Shifting the Blame Game: Transforming Ourselves To Transform Relationships

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My new coaching client was well into the blame game

After the usual self-introductions and welcome, he took a seat—and a deep breath.

He ventured forth: “I need you to help my wife change some of her behaviours. She’s really pissing me off!”

Okay. Nothing like being blunt and coming straight to the point!

With a straight face and a curious tone, I said: “Great! And where is your wife?”

At the same time, I gazed around the room, in case she was hiding behind a piece of furniture or was so tiny I might have missed her.

“Well, she’s at work at the moment!” My client exclaimed.

“Oh, alright. Just one moment.” I reached into a drawer and pulled out my magic wand. (Of course I have a magic wand—doesn’t every successful coach?)

Mine has a blue laser light in the end and plays a little tune like the fairy wands in Disney movies. I waved it across and around the top of his head and uttered a few ‘magic’ words. (I can’t tell you what they are, or I’ll be struck by lightning!)

“Okay, there you go,” I said. “She’s all fixed now and when you get home, you’ll find the perfect wife!”

He burst out laughing.

My magic wand strategy is a much quicker and more provocative way of explaining that I can’t help ‘fix’ someone who isn’t even in the room with us! Laughter breaks down barriers and makes for open conversation.

The Blame Game

This client’s request for me to change someone who wasn’t even with us is a more frequent scenario than you might imagine.

Man blaming woman , finger pointing.

We’re all experts at playing the blame game; it’s like an Olympic sport, but there’s no gold medal at the end. Just a lot of frustration and gnashing of teeth! It’s so easy to point fingers at others and hold them responsible for our frustration and discontent.

The psychology behind finding fault in others is complex

It often involves projecting our frustrations and disappointments onto those around us. It’s human nature to deflect attention away from our own quirks and issues, and especially how we might be contributing to the problems we perceive. Relationships are always changing, and your behaviour can affect others, just as theirs can impact you.

The blame game seems omnipresent

From family feuds to workplace disputes, it’s astonishing how readily we lay blame on others for our own upset.

After we’d had a giggle about my magic wand, I said, “Well, your wife obviously isn’t here. So how about we work on what you can do differently, so that your wife responds in other ways?” He gave me a look that I interpreted as ‘What?!? Are you from another planet or something?’

Like most clients with similar problems, he just couldn’t see the logic of this approach, and insisted I tell him ways to make his wife change. I pointed out that people commonly refer to that approach as manipulation—or bullying!

We delved into a conversation about the systems approach to problem-solving and I used his real-life example to illustrate the concept: you can’t change someone who isn’t present. However, we can change ourselves, and that’s where the real power lies. It’s not about improving others; it’s about self-transformation.

The systems approach to problem-solving

Here’s a short definition of a system:

A regularly interacting or interdependent group of items forming a unified whole.

Some examples:

  • A railway system
  • A computer network
  • A family
  • A business
  • A relationship

There are possibly millions of examples, and you can find more here, but just looking at the ones above, it’s easy to determine that a breakdown in one part of each system affects the entire system. Sometimes a breakdown in one system overflows and affects other systems.

Sick child and mother

For instance, a sick child will affect the entire family system, and might also impact the child’s school, the child’s friends and the friend’s family, etc. A disruption to the railway system will certainly affect business functioning, if people can’t get to work on time.

We often underestimate the extent of our influence on those around us, due to the many systems of which we’re a part.

The feedback loop

Understanding the dynamic that you’re part of various systems is crucial for personal growth. Of equal importance is grasping how your behaviour impacts other people and affects their reactions to you. It’s a feedback loop that means you’re always communicating something; by what you say, what you don’t say, your voice tone, expression, behaviours, gestures, etc. When you address your own behaviours and thinking patterns, you can initiate positive change within the systems you’re a part of, whether it’s a work team, a family, or a romantic relationship.

My work involves helping clients and training participants to be more flexible in their behaviour and thinking, leading to constructive actions from those around them.

The Power of Self-Reflection

Shifting the focus from changing others to changing ourselves is a transformative journey. It starts with self-reflection. To change the systems we are a part of, we need to first change ourselves — and stop blaming others. You waste energy by attempting to change what others say and do. It’s like trying to teach a penguin to sing opera; it might be entertaining, but it’s also frustrating — and impossible!

Instead, try acknowledging how your own behaviour might contribute to their response. When you realise and accept your own actions, you’ll conduct yourself differently. And when you behave differently, you get better responses from the very people you complained about.

After 2 sessions with me, one woman, who complained about everyone in her workplace, reported; “It’s unbelievable. Everyone at work has totally changed!” Of course, everyone had changed — because she’d changed, and she began getting more desirable reactions from them.

It sounds simple

Yes, it sounds simple.

And it is simple.

But simple isn’t necessarily easy!

This is what most people do: They continue to behave towards someone in exactly the same way that has provoked the unwanted responses they complain about. They say things like, “That’s the gazillionth time you’ve done that! I would have thought you’d have realised by now how annoying it is.”

woman nagging man

Because clearly, the best way to change someone is to nag them endlessly, right?

