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Blame vs. Accountability

May 26, 2019

Author: Bianca Yang
Email: ipacifics@gmail.com

A friend recently asked me what the difference was between blaming people and holding them accountable. My answer: Nobody signs up for blame.


End of story.


More seriously, nobody signs up to cause the department to lose $100m in revenue in 2018. Nobody signs up to forget to turn off the car headlights and drain the battery. Nobody signs up to forget to close the house windows on a night when it rains and cause the house to get flooded.

Blame is a harmful and destructive emotional reaction to negative stressors. It is natural to want to determine causality. It is natural to not want to have to deal with negative consequences. It is not helpful to assign that causality to agents that are independent of the result.

What is helpful is to hold people accountable for what they signed up for. “Bob, you were responsible for helping us close that $10m deal with ABC Plastics. What’s the status?” “Emily, we agreed on meeting at 6pm. We waited until 6:30pm before you showed up. We really enjoy hanging out with you, but this relationship is not going to work if you cannot show respect for our time.” “Yeah, you apparently didn’t put one of the new cover sheets on your TPS reports? … Did you see the memo about this?”

The objective of holding people accountable is to establish a social contract of respect. The more you enforce accountability and your principles regarding how you want to be treated, the more you will be respected. So…go out there and make the world a better place.