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Affixing Labels of Blame

by Rick Baker
On Mar 13, 2014

When problems arise in business, as they have a habit of doing more or less all the time, some of us have a need to apply labels of blame. I mean, some of us cannot begin to work on fixing a problem until we firmly fix the blame for the problem onto a person or persons. For some of us, affixing blame is the first step in problem solving and the second step in problem solving (if there is a second step) is entirely dependent upon what happened during the affixing-the-blame step.

If the affixing-the-blame step goes smoothly and the blame tightly clings to the other person then the second step often involves a quick washing hands clean of the problem: as in - not my problem, your problem...look & see...the problem is affixed to you...so you fix it.

This Affixing Labels of Blame strategy has the advantages of being quick and effective for the hand-washer. In other words: I've affixed the problem on you so you're stuck with it and my hands are clean so I will get on with other work.

This Affixing Labels of Blame strategy has the disadvantages of really annoying other people [as you kick them when they are down] and depriving problems of access to their best solutions.

Tied to this Affixing Labels of Blame strategy, are the mindsets:

  • I'm not going to invest time or effort on this problem unless you balk at being stuck with it, in which case I will repeat my opinion that it is your problem not mine and 
  • Sooner or later, if you do not fix the problem and that failure annoys me then I will conclude you are incompetent and I will reserve the right to express that opinion to other people.


Some people take a different approach to business problems.

Rather than feeling the need to first affix the blame, some people feel a need to understand the problem.

Recognizing business contains only 3 things - people, process, & situations - they feel the need to understand the situation and the processes surrounding the problem. This need drives them to understand the problem then resolve it. As they go about understanding the situations and processes that have caused the problem they do not affix blame on people. They go beyond not affixing blame. They take extra care to communicate in ways that diffuse the fear of criticism experienced by others. They understand many people are so accustomed to being the brunt of blame-labels they have developed self-protection habits, which they perform as soon as 'their problems' become the topic under discussion.

Some problem-solvers understand self-protection is a normal part of the human condition. They know their skin is thicker so they have less need than others to be self-protective. They don't feel the need to criticize others about self-protection or ferret out that fact of life in ways that humble or humiliate others. Some problem-solvers view affixing blame as damaging, counter-productive, and a waste of quality time and effort.

How do you approach problems?

How do you react/respond when problems are brought to you:

  • By co-workers/peers?
  • By your boss?
  • By people who report to you?

Do you alter your approach to 'fit' the person?

When people arrive with their problems, do you push away, kiss up, and beat down?

Do you practice the good habit of working first to understand the processes & situations around problems? 

Or, are you stuck on that bad habit known as Affixing Labels of Blame

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