Here’s when shifting the blame at work isn’t the worst idea in the world
As far as she’s concerned, the blame doesn’t lie #WithHer.
Hillary Clinton has attributed her 2016 election loss, in part, to former FBI Director James Comey’s letter, misogyny, Russian hacking, fake news and many other factors. Now she’s accusing Democratic primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders — who later threw his support to Clinton after she clinched the nomination — of fueling eventual President Trump’s attacks.
Sanders, she charged in leaked excerpts from her upcoming tell-all, “What Happened,” resorted to “innuendo and impugning my character” — and some Sanders-supporting Bernie Bros’ harassment of Clinton supporters “got ugly and more than a little sexist.” “(H)is attacks caused lasting damage, making it harder to unify progressives in the general election and paving the way for Trump’s ‘Crooked Hillary’ campaign,” Clinton wrote.
Shifting blame at work is almost never a good move, most experts agree. Leadership coach Todd Dewett, in fact, maintains it’s only OK in scenarios as inconsequential as, “‘Who chose this restaurant for lunch?’ ‘Oh, it was Bob.’”
“Anything of a substantial nature; no, you can’t be passing the buck — you have to own it,” Dewett tells Moneyish. “Passing the buck is just not bright. Let other people use low-quality devices like that. The long-term successful person avoids those things and maintains a reputation associated with integrity.”
But pointing fingers may be acceptable in a select few other cases, others said:
If you blame someone who’s departing the company. Say you were in charge of an email marketing campaign and forgot to include a call-to-action button, suggested career coach Melissa Llarena. “If you know that someone is leaving and they will face zero ramifications in terms of having missed something like that” — and if you’ve learned your lesson from the mistake — you may pawn the blame on the outgoing person instead, she told Moneyish. With that said, this isn’t an acceptable strategy in general, said Llarena. “It’s even worse if it’s a total lie. There should be some basis for connecting the person to the error. The key is that the person will not face repercussions at all.”
When the issue at hand is particularly egregious. “When it’s clearly been something that’s illegal or is something that really prevents you from pursuing your career … then you kind of have to step up and say, ‘Hey, this is unfair; this is uncool,’” workplace strategy expert Leigh Stringer said. “But you still have to step up and say the piece of it for which you were accountable … don’t make it a defining thing for you. Don’t be the victim all the time, because a victim isn’t a leader.”
If you ask someone else to take the fall. This might be your best bet if you have a great deal at stake or you’re professionally on more tenuous ground than a coworker, Llarena said. “I do think it’s OK to ask someone else if they’re willing to take responsibility for something,” she said. “In a situation where if it’s your mistake and clearly you have to put money on the table and you’re responsible for your children’s livelihoods, but someone else might have a stronger reputation than you there, then maybe in that case you want to pass the buck.”
If you were forced to make a decision you weren’t qualified to make. Let’s say a tight deadline thrust you into a subject area or role with which you weren’t familiar, said Llarena. “Then that’s fair to pass the buck: ‘I served as the interim manager in that position and I made a decision because there was no one else around,’” she suggested. “Beth was nowhere to be found, and I had to make a decision because of the time constraint.’”
When assigning blame as an employee, remember that you’re there to solve problems, not create them, career expert Vicky Oliver told Moneyish. If a client calls to rage about an overcharging discrepancy, “you want to use language that’s calming” and tamps down anger, she said. You might use passive voice, talk in terms of departments rather than individuals, and reference clerical errors, late hours or computer meltdowns before you’re able to root out the problem internally.
But keep in mind that shrugging off blame can erode others’ trust in you, especially if you’re a leader, said Dewett. “There’s very few secrets at work. Information tends to get around. And the more you are dishonest, the more likely people will find out about it,” he said. “Passing the buck is just one version of that type of dishonesty.”
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