Are You Going to Stop the Buck, or Assign Blame?

The buck stops here. The famous sign on Harry Truman’s desk applies to all of us.

At a certain point, we all have a buck stops here moment. Whether stepping up at work to fix a problem you inherited, or even harder, breaking the chain of pain in your family.

Stopping the buck means fixing something you didn’t cause, or breaking out of a paradigm you didn’t create.

For me, this subject is deeply personal. One of the most painful conversations I ever had with my late mother was when I asked her to change the way we interacted. In my mid-twenties I summoned the courage to ask my mother for more love and affection. Unfortunately I wasn’t mature enough to phrase it that way, instead I confronted her about what I perceived as her critical, judgment attitude towards me and her lack of affection. I asked for more words of affection, I told her I wanted her to tell me she loved me often, I wanted her praise, I wanted her acceptance.

In hindsight, I see how painful it would be to have your own child ask for more, when you’d already done your best. She’d been far more giving than her own parents had been with her. Yet here I was asking for more.

Sadly, it didn’t end well. She got defensive, and I got angry. My core memory of the conversation was her saying, “I can’t do it, I wasn’t raised that way.” I was totally deflated; hurt and angry, I didn’t speak to her for weeks. After I cooled down we went back to our old practical utilitarian relationship. I gave up on what I wanted, and settled for what I had. Looking back I see I handled it immaturely.  Had I been the age I am now, I could have been more compassionate and gentle with someone who was truly doing their best.

But at the time, all I heard was, “It’s not my fault, and I don’t care about this situation enough to fix it.”

When someone hears that, they give up on you. This dynamic is not limited to our personal life. It also happens at work.

It’s the blame game. The primary tactics for winning the blame are defensiveness and deflection. The problem is, you don’t win. You lose.

The sales rep who says, “I can’t close any deals because we’re not getting good leads from marketing.” The manager who says, “Our department can’t get it done because the other department is messing us up.”

The complaints may be true, but the focus is on why the person can’t, instead of figuring out how they can.

When you step into the blame, you lose your power. But when you take responsibility, everything changes.

The rep who says, “I’m looking for more leads, let’s talk about how we can create some” gets more attention and resources. The manager who announces, “I’m committed to getting this done no matter what” attracts more help and cooperation.”

Deflection and defensiveness prolong the problem. Blame keeps you looking back. Stepping out of the blame game creates forward momentum.

Imagine what would have happened if my mother had said, “Affection and affirmation are hard for me because I never got it. But I want to do it, please help me.”

In case you’re wondering, I’m very affectionate and affirming with my own children. I read books and took classes because I wanted that buck to stop with me.

What’s your buck and how are you going to stop it?