When I was out for a walk last night, a lovely family of four was biking along a path at the top of the hill on the horizon. Suddenly, the little girl – obviously a new rider of perhaps six or seven years old – fell off her bike. She didn’t even appear to wobble, the bicycle just fell to the side with her still on it. It was one of those moments that you feel in your gut rather than simply witness. Within seconds I could hear the little girl sobbing as the Mom knelt by her side. As I drew nearer I heard the Mom repeating loudly: “You were going too fast. You’re going to have to calm down. You need to be more careful.”
I can empathise that the mother was shaken but I couldn’t help but wonder how helpful was it to blame the child in this situation. If I put myself in the girl’s little shoes. (Which, admittedly is much easier as a bystander.) There were probably a jumble of thoughts in her mind that included “this hurts,” “that was scary”, “why is Mommy mad at me?” and maybe “I did something bad”.
Notwithstanding perpetuating our culture of victim blaming, nothing in this exchange is going to help calm the little girl down. Nothing is going to cut through the immediacy of the feelings that override logic. Nothing is helping to assess the situation. Nothing is going to help her get back on her bike confidently.
Why not acknowledge what happened and the feelings of hurt or fear? Why not hug and comfort to build feelings of security and trust? (To be fair, the park Mom was hugging.) Why not ask the little girl how she is feeling and what hurts instead of telling her what she did incorrectly and what to do now? Asking questions instead of telling in this scenario does two things: the child has to calm down to answer coherently and participates in assessing what’s wrong. This way she can regain some control of herself and her environment.
This is not a parenting blog and I am a woefully imperfect parent; but the scene in the park made me wonder why we are so compelled to blame in our personal and professional lives. Blame seems like such a wasted emotion and behaviour. From “the dog ate my homework” to governments blaming the policies of its predecessors for all their woes, blame is rampant.
It has no place in leadership. It erodes our own feelings of control. It erodes the trust of others. It diminishes the perception others have of us taking responsibility for our actions, for the actions of our team and of our capacity to take proactive steps where we can. Simply put, there is nothing constructive about blame.
Rather than expending effort on allocating blame, it’s more constructive in the short-term to:
- Acknowledge that a problem exists
- Try to view the scenario from the other’s perspective
- Assess the extent of the damage
- Learn what should be done differently in the future, especially for beginners
- Find a way to move forward or get back on that bike
As Henry Ford said: “Don’t find fault. Find a remedy.”
And please, wherever you are, do it with a little patience and compassion. We were all beginners once and generally, everyone is trying to do their best.