It’s not my fault!

Doesn’t she have this look as if to say: “Hey, I’m just trying to find a cozy spot to nap. It’s not my fault if you don’t like me smelling up your clean sheets!”

During a conversation with friends at dinner last night, we were talking about taking responsibility for our own actions. I mentioned someone I know well that is often blaming another person for any and every little bad thing that happens – even though they are the one that created the situation in the first place. It’s a trap that is easy for any of us to fall in. If I blame the other person, it removes any responsibility I have to fix it. Over. Done. Not my problem. I can go on without any worries and continue to think everything is the other person’s fault.

When we witness that behavior, it’s difficult to point it out in a way that allows the person to become receptive and not defensive. If we can deliver that message with compassion and clarity, it helps everyone. Better yet, if we can get good at recognizing it in ourselves, then we influence our own interactions in a very powerful way. Sometimes (ok, often), I blame Grace for not listening to me or not being smart enough because I’ve told her a million times not to bark every time the UPS truck pulls in, or for being stubborn when she won’t come when I call her. You get the picture. It’s her fault.

So I work to avoid that natural inclination to walk away from the responsibility. It takes two to communicate, so I try to continually ask the question: “What was my role in that interaction?” “What can I change that will make the outcome the way I intended?”

When we can ask those questions – consistently and with a truly open mind to receive an honest answer – then we move from a victim to problem-solver.

Smart Tips Served Straight to Your Inbox

Want to build healthy, productive workplace relationships??? Join our community of Graceful Leaders/Managers and get access to tips, insights, and resources right in your inbox.

BONUS: Sign up now and receive a FREE animal-inspired gift: “3 Management Tips from Dog!"

Share with a friend using one of the buttons below. Then sign up so you can receive stories, tips, and guidance to help you develop healthy workplace relationships in your organization!


  1. lifewith4cats on May 21, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    “What was my role in that interaction?” “What can I change that will make the outcome the way I intended?” Those two sentences are the prize winning questions. If we but ask this of ourselves at every potential puzzle, trial or conflict, we can’t help but get it right. (at least as far as our part in it)
    Personal accountability really makes all the difference. I often hear people who complain about their own human children in such a way as to blam them. They expect sympathy and seem to have no idea that the lapse of the child, is the responsibility of the adult.

    How to get others to accept personal responsibility? I think that might be impossible as people will do pretty much only what their inward inclinations tell them to. Those who fear accountability for what ever reason will seek sympathy because they are looking for an emotional response (the dog or child is just the excuse) Thats my experience.

  2. didiwright on May 22, 2011 at 6:12 am

    I completely agree with Sara. Us, as adults are responsible for our children’s and our dogs’ behaviour. Even the law recognises that by making parents liable for crimes committed by their underage children.
    I’ve got the perfect example of a person blaming the world for her dog’s behaviour and refusing to undertake any responsibility herself. About two years ago, my husband was walking George through our forest by himself. Suddenly a big, black dog appeared from nowhere and run straight to George trying to bite him. My husband had to pick George up and try to keep the dog away, hoping that its owner would emerge from the forest and regain control over it. Well, nobody came, and the dog eventually went back in the woods. Ever since that day, George has been very weary of black dogs and we carry a stick when we go walking in the woods. Last year, about one year after the attack, my boys were out walking through the same forest, and the same thing happened. The same dog run towards us and attacked George. This time it was wearing a strap over it’s mouth, but it was still trying to damage George. My husband didn’t pick George up, but let him off the lead so that he can run around the dog as he usually does. George, however, must have been too scared to stick around and ran away so fast that noone could see where he’d gone. Whilst me husband was calling George and looking for him, the other dog’s owner finally appeared. It was an old lady who didn’t look at all happy to see him and started shouting that he’s abusing her dog! My husband didn’t have time to stop and argue with her, so he left her to search for George. Luckily, George had run home and, when my husband phoned me to tell me what had happened, I looked outside and found George sitting by the back gate. On his way back home, my husband bumped into the woman going home with her dog. She tried to avoid him but he went straight to her and told her what a lot of other people apparently had told her many times before: that her dog is dangerous and she shouldn’t let it off the lead. Then she started moaning that she doesn’t know what to do with the dog, that it had been a lovely dog until it got attacked by a Husky, then it changed, but it wasn’t its fault, or her fault, it was, of course the Husky’s fault…she couldn’t keep the dog on the lead because it needed its freedom, etc. etc. She would not accept any responsibility whatsoever… We haven’t seen that dog since, but I dread to think of the damage it might have caused during all this time, unless she got her act together…
    Sorry for the long story, I hope it helps make my point :S

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on May 22, 2011 at 8:59 am

      Didi and Sara, thanks for sharing your stories and comments. As you both have indicated, the ramifications can be enormous when we don’t accept responsibility. I see this happen nearly every day in the workforce when adults blame other adults, it’s not just dogs and children that become the scapegoat. On the bright side, I definitely do see very positive situations where individuals take responsibility and interactions then are incredibly different — and positive! I think raising the awareness is the best place to do. It was good that your husband talked to the woman; she may never do something about this, but she definitely would not do anything if no one was confronting her. We have to start somewhere!

  3. lifewith4cats on May 22, 2011 at 11:00 pm

    That story made me feel mighty protective for George. Your husband is much more civilized than mine. If mine had been there threats would have been made. And I can’t say I would have disaprooved.

    In the workplace, people are more likely to own up to their behaviors when the managers and team leaders lead by example. It is best to build someone up, rather than tear them down when ever possible. Even when addressing a mistake.

    It is better to say, “how can this be made better?” rather than to say, “this is not good enough.”

    • PeopleSense Consulting LLC on May 23, 2011 at 6:50 am

      Very wise advice, Sara. And I totally agree with you that being a good role model is important. There can’t be a double standard for performance if it’s going to work right. I like your approach to ask “how can this be made better?” (And I love that you felt protective for George.)

  4. didiwright on May 23, 2011 at 8:20 am

    Girls, you’re both so nice, why can’t I have friends like you in the ‘real’ world?
    I completely agree with you, Sara, leading by example is the best way. A soft touch on what and how we say things is also crucial. A little change of words like in your example can make a world of difference. I’ve experienced that as a parent, with Brianna: she’s much more cooperative if we ask her to revisit a situation and see how she could correct or improve it, than she is if we bluntly tell that she’s wrong. I also had the opportunity to test this theory when I was a teacher, and the result was the same. I got a lot more cooperation when I used the “lead with a velvet glove” approach.
    Thanks for feeling protective for George, I think it’s very sweet and I really appreciate it. But don’t worry, his dad’s a lion when it comes to protecting his little boy. I think I would be, too, but luckily haven’t been put in that position yet. I’m pretty good with the stick, though. And I’m better at shouting back than my hubby, too 🙂

Leave a Comment