Blame Shifting — Shame Shifting

Blame is a very potent tool that can be used to intimidate, dishearten and sabotage the culture of a workplace. Blame shifting is a common tactic used by children when faced with difficult situations. “He made me do that… I followed her lead…” It’s a method of self-defense and self-preservation for rationalizing actions.

Have you ever heard this statement? “Nobody TOLD me to do that…” Is your workforce missing the boat?

Blame is a matter of responsibility; it’s a matter of accountability; it’s a matter of micro-managing.


Many people are familiar with the type of boss/supervisor/manager who just about stands over your shoulder to make sure those things are done their way. These dictators choose to diminish the possibility that you are competent and can come up with a creative thought or your own way of accomplishing mutual goals. They belittle, undermine and thwart any attempts to act independently, yet freely assign blame when their desired outcomes aren’t attained.

Fear brings with it shame, and these managers are fluent in this language. When something goes wrong, it’s everyone else’s fault, despite their commands. It looks something like: Manipulation; Name calling; Bullying; Emotional blackmail; Disproportionate rage.

The blame never lies with the manager as they switch the story to assign blame to all others that may have had any input into the undesired results of their directed actions.

The toll for this assignment of blame, hence, shame, that is taken on staff is immeasurable.  Symptoms may include: Lack of trust; An unproductive workforce; Unprecedented sick leave; Lying and deceit among the staff; Gossip and toxicity.


It is a particularly problematic situation when one enters an organization replacing such a so-called leader. As you begin to try and shift responsibility over to individuals, resistance runs rampant. The staff’s inability to think for themselves is a typical sign.  They will do exactly what they are told to do and nothing more.

No blame can be assigned to them, because they have taken responsibility for nothing.  They are afraid to speak up or to suggest alternatives. There is no personal accountability.

These challenges are common in today’s personnel no matter which industry. There is no monopoly on fear-based techniques in health-care, manufacturing, service industries or product development. One may find some respite in that fact.

However, approaching your staff with a more fluid approach to attaining goals may be easier said than done. It can be accomplished.


Trust and integrity must be established. Including your employees in the process is paramount. Outlining solutions to projects and challenges must come from within them, no matter how tentative they may be to accept a new organizational mindset.

Here are some potential steps that may guide this new approach:

• Ask for volunteers to begin to design your course of action.

• Hold regular staff meetings among your divisions/departments asking for their input and explaining the rationale for upcoming changes.

• Provide opportunities for feedback with the assignment of duties among the whole.

• Develop practices of accountability among the peers. A key question: with the upcoming changes, how would you like to be held accountable?

• As you implement the desired change, clarify the goals and metrics so there is no misunderstanding about the responsibility for folks to think on their own.

When no one is “told” what to do, they cannot shift the blame to others. Manipulation and gossip should weaken. Former toxic employees may self-select out, or it may become more evident that they are no longer contributing for the good of the whole.


Your organization is not the school yard. You are not in the sandbox anymore. Most of your employees have had some experience working, no matter what their age. An ideal workforce should be one where ideas are celebrated and innovation is de riguer. The ability to blame others for lack of personal performance cannot be tolerated because it serves no real purpose. 

What is the place that you hold for immature behavior? Why? If you foster a dysfunctional workforce, then that’s exactly what you’ll get. It doesn’t have to be that way. You have the ability to make change happen.

Kayte Connelly, Best Principled Solutions LLC, is an award-winning author, leadership coach, and organizational development consultant specializing in personal, professional and community leadership. She facilitates corporate retreats and conversations with dissimilar parties and helps individuals and organizations identify and eliminate what stands between themselves and their goals. Enriched customized services are designed to create and sustain generations of leaders for our community and your company, based on research and global development. Call 484.769.2327  for more information on how your company could become more collaborative, flexible, imaginative, and innovative and/or to discover your leadership “edge.”  @leadercoachKT