Avoiding a Blaming Frame of Mind
When plans go awry, it’s easy to slip into a blaming frame of mind. After all, if everyone else did what they were supposed to, the situation you’re now facing wouldn’t have happened. We live in a world where blaming is second nature, so it’s not surprising that we’re quick to blame instead of asking: Might there be a perfectly reasonable explanation for what has transpired—an explanation that, if we knew it, would make us see the situation differently?
I’m reminded of an experience I had at a hotel where I was presenting a seminar. Breakfast was provided for class members from 7:00 to 8:15 in a hotel meeting room. Floyd, the head catering honcho, had instructions to bring the remaining coffee to the class meeting room in time for our 8:30 start time.
During past offerings of this workshop, Floyd had been punctual. But this time, 8:30 came and went, and no coffee. I began the session. Fifteen minutes later, still no coffee. The I-need-my-caffeine contingent was becoming restless. In my mind, I blamed Floyd, the catering department, the hotel management, and—why stop there?—the entire hospitality industry. It’s fortunate that I didn’t say anything out loud, because shifting blame is socially contagious.
At 8:55, Floyd poked his head into the room and, with his usual smile, announced that he had our coffee. He said he hadn’t wanted to remove the coffee service from our breakfast room while two members of our class were still eating breakfast. What? No one was missing from the class.
And then I realized what had happened. Two people who weren’t part of the class had helped themselves to the rest of our breakfast goodies. With typical thoughtfulness, Floyd had allowed people he assumed were class members to finish their breakfasts rather than snatching the coffee away and delivering it to the classroom. And he had graciously allowed them to take their time, even though it delayed his cleanup of the room. What I was finding fault with (fortunately, only in my mind) was actually a sign of superb service.
This experience was a wake-up call for me. I now use it as a reminder that sometimes, when things don’t go as planned, there can actually be a valid explanation—and sometimes even an uplifting one. Before concluding that someone somewhere is to blame, simply ask: Could there be a perfectly reasonable explanation for this situation?