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Q + A about "The Blame Game"

Why Blame is so important and problematic in the workplace

Author Q&A with Ben Dattner, Ph.D. for "The Blame Game: How the hidden rules of credit and blame determine our success and failure" (Free Press, March 15, 2011)

Why does credit and blame matter?

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. As an organizational psychologist, every time I work with a client or client organization, the dynamics of credit and blame are what everyone is focused on. My role as a consultant and coach is to help individuals, teams, and entire organizations to reconsider their understanding of credit and blame, in order to stop negative cycles of blame and to create positive cycles of trust and collaboration.

Why is this topic timely?

Unfortunately, as the economy has tanked there has been a "bull market" in blame. Whether it's financial bailouts or oil spills, it seems every time one turns on the television there is some executive testifying before Congress on some topic or other, blaming other organizations rather than taking any accountability. This culture of blame permeates far too many organizations these days, and the result is that organizations fail to motivate their people, to innovate, or to acknowledge and fix deficiencies. Successful leaders, teams, and organizations are able to fight this trend, and to create environments where people are more focused on admitting mistakes and fixing things rather than on deflecting blame or trying to hoard credit.

What kinds of perspectives do you take on credit and blame in the book?

The book considers credit and blame from the point of view of individual psychology, relationships between individuals, dynamics within and between teams, and from the point of view of entire organizations. It also looks at leadership, and gives examples of how great leaders set a personal example for managing the dynamics of credit and blame in an open and positive manner. The book approaches credit and blame from both a theoretical and practical perspective, and I endeavored to balance descriptions with prescriptions.

Is there anything that a) readers and b) organizations can do to make things better?

Yes- there is an entire chapter that outlines specific things that individuals, organizations, and organizational leaders can do to make things better. These suggestions include tools to diagnose and evaluate one's own credit and blame challenges and opportunities, as well as those of others. In addition to specific evaluative tools, this chapter also provides general advice about how to manage credit and blame for oneself and others in a more mindful and strategic way. This chapter should help individuals at every stage of their careers think in a new way about how they react to credit and blame, and how they assign it to others, and should help organizations and organizational leaders think in a new way about how the social psychology of the workplace can be understood and improved.

And what's new about this book?

I must give credit to many other people for the ideas in this book, ranging from academics to business leaders, as well as many colleagues and clients. What I hope is new about this book is that it ties together theories, practices and examples into a single integrated picture of credit and blame, and considers credit and blame as causes of organizational behavior, rather than just as effects. Hopefully readers will gain a new way of looking at credit and blame, one that will help them more successfully navigate the dynamics of credit and blame in their workplaces and careers.

Where can more information about the book be found?