Articles Opinion Politics

Inference, Circumstance, and Blame.

Edward Walker

Our species’ ability to work as a team has allowed us to transcend Darwinian survival, and live relatively comfortable lives. This crucial aspect of human psychology impacts a large extent of our day to day living. Whether this ability comes in the form of an economic superstate, a political party, or even a small project team in a software development company; teamwork (or lack thereof) in the workplace is a good model for global, international diplomacy. Each state can be likened to an individual with their own agency, self-interests, and motives.

A large proportion of the way we interact and communicate with others is the way in which we infer information about each other. Each person has an almost infinite variety of experience, opinions, and motives. The way in which the human brain tries to find patterns often leads to the subtlety of people’s experience, opinions, and motives usually becoming overlooked when examining others.

When something at work goes wrong, it is a natural response to parcel blame to those involved. They were in charge, something went wrong, and so it must have been their fault, however; when you are the one who has caused something to go wrong, things tend to look a little differently; there will be a long list of circumstances that led to or contributed to your error, and, as such, it can’t have been your fault, right? Only a few of the circumstances, if any at all, will be entirely due to a single human’s error.

Only a few of the circumstances, if any at all, will be entirely due to a single human’s error, but we often ignore this fact to find an easy solution. Blame quickly leads to a combative relationship between coworkers. When blame is the consequence for mistakes, unsurprisingly, reporting of mistakes decreases, often leading to devastating results for a company.  In such an environment, the atmosphere deteriorates quickly. Coworkers will snap, bicker or ignore each other. Blaming others becomes a convenient way to pass the buck of responsibility. Every mistake becomes a witch hunt to find the person to blame. In these situations, little to no attention is paid to processes behind the event, or the uncontrollable nature of the event, so problems rarely get solved.

After the avoidable 2008 financial crisis, Iceland tore up its constitution. This is an example of a group of people realizing their fundamental processes are broken. As a result, a holistic council was put in place to crowdsource their new constitution. With a draft clause published every week, a democratic decision could occur at a rapid pace. The idea being the end result is a constitution that works for the people, rather than the bureaucrats in charge. Unfortunately, though rapid compared to the usual political snail’s pace, the speed of progression was not fast enough, and the bill was not passed before the government changed hands. As of 2013, it has not been acted upon.

Whether between two world superpowers, or two colleagues in a team, positive forces for change require cooperation. Blame is counterproductive to diplomacy; those who parcel out blame likely do so as a result of an insecurity in their own failures, or sometimes even due to their own fear of failure. Such people have no place in a (hopefully) well-oiled machine, be it a company or a state government. Regardless of the scale, from a 5 man team to the United Nations, we should always be looking for breaks and weaknesses in a system, not malicious or incompetent people.




Workplace Blame and Related Concepts, Judy E. Davidson, et al.

Mob rule: Iceland crowdsources its next constitution, Haroon Siddique


Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, Jeff Sutherland



Featured Image Credit: Halldor Kolbeins/AFP/Getty

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