I blame... let's see...
November 20, 2009 10:50 AM   Subscribe

Shifting Blame Is Socially Contagious. Merely observing someone publicly blame an individual in an organization for a problem -- even when the target is innocent -- greatly increases the odds that the practice of blaming others will spread with the tenacity of the H1N1 flu, according to new research. "When we see others protecting their egos, we become defensive too," says Fast, the study's lead author. "We then try to protect our own self-image by blaming others for our mistakes, which may feel good in the moment." He adds that in the long run, such behavior could hurt one's reputation and be destructive to an organization and further to our society as a whole.

When public blaming becomes common practice -- especially by leaders -- its effects on an organization can be insidious and withering: Individuals who are fearful of being blamed for something become less willing to take risks, are less innovative or creative, and are less likely to learn from their mistakes.

President Richard Nixon is one example the authors point to in the study. Nixon harbored an intense need to enhance and protect his self-image and, as a result, made a practice of blaming others for his shortcomings. His former aides reported that that this ego-defensiveness pervaded his administration. It was the culture of fear and blame that ultimately led to Nixon's political downfall.
posted by VikingSword (29 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
Blame-shifting is the leader's fault. Got it.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:53 AM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


It was the culture of fear and blame that ultimately led to Nixon's political downfall.

Sounds pretty scientific and I assume they used the Lincoln Administration as a control group.
posted by DU at 11:00 AM on November 20, 2009


See Also: Jim Collins, Level 5 Leaders, specifically the metaphor of the window and the mirror.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:04 AM on November 20, 2009


So... the quick way to foster a healthy business environment as a leader within the organization is to own your mistakes and help others to overcome their own shortcomings?

Wow, how long did it take them to figure THAT out?
posted by hippybear at 11:12 AM on November 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Blame shifting is something I see and hear all the time at work and it fucking drives me crazy. Hey texture guy, please stop blaming the lighting guy. Hey lighting guy, please stop blaming the render farm. Hey render TD, please stop blaming IT. Jesus fuck we're all on the same fucking team here, with the same goal. How about we just try to figure out how to fucking fix what's wrong with the shot instead of acrimoniously pissing away precious hours talking about whose fucking fault it is.
posted by dersins at 11:14 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


My gaming group has recently been on an Aye, Dark Overlord binge. It's a game where you play the goblin minions of overlord Rigor Mortis, the Master of all Evils, and you begin the game having failed him. Your job is to convincingly shift the blame to one of the other goblins.

So you spend the game groveling, weaseling, conniving, and making up excuses, while trying to nail one of your fellow goblins to the wall. I don't think any of us try to replicate this behavior in real life, hilarious as it might be.

When you see blamestorming as something that's done by respectable people, perhaps one might decide that it's acceptable behavior. Since most of the people who engage in this sort of behavior tend towards the weaselish minions-of-evil end of the respectability scale, I don't think it's quite as contagious among those who actually evaluate the people they choose as role models.
posted by MrVisible at 11:23 AM on November 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I accidentally the whole thing. All of it. There, there's no more blame left to shift around. Now do your jobs or I'll accidentally you as well.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:25 AM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Does this mean there really isn't just one person who is responsible for everything that goes wrong?? (Or worse, does this mean that I actually err at times?)
posted by bearwife at 11:31 AM on November 20, 2009


Merely observing someone publicly blame an individual in an organization for a problem...greatly increases the odds that the practice of blaming others will spread with the tenacity of the H1N1 flu...

So our scathing patterns of blame will make the H1N1 virus stronger?? Oh noes! It has evolved to feed on the byproduct of not only genes, but now memes too! We're toast.
posted by tybeet at 11:45 AM on November 20, 2009


Yeah, pretty much once people start focusing on status games rather than doing the damn thing right, that's where you end up.

It really doesn't help that a lot of folks who actually are dead wood or scamming the company usually have already sown seeds of doubt on everyone else, and already have spent a lot of energy in making sure no one is "doing too well" and making them look bad.
posted by yeloson at 11:51 AM on November 20, 2009


Sorry, but there's a recent, very public example of where blame-shifting has actually helped a man to recover from cancer. And it was even on Twitter! Blame Drew's Cancer. Conclusion from Anecdotal Evidence: Blaming is GOOD for you.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:55 AM on November 20, 2009


The blame game cuts both ways:
Its also easy to blame: Republicans, Out of State Political Funding, Bush-Era policy and the Catholic Church. These are a few axes I've seen ground by the OP. Pointing this out is *not* the same thing as disagreeing with your posts.
posted by Nanukthedog at 12:03 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


These are a few axes I've seen ground by the OP.

