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We Need To Rethink Blame Culture In The Workplace Explore what happens when we get more self-honest, and explore any potential unconscious self-honest motivations, endgames, or priorities playing out under the surface.

By Denis Liam Murphy

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Let's start with what we all know to be true: in the workplace, blame prevents collaboration; it stifles creativity, it inhibits learning, and it results in conflict.

Out of interest, I wondered what ChatGPT had to say about this topic, and it was kind enough to offer some solutions. For instance, it suggested encouraging open communication, emphasizing learning, fostering teamwork, all while recognizing and rewarding accountability- but nothing groundbreaking, or anything that we did not already know.

So, the big question here becomes, well, if we are all aware of, or have experienced a culture of "blame" in the workplace, and we have readymade "solutions" that startups and corporates are implementing, what is left to talk about?

And the answer to that question is that we need to understand that to build healthier workplaces and employee cultures, we need to accept blame as a chronic habit that we all have, embrace self-honesty, and acquire a new approach to perceived mistakes and failures- those of our own and others.

The reality is, even with the many helpful tools and techniques we have gained from philosophies like stoicism, and methodologies like emotional intelligence, positive psychology, and growth mindset, blame culture is more prevalent than ever in our workplaces. So, what are we not seeing that is hiding in plain sight?

We are addicted to blame
After 15 years of coaching leaders and high performers worldwide, I see we all have two things in common. We are all unknowingly addicted to blame, and we rely on control as a means of countering the side-effects. But neither are sustainable strategies for profound and widespread change.

It's a new theory, but blame has become an epidemic. We get mad, angry, irritated, shout at people, or argue. We refer to ourselves as stupid, or not good enough. If we are going to be honest with ourselves, we need to ask if we have low self-confidence, or even feel depressed. If you've been people-pleasing lately, walking on eggshells, or trying to hide your imposter syndrome, then these are all symptoms of an addiction to blame.

We rely on control to mask these issues, assuring ourselves and others that we are "happy and confident." Our obsession with permanently appearing positive has created a paralyzing fear (anxiety) around anything we deem as negative. As a result, we've developed thicker skins, unaware of how much we blame, and essentially lie to ourselves, and to each other.

Blame and control manifests itself in just about every conversation we have, consciously or unconsciously. If we want to see a drastic shift in wellness and productivity in ourselves, our teams, and our general workplace culture, then we need a greater awareness of blame, and a different solution to control.

Putting control in the dock for questioning

We tend to treat anything we don't understand in the same way. We blame it for being the enemy and holding us back, and then try to control and conquer it. We do this when forming new habits, overcoming addictions and fears, or when we try to be the master of our mind.

As the impact of blame becomes more widespread, the stoic inspired mindset made a resurgence, where we have been encouraged not to blame external factors or circumstances for our failures or mistakes. Instead, we are being told it is our fault if something goes wrong, so we must take responsibility for our actions, and accept the outcomes of our decisions.

This mindset sounds empowering, because blaming ourselves is a way to feel in control. But control isn't designed to be a long-term strategy, because it requires an excessive amount of energy to maintain. And this is why energy levels are plummeting as coffee and energy drink sales are increasing. Control is a survival-based tool used in fire-fighting solutions in extreme circumstances, like war and real life survival situations.

I believe that blame has transcended its game status to become an addiction, because like a seasoned alcoholic can't imagine a life without alcohol, we can't imagine a world without blame. This is why our current solutions have to involve blame in some way, even if that is directed at ourselves.

Rethinking self-blame

Many new clients come to me feeling dejected and frustrated. After following the popular and fashionable leadership and self-development advice, they have learnt many ways to be positive, while managing, burying, and controlling their fears and honest emotions.

Even if we manage to keep our honest emotions at bay, so that they don't show themselves in obvious ways, they find passive aggressive avenues, or other environments to reveal themselves. And what's more, they become a constant invisible presence influencing how we feel, and impacting the decisions we make in our careers, businesses, and when dealing with employees and clients.

One client assured me that she wasn't blaming, because she was taking radical responsibility, and "learning from her mistakes." These concepts sound logical, progressive, and productive. But again, they feel "right," because they are feeding an addiction that we don't know we have.

