“A man can fail many times, but he isn’t a failure until he begins to blame somebody else.” ~John Burroughs
Do you believe that in a perfect world everything would go right every time? At the beginning that sounds pretty nice, especially if it is a radical change from your present circumstances. In our fantasies, things work out, we get the “yes”, and events go exactly as we planned. The problem is that certainty can get boring, so we tinker, we try new things, and we experiment. That’s when it happens:
Sometimes things go wrong.
What you do next is the thing that makes all the difference. Is it your common response to cast about for who messed up? That might seem practical: after all, until you know who made the mistake, you can’t fix it. Do you look for what went wrong? Not just people are involved; there are things and there are processes. Perhaps one of them is faulty. Who was in charge anyway? Maybe it was a failure of leadership or instruction or training—after all, the buck has to stop somewhere.Advertising
Before we head down these roads, we need to check one thing: What is our intent in this inquiry? Are we looking for someone to pin it on? Are we looking for something to “fix”? Are we looking for a leader to denounce?
These are the common motivators. In politics, business, and the social scene, a favorite pastime is finding fault. News television is full of talking heads who are assigning blame everywhere and rallying to replace those at fault. Unfortunately, their replacements become the next targets and the cycle continues.
Only a few are strong enough to accept blame and take responsibility when something goes south. Only a subset of those strong individuals manages to hang on to face their next scrutiny. but there are such persons and we can model ourselves after them. What do they do differently than those who run from the blame?Advertising
Before we go further, we need to get some definitions straight. What is blame, what is fault, and what is responsibility?
- To be responsible is to be answerable or accountable. It means that we will be measured.
- To be at fault is to be responsible for a failure or worse, a wrongful act.
- Finally, to blame is not just to hold responsible but to find fault with.
How to Approach Responsibility
There are ways to approach responsibility that work and ways that don’t. Let’s start with the latter. When our focus is on blame, it is all about finding someone to get. It turns focus away from what went wrong and how to keep it from going wrong again. It is judgmental and vindictive.
Blame is often used to divert attention away from ourselves. After all, we don’t want the blame—who ever wants to be “at fault”? But the blame game shows a lack of understanding of what responsibility fundamentally is. Responsibility cannot be assigned after the fact even though many attempt to do so. Responsibility was always present, even if it was not acknowledged. When you start to realize this, you stop blaming others. You begin focusing on your own role, whether in action or in abdication.Advertising
This is a moment of clarity but some folks lose it immediately by making one critical error: they replace blaming others with blaming themselves. This turns into self-recrimination, self-judgment and self-hatred. Blaming yourself is not the same thing as taking responsibility: In fact, it is a way to avoid taking responsibility.
The focus of blame is to find fault. Its objective is judgmental to its core. Finding yourself guilty is not going to change anything, fix anything or improve anything. Taking responsibility, on the other hand, has a superior objective—it is all about accountability. It is an assignment, not a verdict. When something is assigned to us, we take care to manage it, protect it, and make it successful, so in circumstances where many go from blame to self-blame, can you see the superior path of focusing on assignment? Whatever happened is now a provider of new and useful information, rather than a distraction from your objectives like blame can be.Advertising
There is one other turn of a phrase we must be wary of. That phrase is “to hold responsible”. Yes, it has “responsible” in it, but don’t be fooled: the active word is “hold”. It’s just a stand-in for finding fault. Remember, responsibility just is, and it was, but it cannot be assigned after the fact. A better phrase to embrace is “to accept responsibility”. It is best if you do it in advance. It is painful if you have to do it after the fact but keep in mind that your acceptance didn’t bring your responsibility into existence, it was already present.
If responsibility is sounding like a serious matter, it is, but it isn’t a circus like blame and faultfinding. Take responsibility mindfully and stay away from blame. If you do, you will find that things calm down and get clearer. It feels better to be responsible than to merely endure the blame.
The Gentle Art of Saying No
It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.
But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.
What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.
But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:
- Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
- Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
- Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
- Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
- Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
- Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
- Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
- Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
- Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
- It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.
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