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Book Review: The Blame Game: How the Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure by Ben Dattner with Darren Dahl

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Do you take responsibility for wrong action or do you blame others?

Ben Dattner with Darren Dahl’s The Blame Game: How the Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure delves into blame and credit in the workplace. Through case studies and examples, Dattner explains what happens when someone takes credit that he/she doesn’t deserve and those who blame others for his/her mishaps.

He writes about the many different personality types at work. There are the extrapunitive, those who typically blame others for their mistakes; impunitive, those who deny blame; and the intropunitive, those who tend to blame themselves.

Within each of these three personality types, there are several more, which Dattner investigates in the book. He also talks about ways in which people react to blame and how constant blame makes an organization dysfunctional.

The Blame Game made me think of a boss I had many years back before starting my own business. The boss intimidated everyone. I never saw so many people cry at work. Everyone was defensive and took the blame for things that they didn’t do. No one was happy and it was a truly dysfunctional workplace. I didn’t want any part of it and quickly left within the first year.

But I also worked at a place where everyone was respected and valued. Working in this type of environment empowered me and I realized that this is the way to operate a business — by having openness and honesty. A workplace like this made me feel as if I could stay there forever. (And I would have stayed at this job had they not merged with another firm and changed their culture.)

How do we blame or take credit? Dattner claims that blame and credit stems from childhood. If a child is praised too much, he says, he/she will fall into the “great expectation trap.” These children may also be afraid of risk for fear of disapproval. And the reverse is true for those who never received praise. Studies show that people take this with them to work and treat their boss or co-workers as if they were family members.

In addition to the family, the environment also plays a role in the blame game. For example, many Gen Y’ers feel they are entitled, so they need to be praised more than others. Sex and ethnicity also play a big part. Many women, for example, underestimate their worth and take the blame for things that may not be in their control.

The office culture also has a lot to do with the blame game. By encouraging people to speak up and voice their opinion while being listened often empowers the employees. However, if the employee speaks up and isn’t heard, that creates a whole new dynamic that will ultimately lead to failure in the workplace.

Dattner offers a whole chapter dedicated to practical approaches to change the Blame Game. The supervisor can control or eliminate a blame culture by:

  • Getting employees to buy-in by having brainstorming sessions and think tanks.
  • Focusing on the future instead of the past – you can’t change what happened but you can control what will happen.
  • Evaluating all individuals working for him/her and tailor his/her management style.
  • Rewarding people for taking blame and punish those who pass off the blame.

In closing Dattner writes, “It is painful to all of us to get blamed when we don’t receive the credit we deserve and unfairly blamed for things that we didn’t do. But don’t respond in quick impulsive and self-serving ways. Because this will cause pain to others and the blame game will take the lead.” He says the only winning move in the blame game is not to play!

The Blame Game made me think about my own organization. What do my staff think? Do they feel as if they are listened to and acknowledged for their good work? I hope they know they are appreciated every day. I plan on sharing the takeaways with my staff because I feel that it is applicable to client relations.

I thought The Blame Game was well-written and useful. It was thought-provoking and   I would recommend this to my peers.

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About Hilary Topper