However, none of them are part of THIS thread, so perhaps you should save any commentary you have about THOSE subject for the appropriate discussion.
posted by hippybear at 12:05 PM on November 20, 2009


Er, um... subjects.
posted by hippybear at 12:06 PM on November 20, 2009


fuck we're all on the same fucking team here,

I used to work in an atmosphere like that. Once I realized how epidemic it was I immediately quit "playing that game". It didn't really help anything, but I felt at least I got to make the decision on how I was going to interact with my environment rather than it being decided for me.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:15 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


People play the blame game at my office a lot. I don't as a rule, but others do.

The motivation has nothing to do with the pop-psy or new-age notion of defending egos. They're defending their jobs.
posted by clarknova at 12:28 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is why we need to bring back the tradition of a Sin Eater in new consulting clothes - "Team members, this consultant has been responsible for all the bad decisions made during the last year. Here are your NERF bats."
posted by benzenedream at 12:43 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Blame-shifting is a big problem, and it's all dersins' fault.
posted by "Elbows" O'Donoghue at 1:04 PM on November 20, 2009


Accurately assessing blame is one of the more valuable things you can do, requiring good judgment, honesty and ego-control. For me, the totality of disasters in my life have turned out to be approximately 1/4 my fault, 1/4 the fault of people I voluntarily let into my life (which, I only recently realized was indirectly my fault), 1/4 the fault of people I had no control over (co-workers I didn't choose to work with, Presidential Administrations I didn't vote for, etc.) and 1/4 totally inexplicable twists of fate (some of which could be reduced by deeper analysis that isn't worth the time and trouble). I suspect, with no real proof, that it would apply to most people, unless you have above-average skill in accurately pre-judging whether other people are good or bad for you, which I think would be even more valuable.

That said, blame-shifting in the workplace is always a factor of "Organizational Culture" and if it happens among those under you, is either your fault or that of those above you. I've never seen anyone successfully play "The Blame Game" without support from their bosses...
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:16 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I can't even believe they do research on this sort of twaddle. I can't wait for these papers:

Hitting Someone Will More Than Likely Make Them Also Want To Hit You, EVEN HARDER!

Persecuting Others Makes Them Vengeful, WHO KNEW?

Turns Out Social Claustrophobia Drives Business, OMG!
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 1:19 PM on November 20, 2009


> Blame-shifting is a big problem, and it's all dersins' fault.

Exactly. Don't look at me; this thread was like that when I got here!
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:48 PM on November 20, 2009


I blame society.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 2:49 PM on November 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I blame society.

Oh shit. Now we all have to.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:47 PM on November 20, 2009


Blame-shifting is a big problem, and it's all dersins' fault.

That's basically what I usually end up saying in those meetings. "It was probably my fault. Let's figure out how to fix it now."
posted by dersins at 3:52 PM on November 20, 2009


Here is the original scholarly article upon which this story is based. (Hopefully this isn't hidden/doesn't require a subscription for you. I'm working from a university computer.)

The article makes some interesting claims: not simply that blame-shifting hurts a group, but also how it spreads and how it can be contained. From the abstract:

(1) People who blame others "learn less and perform worse."
(2) People who observed blame-shifting were more likely to shift blame themselves "for their own, unrelated failures."
(3) People did this because they adopted from others "self-image protection" as an important goal for themselves.
(4) But "blame contagion was eliminated when observers had the opportunity to alleviate this self-image protection goal via self-affirmation." (emphasis mine throughout)

Now these are conclusions based on four controlled experiments, and thus may not generalize easily to the complex real world.

But put into plain English: People stop blaming others when they are made to feel good about themselves. When people stop blaming others they learn more and perform better. Plus, the benefit is multiplied, since these blame-shifters stop infecting others with their bad habit.

Now all that may be obvious to some of you, but it wasn't to me. I certainly could do more in my life to make people feel good about their efforts so that they aren't tempted to blame others.
posted by ferdydurke at 4:10 PM on November 20, 2009


The motivation has nothing to do with the pop-psy or new-age notion of defending egos. They're defending their jobs.

That's a load of shit. People complain about stuff that has nothing to do with them all the time.
posted by P.o.B. at 5:36 PM on November 20, 2009


Blame it on the bossanova.
posted by mazola at 6:28 PM on November 20, 2009


Blame Biff Tannen
posted by sswiller at 11:01 AM on November 21, 2009


I prefer "blamethrowing."
posted by Pronoiac at 1:24 PM on November 22, 2009


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