This is why my client couldn't sleep. She told me she could no longer shut up her monkey mind when she went to bed. Her many mind-control tools no longer worked. She didn't realize that by placing all the fault on herself for perceived mistakes and failures, and then trying to block out the feedback, this was what was causing her monkey mind and subsequent exhaustion.

In basic terms, her mind and body were trying to help and guide her, but she was blaming and ignoring it all.

I asked my client if she liked the thought of being blamed for doing something that she knew she didn't do, and then to be ignored when she offered her side of the story. Obviously, not. It was a light bulb moment. She realized that she was doing this every minute of the day to herself. Her monkey mind wasn't trying to make her crazy or stop her from sleeping, it was asking to be listened to in a unique way- one that didn't involve blame or control.

There is no doubt we are always learning, but, we have to ask: what we are learning? What skill are we getting better at? We are already experts at blaming (and controlling) others and ourselves, so it is time to get better at a new skill. And that skill centers around getting self-honest.

The era of getting uncomfortably self-honest

The reason we have continued to pass on the same stoic baton from one generation to the next is because the alternative can be uncomfortable. Building up our resilience is easy, compared to accessing all the emotional pain that we have locked away.

With that said, recovering from our blame addiction, and healing from our past painful experiences doesn't have to be hard. Our previous attempts at self-healing, recovery, change and transformation has resembled the Greek myth of Sisyphus pushing a boulder up a hill for eternity, because we have relied on self-control as the primary method.

We have to remind ourselves there is an unconscious part of us, and we are unaware of its influence. Instead of pushing away and controlling those uncomfortable feelings we have been told are negative and holding us back, we want to start listening to them. When you see them as relentless guides helping us find out who we honestly are, and not the enemy doing all they can to hold you back, any thought, feeling and experience is seen as helpful.

By training our perception muscle with creativity and other mind-opening methods, our blame blinkers naturally fall away, giving us access to so much more mental freedom, and real-life opportunities.

Radical self-honesty

One of the things my aforementioned client was beating herself up for was not winning a client pitch. She convinced herself that she had lost her mojo. She thought that she had self-sabotaged her changes, because she made mistakes by saying the wrong things.

This is why self-hatred is so high, and self-confidence and self-esteem are so low. How can we be honestly happy, confident, and create harmonious and productive workplaces and societies, when we are constantly hating on ourselves (and others), and thinking that we are always saying or behaving in the wrong way?

As such, I suggested to my client that there was another way to look at this- to explore what happens when we get more self-honest, and explore any potential unconscious self-honest motivations, endgames, or priorities playing out under the surface.

I wanted to open her mind by questioning the idea she had made mistakes. I asked: is it fair to say "mistakes" are subjective and open to cultural interpretation? What one person sees has gone wrong, an expert will know it is part of the process. Or, to get a little clichéd, what one person sees as something gone wrong, another person will see as an opportunity.

Language is crucial. Artificial intelligence's prompt engineering teaches us that one word can radically change the output. If we keep learning from what we think is a mistake, we will keep getting survival-based, firefighting solutions. This is exhausting, leaving us feeling like victims, and powerless to be the change. It increases fear (anxiety), causing us to focus on avoiding "mistakes," rather than finding creative, long-lasting solutions.

When self-honesty and indisputable facts are part of the prompt, the output is completely different.

The fact is that my client didn't get the deal. So, on some level, I offered that she didn't 100% want to win that client's business. This was uncomfortable to ponder at first, but with some guidance, she became aware that whilst she wanted the business, there was no enthusiasm for this particular client. This showed her that she had unconsciously pitched perfectly to not get the client. She practiced getting more self-honest, and her business doubled in the year that followed.

Redefining Murphy's Law

It can seem counterintuitive at first to see every experience as a self-reflection of our self-honesty, but there is a deep sense of freedom and honest confidence awaiting for anyone who ventures to entertain this possibility. Murphy's Law originally stated that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. I now see it as anything that you think has gone wrong is here to help you discover who you honestly are.

If we continue to keep transferring all the blame onto ourselves, we will always need control to counter the side-effects, and we will never find out who we honestly are. And arguably, this is one of the main reasons that humans are here on earth.

Related: The Pros And Cons Of Starting A Business In The UAE

Denis Liam Murphy

Author, The Blame Game

Denis Liam Murphy is a high-performance coach who is the author of the book, The Blame Game.


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