Here’s Why It’s Not My Fault

This is the third and last post in this series. The first can be found here and the second here.

There was a time of my life when I absolutely dreaded being called into someone’s office, because it generally meant one of three things:

  1. I was going to be given more work to do (I already had too much to do and not enough time to do it).
  2. I was going to sit through a meeting that wasn’t going to do anything for me other than take time away from my other tasks.
  3. I was going to be “yelled at” for something falling through the cracks because I was working on other higher priority issues and now this thing was the high priority.

No option was something I wanted to spend my time on.

This is the last of three posts where I’ll go through one option and review how I reacted and an alternate that might have made me (and the people around me happier).

3. I was going to be “yelled at” for something falling through the cracks because I was working on other higher priority issues and now this thing was the high priority.

How I reacted:
I was immediately on the defensive. Explaining why it had fallen through the cracks: I had lots of other high priority, fix it now issues that I was looking at. Oh, and the client didn’t express that this was an important issue when I was reviewing their other high priority issues with them. Basically, I was saying that it’s not my fault and these are the reason why.

An alternate:
First, I want to take a look at the start of the sentence: “I was going to be ‘yelled at.'” Actually, it was rare for me to walk into an office and hear a raised voice in my direction. The times I do remember raised voices were generally after I explained why something wasn’t my fault and took no responsibility for a problem I helped create.

I very rarely accepted responsibility for something falling through the cracks. It pains me to say that now (I’d rather not admit it and avoided writing this post so I wouldn’t have to revisit it). Responsibility and honesty are two important values for me. I wasn’t honest with myself about what was happening and thus avoided taking responsibility for some messes I caused or contributed to.

At the time I didn’t realize that part of the problem was that I wasn’t taking responsibility for my role in things. I felt I was doing the best I could with each situation and I wanted to avoid being “in trouble” as much as possible. “Yelled at” was another way I worded being “in trouble.”

Making a mistake and thus being “in trouble” meant I had done something bad and I would beat myself up over it. At some point I realized that making mistakes is just something that people do unintentionally. It’s not good or bad, it just is. And instead of beating myself up over it I can look at what actions led up to the mistake and what I can do differently in the future.

When I was able to reframe making mistakes, I was also able to take more responsibility for my actions (or inactions) and the results. One side effects of taking responsibility for my part in problems was it was easier to describe what the problems were. My focus had shifted away from making sure I wasn’t going to get “in trouble” to solving the problem.

So, while I wasn’t taking responsibility for things I should have been, the real issue was that I didn’t want to be “in trouble.” Have you ever had a similar experience?