They expect a different response despite their own contribution to the problem

This fits within the formal definition of insanity; keep doing the same thing and expect a different result!

Here’s an idea: If you pay attention, you’ll notice that some people get great responses from the individual you’re complaining about. What do those folks do that you don’t?

Do what they do!

  • How do they approach the person?
  • Do they have good rapport?
  • What kind of language do they use?
  • What tone of voice do they have?
  • What’s their body language like?

Teaching people how to treat you

The importance of setting boundaries is another facet of self-transformation. We teach people how to treat us, not through words, but through what we allow—and don’t allow.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s say you expect your six-year-old, Rueben to go to bed at 7.00 pm on school nights. One night Rueben has a tantrum because he doesn’t want to go to bed at 7.00 pm and you—for a bit of peace and quiet—allow him to stay up later.

You may unwittingly be teaching him that:

  • Sometimes he doesn’t have to go to bed at 7.00 pm.
  • Having a tantrum will get him what he wants. (This, of course, increases the likelihood of future tantrums.)

You could also have set a precedent, which he may use against you in the future; ‘Well, you let me stay up until 9.00 pm last Tuesday, so why can’t I stay up late now?’

It could get worse

What if Rueben had asked your partner if he could stay up late and was refused, before asking you. Rueben may undermine your partner’s authority by learning to ask you for what he wants.

Rueben learns to play one person off against another. So just by one simple action, Rueben may have learnt a lot — most of which you didn’t intend to teach!

Here’s another example:

One of your team members is behaving rudely with customers and other team members and is sullen with you. He’s had a few days off recently, and you think he’s having some personal problems.

Sulky team member and team

You decide to do nothing about his behaviour in the meantime, even though it’s affecting the rest of your team. You hope he’ll get whatever it is sorted out and be back to his normal self again soon.

What could you possibly be teaching the troublesome team member by ignoring his behaviour?

How about these, for starters:

  • Nobody cares what mood I’m in (so I’ll just behave according to my mood).
  • I can get away with it (so I’ve no need to change).
  • No one’s asked me why I’m behaving like this, therefore:
    • No one cares about me. If they don’t care about me, why should I care about them? I’ll continue to make their lives miserable!
    • I’m going to look for a job where people care about me.
    • Even when I’m upset, no one bothers to ask what’s wrong. (Why am I bothering with these people?)

What you’re teaching the rest of the team

It’s important also to know what you may teach the rest of the team by ignoring the unwanted behaviour:

  • The moody team member is more important than the rest of the team (because he can behave however he likes and get away with it).
  • Why should we work hard and be pleasant when he behaves like that and gets away with it? (We will not exert ourselves on the company’s behalf any more.)
  • If he can get away with that behaviour, what can we get away with?
  • We don’t want to work in this environment—and you’re doing nothing about it, so we’re going to look for other jobs.
  • His behaviour with customers reflects on the entire team (it’s not fair).
  • You don’t really care about anyone.

Some individuals will consciously pick up some of the above messages, while others will do so unconsciously. The important thing is that you’re always communicating something—even when you do nothing. And if you haven’t already, you’ll end up with personality clashes.

So what can you do?

Redirect your energy towards personal growth

Trying to change others is a futile endeavour. It’s a drain on your energy and often leads to frustration and disappointment. The better path is redirecting your energy towards personal growth.

The personal anecdotes from my coaching work prove the incredible power of self-change. Through humour and self-awareness, individuals have made remarkable shifts in their relationships, and in their own lives.

Stop playing the blame game

Remember, it’s easy to spot faults in others and blame them for our upset, but the true power lies in changing ourselves. We’re not all magicians with magic wands—that’s just me! We’re the creators of our own destinies. If you want others to change, look for ways of changing your own behaviour first. It’s much easier and more rewarding than you might think.

Rewarding? It’s rewarding because you begin to feel in control of yourself instead of reacting to those around you. By learning behavioural flexibility you get to enjoy all the relationships in your life and experience less stress.

For more fulfilling and harmonious relationships, in all areas of your life:

  • Take responsibility for your own behaviour.
  • Embrace the systems approach to problem-solving.
  • Focus on self-reflection and personal growth.
  • Set healthy boundaries.

and you’ll shift yourself out of the blame game once and for all.

Want some help?

Try the Get Unstuck Self Review at the bottom of this page. This will give you an indication of where you are now in terms of your self-awareness, as well as some simple ideas for improvement.

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Tags: Communication skills, Interpersonal skills, Managing mood and emotions, Problem solving, Self-awareness, Thinking and mindset

2 Comments

  1. Jenny Bond

    Thanks for your blog Steph. I read this at the perfect moment! It didn’t relate to me at the time but to a family member and then I had a light bulb moment – it applies to me too! lol

    Your informative blogs are very welcome, even though I tend to read them a week or so after their arrival, but time has a funny way of arranging life………

    🙂

    Reply
    • Stephanie

      Glad you got what you needed, Jenny! And yes, time does have a funny way of arranging life!

      Reply

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