When Things Go Wrong, Don’t Play the Blame Game

Flight Formation of Son Tay Raiders

Son Tay Raiders

Reviewing past activities and finding out where things went wrong is not the same as pointing the finger and blaming. Identifying issues is constructive; blaming is destructive.

Sure, it’s natural to want to blame someone or something for your failure. We blame the holidays for a weight gain, we blame our ex for their lack of understanding and empathy, we blame the market for the fact that our savings lost value.

Don’t Be a Victim

There are several problems with this approach. First, things are rarely that simple. Failure can come from a number of different sources, and usually involves several different factors. Choosing just one as the “problem child” means that you can ignore other factors that could have been involved in the failure. Saying that the real estate market is to blame for your lack of ability to sell your house ignores other elements, such as your pricing, the condition of your house, and your Realtor — any one of which has an impact on the situation.

Next, blaming usually involves placing responsibility on an external person or force. Saying that our ex was the reason our marriage failed means that we take no responsibility, and therefore have no way to impact the future. Not only is that ridiculous, it also means that nothing we do now or in the future will make things any different. We’ve placed ourselves firmly in the victim’s role. While that means we might not have to take any responsibility, it also means that we cannot have any impact on the outcome. Since the only thing we can truly impact is our own actions, blaming  others for a poor outcome means that we are giving up any possibility of things being better in the future.

Don’t Fall into Culpability

You might be wondering what’s the difference between identifying problems and blaming is. It comes down to assigning culpability.

Operation Ivory Coast is better known as the Son Tay Raid.  It was an attempt by US Special Forces to liberate American prisoners of war from North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  While the raid was flawlessly executed, it did not free any prisoners.  They had been moved due to flooding in the area a few months before.  The intelligence for the mission was wrong.   Now this would be a perfect place to play the blame game.  Instead, it was an opportunity for learning how to make such operations better.  The mission led to a major reorganization of the United States intelligence community a year later

The best solution is simply to commit to a different decision the next time around.  As I have talked about in After Action Reviews, always look about how to be better, not dwell on failure, yours or others.

In summary, blaming causes hurt feelings, and wastes resources and energy. Find out where things went off track, but don’t worry about whose fault it was.




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