If we’re as honest as Professor of Sociology Brené Brown, we’ll have to admit that when something goes wrong, the first thing we want to know is whose fault it is so we can find someone to blame. But, as she explains, research shows that this action on our part has no real benefit, and if we really want to fix the problem, it’s a lot more effective to focus on taking responsibility, instead of placing blame. How can we make this transition?

Boaz Mizrahi April 05, 2020

When something goes wrong, we want it fixed right away or demand justice. For this to happen, we need someone to whom we can address the issue. But the answer to the question of whether something can be fixed or if justice can be made, is very much dependent on the action that we take when we find this person. Professor of Sociology Brené Brown, known for her very popular TED talk, explains that by pointing a blaming finger at others you don’t necessarily get the result you wished for. What can we do instead?

In her short video on the RSA YouTube channel, she admits that she is a blamer. She shares a personal story, where she accidently dropped a cup of coffee on the floor, and her first instinct, “I mean a millisecond after it hit the floor” as she puts it, was: “Damn you, Steve”. Steve is her husband, who had come back home late the night before, making her go to bed later than usual, and, unlike other mornings, she now craved a second cup of coffee. Which, as described, smashed on the floor and messed up the entire kitchen and her clothes.

The phone call that followed ended with an abrupt hang-up, because Steve (who just called) had anticipated what had happened. At that point exactly, says Brown, we have the option to control how the situation evolves. She points out that looking for someone to blame “gives us some semblance of control”, so much so that we may even prefer to blame ourselves rather than not blame anyone at all. But just like what had happened with Brown and her husband, pointing a finger doesn’t generate any productive results. Actually, the research shows that blame is nothing more than “a discharge of discomfort and pain”, which we just don’t want to listen to. On the other hand, accountability puts us in a position of vulnerability, because we have to admit that something that had happened was unpleasant for us. But this is the moment when the other side can open up and listen to us, and even take action to fix a certain situation.

In simple worlds, instead of telling people that they are in the wrong, it’s much more practical to just let them know how they can simply do good.

Oleksiy Rezin / shutterstock