously, thus perpetrating the problem, Tugend told the newspaper. “Conversely,” she added, “when people see others taking responsibility for their mistakes or failures, they also copy that, creating a better overall work environment.”

Giving and receiving credit for a job well done is important, too. What’s the right way to give credit to others?

Credit motivates employees, Dattner said, and when there is a lack of it, people become demoralized and disengaged. But make sure that the amount of credit you give is commensurate with the accomplishment. “If it’s a small thing someone did, for example, don’t make it a public event,” Taylor added. Instead, thank the person privately or by e-mail – and be specific about what you’re acknowledging.

And be sure to give credit only when it’s truly deserved and then do so in a variety of ways and places – at meetings, during a lunch, in an e-mail, by text or by memo, using different language each time, she said.

Although acknowledging others is important for overall morale, does it benefit you directly in any way?

Giving credit to others publicly positions you as a leader, Brown said, because the ability to give credit is an important dimension of leadership. It also makes others want to work with you and for you. “If you share credit, are conscious of other people’s agendas and are always trying to make colleagues look good, people will love you,” Glickman added. “They will want to be on your team.”

News from BLK

Unemployment continues at a record low and employment shortages continue to become more severe in the technology sector.  Although wage inflation has not materialized in the general labor market we are witnessing a sharp rise in IT Developers hourly rates as the competition in this niche continues to become more competitive.

At Berman Larson Kane we continue to do our best to service our clients’ needs in several sectors with the IT developers talent niche is challenged.

As for looking ahead we are optimistic that employment will remain strong for the remainder of the year and well into 2019.  We thank all for your support and continue to build our potential talent cues to service our job-seekers and hiring managers.

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