Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Blame Throwers, Credit Grabbers, and You

Handling a different kind of credit crisis at work

Why isn't getting credit where it's due the norm in the workplace? How often have you shared an idea that your boss or a colleague has turned around and presented as her own? Then there's the kind of credit you don't want: blame. From cubicle to corner office, workplaces are crawling with what Ben Dattner, Ph.D., author of The Blame Game: How the Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure, calls credit grabbers and blame throwers.

"Credit and blame are at the very heart of organizational psychology, and help determine whether individuals learn and grow in their careers or derail, whether teams take an open minded approach to the challenges they face or succumb to the temptation to scapegoat and blame, and whether entire organizations have cultures of trust and problem solving or instead waste time and effort on dysfunctional finger pointing," according to Dattner, a workplace consultant and organizational psychologist.

While introverts and extroverts* alike are vulnerable to all kinds of misappropriations of credit on the job, introverts face particular challenges. Your more vociferous colleagues may take credit for your ideas while you're absorbed in thought at meetings. When it comes to blame, you have a harder time articulating a response to accusations on the spot.

Regardless if you're an introvert or extrovert, Dattner's guidance, based on extensive research, can help you get the credit you deserve. His tips include:

Gain perspective. "If you find yourself dealing with a particular 'blame-thrower' or a real credit-grabber, whether it's your boss or a co-worker, the first thing to do is try to get some perspective on the problem - to step back and dial down the emotion you're feeling - by systematically reflecting on the wide range of possible influences on that person's behavior that we've examined," says Dattner.

Don't jump to conclusions. As hard as it is not to take things personally when you've been unfairly blamed or passed over for credit you deserve, Dattner suggests you take a hard look at the other party and "take their own constraints into account before reaching a conclusion about their intentions or capabilities." He also stresses the importance of considering the other party's situation and role.

Be strategic. "It's hard, but helpful, to avoid the temptation to fight for credit and recognition to a self-defeating extent, and to trade your substantive interests for symbolic recognition," according to Dattner. "You need to make sure you don't win the battle but lose the war."

Be visible. Dattner cited some of the recommendations from my book, Self-Promotion for Introverts®, in The Blame Game. Consider these: If you're an introvert write follow-up e-mails after meetings to confirm your (and your staff's) contributions. Host or even speak at meetings and conferences. Dattner adds, "In general, being aware of how one's personality can present challenges and opportunities is very helpful, since that knowledge enables people to create strategies to build on their strengths and minimize the negative impact of areas for development."

Recruit and retain credit and blame savvy employees. "When hiring for your team or organization, pay attention to how job candidates, whether internal or external, talk about credit and blame in interviews," says Dattner. "And when checking references, ask about the candidate's credit and blame style." He sums it up by saying, "Get, and keep, people who don't throw others under the bus."

Establish cross-functional teams. "Giving members of different departments the opportunity to work together on cross-functional teams encourages shared responsibility and accountability for performance and results," according to Dattner. "The same approach that works with feuding teams can also work with feuding individuals. As a leader, you can create mechanisms for holding people responsible in a fair and productive way."

Create a safe but not too comfortable workplace.
Dattner credits Amy Edmondson, Ph.D., a professor at the Harvard Business School, with making the helpful distinction between a safe and a comfortable environment. "In a safe environment," explains Dattner, "people will feel empowered and authorized to speak up and admit mistakes without undue fear of reprisal or punishment. "However, this does not mean that the environment is so comfortable that there are no consequences to having made a mistake."

Write a user's manual for your employees. This is one of my favorite of Dattner's tips. "When you start a new job, in addition to all the anxieties and stress of a career transition, you have entered a particularly tenuous time when credit and blame can either go right, or terribly wrong," he says. Dattner offers an example of what a new boss might write in her or his user's manual: "My style is to ask a lot of questions. I've been told in the past that these questions make me come across as critical of, or overly concerned about, the work that my staff is doing. In fact, that's not the case. I'm just curious about a lot of things and like to have a clear line of sight into the details of what you're working on." So, if you're an introvert working with lots of extroverts, you might share that you prefer planned meetings with an agenda in advance to staff members dropping in.

*Also spelled "extraverts" by Carl Jung and the communities of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® and other personality assessments such as the Five Factor Model.

Ben Dattner, Ph.D., with Daryl Dahl, The Blame Game: How the Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure, Free Press, 2011, pp. 86, 184, 185, 190, 205-208.

Copyright © 2011 Nancy Ancowitz

More from Nancy Ancowitz
More from Psychology Today