Taking the Blame
When someone lashes out at you, the urge to defend yourself can be almost irresistible, but learning when to come to your own defense and when to resist the impulse will make you a much more effective problem solver.
You know that blame and accusations rarely help you out of a bad situation. If you want people to help you solve a problem, making them feel bad about themselves is as counterproductive as you can get. But what do you do when you’re working with someone who hasn’t learned this lesson, and is blaming and accusing you?
The first thing is to realize that you don’t have to defend yourself. You choose to. So, when you feel the impulse to come to the defense of your wounded pride, ask what the consequences will be if you don’t do it. You might find that the only consequence is a bruised ego.
In those situations, you could
- Keep your mouth shut. Silence is often the best response.
- Change the subject to get the conversation moving in a different direction.
- Acknowledge how the other person sees the situation without agreeing with them. Sometimes a little validation is all it takes.
- If appropriate, take some responsibility for whatever is true in what you’ve been accused of. There is often something.
- If blame and accusations are a recurring issue in the conversation, consider exploring that directly with the other person to see if you can change the way you’re communicating with each other. Be open to the idea that you might also need to change.
But what if there are consequences? In some situations, keeping quiet and taking the blame has the potential to damage your reputation or even put your job or important relationships at risk. In those situations, you have to speak up, but you can still do it wisely.
- Ask yourself what your ultimate goal is, and focus on getting there, not on winning in the short term. Arguing with the person who is blaming you will leave them feeling worse… and you may even make a spectacle of yourself. Look for ways to actually protect yourself from the consequences you’re worried about. Convincing the other person that they are wrong about you is probably not the only (or the best) way to do it.
- Sometimes, an accusation lets you know that the conversation needs to end… at least for now. That’s perfectly fine, but consider leaving yourself room to come back to the table later. Storming off in anger feels good, but could cause trouble for you down the road.
- If you do want to continue, look for low impact responses that protect your interests while also helping the other person through this part of the conversation with ego intact. For example, you might be able to register your disagreement while also taking partial responsibility, or you might be able to validate feelings while sharing your different perspective.