Updated August 2023

Ownership > Blame

One of the best things about being a writer is all the stuff you can learn while you're making a living. Recently, a topic I was working on found its way into another project. I was writing an article about fault, blame and ownership. I'd just finished going over my interview notes for this assignment, when I got an email from a colleague on another project.

Mini Case Study

The upshot of the message was that she thought her deadline was a week after it actually was and wouldn't be able to turn in the rest of her work in on time. I immediately looked over all the messages and milestones in Basecamp. There, big as day multiple times, was the deadline we'd agreed to.

I was already to point all this out to her when something from the blame article wormed its way into my brain. Suddenly, I wasn't sure my old approach was such a good one any more. Recalling all the information my sources provided about the benefits of being accountable and the negative impact of keying on fault and blame, I thought I should try another way.

What to do instead of blaming

I re-focused my energy on what I needed to happen instead of busting her chops.

Sure, I wanted to kick ass, but the truth was, what I wanted more was to keep the project moving forward, even if no longer on the ideal schedule. One key in the ownership game is staying in the game -- keeping your eye on the ultimate goal and not getting sidelined by looking back at what should have happened. I also realized that I had taken some things for granted with this colleague that I shouldn't have. That meant I had a role in this miscue, too. Putting all this at the feet of my colleague just wouldn't have been right.

So instead of sending a scathing email pointing out that she had agreed to the deadline, blah, blah, blah, I sent a note explaining that I really needed her help to keep this going and meet the ultimate deadline. I laid out what needed to happen in a constructive way, and hit send.

Get more tips on skipping the blame game

I admit, I wasn't sure what would happen. There was still no guarantee that she'd be able to do what we needed. But I felt better. Flaming her would have brought a short-term gain (I'd feel vindicated and powerful), but beating up on someone doesn't usually make them want to help you out. And the truth is, I needed her with me over the long haul if I was going to make this project work. Preserving the relationship for now was more important than being right.

Lo and behold, I had an email from her this morning. She thanked me for being understanding about the situation and said she'd definitely meet the new deadline. And you know what? She not only made the second revised deadline, she got nigh-'bout all the material in on the original revised schedule. So my new strategy worked!

Why ownership is better than blame

Extending my ownership into the new situation instead of focusing my energy on post-mortems, gathering evidence and being angry, has paid off so far. We both feel OK. We have a plan for making up the lost time. And we're still functioning as a team. Plus, I feel like this new approach is a nice fit with the mindfulness work I've been doing. (You can read about that here)

How can you extend your ownership today?

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