“When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.”
– Brene Brown
When it comes to solving a disagreement with a client, customer, business partner, employee, spouse, yourself, or anyone else, there’s 2 ways you can go…
…accountability or blame.
Both will get the job done.
It’s just that one allows you to keep and strengthen the relationship…
…while the other damages the relationship and can even break it permanently.
Most of us are wired to go with the latter.
When our emotions get triggered by a hot conflict…
…when we’re feeling disappointed…let down…disrespected…and trampled on…
…we reach for the blame button.
It’s the other person’s fault.
They’re wrong. We’re right.
And not only are they wrong…they’re a bad person. Something is wrong with THEM.
Not just the situation.
With them, personally.
I’ve used this snap response with clients and partners.
I’ve used it with employees.
I’ve used it with Dush, and with my family.
And I’ve used it on the regular with myself.
What’s crazy is that I’ve never fixed any disagreement with blame…
…in fact, I’m pretty sure I made it worse 100% of the time…
…and yet I kept using it for many years.
Not all the time, of course…just when the situation really made my blood boil.
My sensible side knows that blame isn’t going to fix anything, but it sure feels good to spit that anger like fire coming out of a dragon’s mouth.
…it feels good in the moment, that is.
Until the dreaded anger hangover hits.
You know the one…
…where you’re still stuck in the same situation…but it’s worse now because of the “word gasoline” you dumped all over the fire…
…and now you’re also feeling bad about yourself because you lost your cool…flipped the bird at the high road…and put the pedal to the metal on the low road.
Yeah, that one.
The anger hangover feels bad…
…but like my tequila hangovers in my 20s…it was never bad enough to prevent me from doing it again…
…especially when I really felt like I’d been wronged.
Until I realized this one thing.
Blame wasn’t just taking an uppercut at the other person and a right hook to our relationship…
…it was also throwing jabs at me and setting me up for a knockout.
You see…blame creates a perpetrator and a victim.
That’s why it’s so damaging to us – the blamer.
When we turn to blame, we make ourselves a victim…
…and by definition, victims have things happen to them.
They’re powerless. They’re at the whim of the perpetrator.
So why do we do it?
Because it’s easy.
The great thing about being a victim is that you don’t have to take any responsibility.
You get to throw your hands up in the air…toss out some angry words…and tell the other person to fix it.
You don’t have to think…you don’t have to talk…and you don’t have to do the hard work of listening to the other person and finding mutual understanding and agreement.
But here’s the problem:
When we put ourselves in victim mode, we take away our own sense of agency…
…our ability to act independently and exert power over our own lives.
It’s the very cornerstone of our personhood…our individuality…and we just give it up when we go into blame.
And once the universe recognizes that we seemingly like being a victim…
…since we keep putting ourselves in that situation…
…it continues to serve us more of those opportunities.
(I speak from experience.)
Accountability, on the other hand, creates a partnership of equals.
…especially when our emotions are running hot…
….because it requires us to take an active role in fixing the problem, even if we truly didn’t cause it.
Accountability questions what happened, rather than pointing fingers and assigning fault.
It’s about setting clear boundaries with others…
…having the guts to say something if those boundaries are crossed…
…and having the composure to say it in a way that doesn’t attack or demean the other person.
(This also applies to conversations with yourself.)
With accountability, the sentences begin with “I” or “My” (“I feel…” or “My understanding was…”)…
…with blame, sentences begin with “You” (“You did this”…or “You didn’t do that”)
Accountability requires thought, maturity, control, tact, centeredness, and goodwill…
…the very things that go out the window when anger and resentment take over.
Brene Brown describes the difference this way:
“…accountability is often motivated by wanting to live in alignment with our values. Accountability is holding ourselves or someone else responsible for specific actions and their specific consequences.
Blame, on the other hand, is simply a quick, broad-brush way to off-load anger, fear, shame, or discomfort.”
So how do you make the switch, especially when you’re in the heat of the moment?
Here are a few things I’ve been working on.
First, take a beat.
Don’t respond until you’ve cooled off a bit. It might take a day or two.
That’s a hard one for me because I want the situation solved now, but I’m always grateful to myself when I do it.
Next, journal on these questions:
- “What can I do to be an actor in this situation, and not a victim?
- “What action could I take that would leave me feeling more in control of the situation?”
- “If I can’t change the situation, what can I do to help myself feel less crappy?”
- “What boundaries do I need to put in place to protect myself in the future?”
And if you notice a victim pattern in your life, add these questions to the mix…
- “What am I doing that attracts these kinds of people and situations to my life?”
- “Where am I out of integrity with myself?” (this one will give you some really good information if you spend some time on it.)
- “What’s the lesson I’m supposed to learn from these situations?” (once you learn the lesson and implement it in your life, the situations will probably stop showing up)
And finally, take action on anything you came up with that would bring more control back in your corner, and lift you out of the low vibrations of anger and resentment.
Accountability is hard.
It takes far more thought, time, and effort than blame.
And even after you’ve gone to those lengths, there’s a good chance you’ll still feel disappointed and let down.
The reward, though, is that you get to close the situation feeling empowered, centered, and in control.
And you’ve just told the universe, “I’m an actor; not a victim. Don’t forget it.”