The dynamics of credit and blame are at the heart of every team and organisation, however, credit and blame are rarely assigned in an objective or fair manner. People and organizations are often caught up in “the blame game”. The result is that employees become demoralized and demotivated. The problem becomes more about organizational politics than finding a solution, and employees and managers become reluctant to speak up or initiate new ideas.
We have probably all suffered as a result of the blame game at some time. Maybe we have been unfairly blamed or maybe (this is harder to own up to) we have been quick to blame others and reluctant to take any responsibility.
In his book The Blame Game: How the Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure – Ben Dattner explains why blame is so prevalent in the workplace, he offers practical advice about how to break free from the blame game and take appropriate responsibility for our actions. This frees individuals to learn from their mistakes, teaches them how to give others the credit when it is due.
What is self handicapping?
When employees become defensive, worried about being blamed for under performing they often engage in a defense mechanism called “self handicapping”. Self-handicapping is when people put constraints in place before doing something; this provides an excuse, which can later be called upon in case the objective fails. We have all done it!
Procrastination is one example, we put off a task until it is too close to the deadline, we convince ourselves that we have much more important tasks in hand that need to be accomplished before we begin. We then have the excuse of not having enough time rather than facing up to the fact that we were not confident that we had the right skills to accomplish the task. We do this to preserve our self-esteem – it wasn’t a lack of skill it was a lack of time.
What is Sandbagging?
Sandbagging is trying to get more credit for your accomplishments or contributions than is really due. This describes the scenario where a person deliberately sets himself or herself up to fail in the eyes of others so that when they do succeed they can take more credit.
The Harvard psychologist David McClelland conducted an early experiment, which illustrates this behavior, in the 1950’s. He asked children to try to toss a hoop onto a pole. Some children stood very close making the objective easy while others chose to stand further away making failure more likely.
Then he conducted interview to try and quantify their desire to succeed. He discovered that the kids standing the furthest away scored the lowest on the achievement motive scale. He concluded that the worry about failing made the children behave in ways that made it almost impossible for them to succeed. The reasoning behind this is that none could blame them because they were so far away? In business many people are inclined to persuade their colleagues and managers that achievements are unlikely so that they can get more credit when they succeed. This is also known as self-enhancement.
People with low self-esteem are more likely to use self-handicapping as a defensive strategy; those with higher self-esteem are more likely to employ sandbagging or self-enhancement.
All of these behaviours, however have a negative effect on the outcome of a task or project. They increase the chances of failure, and demoralise co-workers.
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