Who are the winners in the Blame Game?
I have been at the end of the finger tip of finger pointer – someone who employs the Blame Game to avoid taking responsibility for a making a mistake or exercising bad judgment. It is an uncomfortable position to be in and I have rarely escaped the experience unscathed. When the finger pointing begins, it destroys trust among peers and lessens the confidence within the group structure. The Blame Game can be played in personal life, among family and friends, as well as in professional careers. It is an ugly game, one which creates drama and chaos for all involved. I have been a mere pawn to a focused target of Blame Gamers. Who are Blame Gamers? Why do they need to play this game?
The Blame Gamers: The Mentally Ill
I grew up in a family that had a mentally ill person as its matriarch. Diagnosed with a Cluster B personality disorder, my mother struggled with telling the truth as well as taking responsibility for her mistakes and poor choices. I now understand that she didn’t ask to be burdened with this disorder. It was just reality – an unfortunate state of existence. From my very earliest childhood memories, I watched my mom play the Blame Game throughout her life.
When the Blame Gamer is mentally ill, the use of boundaries is an important coping mechanism and healthy defense strategy. I have learned, from personal experience, that a mentally ill person cannot accept responsibility for their poor choices and mistakes. They truly are incapable to accept this responsibility due to their illness. The compassionate response is to acknowledge that the person cannot make healthy, rational decisions. Their ability to think through problems and adjust to obstacles is limited because of their illness. It doesn’t make their behavior right or correct – it’s just the way it is. They seem compelled to tell a lie or point a finger to get out of trouble and recover from mistakes.
The Blame Gamers: The Over-Extender
People who over-extend often struggle to meet deadlines. Why? They accept more work than they have the time available to fulfill these obligations. There seems to be two major types of over-extenders:
A) People who are motivated to accept responsibilities to appear important and receive recognition;
B) People who are motivated to accept responsibilities to be helpful and have good intentions.
Though the motivation and situations drastically differ, the end result is still the same – people who don’t have the time to fulfill their responsibilities. As tasks slip through the cracks and deadlines are not met, some people find it difficult to take responsibility and admit failure. Pointing the finger at someone is a choice some people make, instead of apologizing for over-extending.
I have successfully defended myself against those individuals motivated by recognition and flattery. Their self-serving motivation becomes transparent to all involved parties. On the other hand, the people who selflessly give of their time but lack time management skills are usually more successful with the Blame Game. They are typically decent people who just seem unwilling to accept responsibility for ‘dropping the ball’ or making poor time management choices. Perhaps these people are afraid of letting others down? Perhaps they have an inherent need to be people-pleasers? Whatever the underlying cause, these finger-pointers can still create disharmony among a group and harm interpersonal relationships.
The Blame Gamers: The Under-Staffed Workforce
There is a sub-group of over-extenders that can become Blame Gamers, usually of no fault of their own. These are the under-staffed workers – people who have been given more responsibilities than they are physically capable of completing. Company downsizing and the current corporate model of utilizing skeletal work crews are major causes of this problem. Due to the economy, I have met many over-worked, over-extended people – the workload is enormous for the amount of staff. Some people play the Blame Game with their co-workers; the motivating factor is to retain employment. The intense pressure to keep a job has caused a vicious cycle in the American workforce – a cycle that compels co-worker to turn on each other, creating a hostile, unproductive work environment.
The Blame Gamers: The Under-Qualified Employee or Volunteer
When someone is not qualified to do a job or complete an assigned task, he or she will probably experience failure. Some under-qualified people play the Blame Game to maintain employment or salvage their professional reputation. When people are forced to take on responsibilities, due to an under-staffed workforce situation, they often lack the knowledge and experience to perform these additional duties. There are also some people who ‘over-sell’ their qualifications to secure employment, to receive accolades, and to advance in their careers. With time, the under-qualified are eventually ‘weeded out’ of an organization. Some, though, employ the Blame Game to hold onto their position for as long as possible.
My Personal Experience with A Blame Gamer
I admit that I have fallen prey to the play of a Blame Gamer. When I worked at Universal Studios, I allowed a Blame Gamer to influence my opinion of a subordinate. Over time, I realized this person constantly seemed to throw her co-workers ‘under the bus’ whenever a mistake caused a snag in production. She was the first to point a finger, even though the responsibility to complete the task rested firmly on her shoulders. As the production coordinator for Back To The Future – The Animated Series, my job required that I take responsibility for all the script traffic, talent, and scheduling. I was the point of communication between the productions companies, animation studio, and television network. Even though the Blame Gamer made the mistake or failed to complete a task, it was my job – my responsibility – to find out the details and correct the situation.
The network we produced the show for was CBS and the Senior Vice President of Children’s Programming was at the top of the chain of command. I received the highest compliment from her, after admitting a production mistake that would cost several thousands of dollars to fix. Though I was not personally responsible for completing the task that resulted in this mistake, it was my responsibility to acknowledge the mistake and offer suggestions to correct it. Ms. Price, the top CBS honcho, listened to my explanation as I took full responsibility for the mistake. She said to me, “You know, Laura, you are the only person I deal with on a daily basis that actually admits that you make mistakes. You never blow smoke up my ass. You just take responsibility and offer solutions. I like that about you.” She then proceeded to chastise me at great length and then approved the additional cost to fix the problem.
I always knew my job could be on the line whenever I took responsibility for a mistake. I also knew that many mistakes were of my own making. I would forget one small detail and the script revisions would go out late for review. Once, I forgot to copy Legal, which is a huge mistake. I had to hunt down our studio lawyer – at home – and beg him to review the final revision. Needless to say, I personally paid to send him a gift basket to thank him for salvaging my mistake.
Stop Playing the Game and Take Responsibility
One of the most important life lessons I have learned is to just take responsibility for my mistakes and failings. I am human – I am not perfect. I always try to do my best but there are times that I fail. I think taking responsibility for my ‘biffs’ strengthens my character and it can be used as a level of assessment for my integrity. It is inherently difficult to admit failures – it can truly be painful and embarrassing. Pointing the finger at someone else and skirting around responsibility harms others and ultimately hurts the Blame Gamer. It causes a corruption of character and eventually becomes a weakness that is difficult to overcome.
For those who play the Blame Game, I just want to communicate this message: it is okay to make mistakes and to fail. This is an aspect of the human condition. We are flawed, fragile beings. It may cost you a job but you will be stronger in the long run for taking responsibility. It takes a high level of honesty to admit mistakes. Each time you point a finger at someone else, you are chipping away at your integrity and your honor. The real weakness is not in making mistakes – it is refusing to take accountability for failing. The upside to failure is to learn important lessons. You strive to avoid making the same mistakes and reaching the same failed outcomes. It forces you to try new approaches and attempt new ways to complete tasks and solve problems. Without failure, there would be no growth, no success. Be truthful, learn from your mistakes and failings, and triumph when you achieve success. No one wins in the Blame Game – everyone loses in the end.
I have worked with some blame-gamers in my work life and I agree with you 100% that it is OK to make mistakes and would like to add that we often times forget to forgive, both others and ourselves. Forgiveness can soften fear and anger and allow ourselves to present to others in a caring way instead of in an offensive manner.
Excellent point, Joan. Forgiveness and compassion often help to not only overcome the hurts created by blame-gamers but also to deal with the situation more effectively. I never really held the blame-gamer from Universal ‘accountable,’ so to speak. I just realized over time to not take stock in her finger-pointing. If only I had more life experience – I could have possibly stopped this cycle in this situation.