Burned by a Blame Thrower

Maybe it’s because I’m a Libra, but my mother recalls one of the first sentences out of my mouth as a two year old as being, “It’s not fair”.  Unfortunately, that inner two year old recently surfaced and I found myself not only using that same phrase, but using it while whining and stomping my feet. 

It was a reaction to me having felt the pain of being burned by a blame thrower who attacked my credibility with comments that simply weren’t true. It was especially difficult because those comments were made when I wasn’t present to provide my, not surprisingly, different point of view.

While I suppose we’ve all been there at one point or another, I recall most of my experience with that kind of blame game happening in high school. Regardless, I suppose it is pretty tempting. Who doesn’t, at some level, want to take credit when things go well, and deflect blame when they don’t?

While it may be tempting, blaming others when things don’t go right doesn’t reflect good leadership nor does it lead to maximizing the potential of individuals and organizations. That kind of self-serving behaviour is much more likely to lead to dysfunctional organizations where a lack of trust will result in far less collaboration, innovation, learning, and ultimately, success.

Real leaders are those who resist the temptation to blame others or assign blame, or, on the flip side, take credit for the success of others. Real leaders are those who admit mistakes and focus on fixing them and moving forward.

All well and good, but what do you do when you’re embroiled in a situation like mine where you’ve been stabbed by a blame-thrower?

First of all, it is okay to have a “pity party” because it is unfair and it does hurt when you’re thrown under the bus. But keep the party brief, lick your wounds, and be ready to move on.

Next it will be important to pause and remove the emotion as best you can to gain some perspective. When you’ve been attacked, it is a natural to be hurt and angry and to want to fight back but it is more important to understand what may have prompted the blame. 

In my situation I was able to gain more subjectivity by sitting down and writing out my version of what had taken place. I also checked in with others to gather their feedback about the facts of the matter. The more I stayed in the objective, reporter role, the more I realized it wasn’t as much about me as it was about the other person’s situation. It may be that “to err is human” but when there is a need to deflect fault and blame it on someone else, it is often more about politics. In this particular case, the politics were more about the blame-thrower working within an organization where a culture of fear predominated and mistakes were simply not tolerated especially by those who wanted to move up within the hierarchy.

One you’ve gotten over the hurt and gathered more information, the next step is to be strategic in terms of your response. After discussion with a trusted colleague, I realized that fighting back or confronting the woman at this point and time just wasn’t the answer. While that was a difficult conclusion for someone like me who so strongly believes in open, honest, and authentic communication, I realized I was better off letting the situation play out. I had to trust that ultimately the blame-thrower would crash and burn as her propensity for deflecting blame and taking credit would reduce the loyalty, motivation, and productivity of her team.  I would also have to trust that those who worked with me would ultimately see that my intentions and heart were in the right place, I had hard-won knowledge and expertise, and did my best to work efficiently and effectively. I had to trust that it was best to take the high road and believe that others would figure it out eventually.

For sure the blame game was painful and it still hurts to think that I was unfairly blamed for something that was clearly not true. But, I also realized that I very much had a choice in how I responded to the situation. For me it was more important to remove myself from what could have been a negative and wasteful game of pointing fingers. Instead of the blame game, I chose to focus on a game that incorporated a much more positive vision and values for the future within a culture reflecting mutual support, respect, and kindness.


Posted on 05-07-11


Brenda… I think we all have been burnt by a blame thrower at one point in our lives.  I so appreciate your objective take on your experience and will remember your advice if it ever happens again… cause those burns hurt!

Great work!

•Posted by Janet Naclia  on  05/09/11  at  01:58 PM


Good for you for taking the high road BUT didn’t you want to take her on (and win the battle) at least 48 times ....in your head.  Or at the very least dream about sending her a vase of black flowers….or put chewed up bubble gum on her chair? All those lovely visions help sometimes…if for no other reason than to make us laugh.  I think you’re great…so there!!!!

•Posted by Martha  on  06/03/11  at  05:57 PM


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•Posted by Adi  on  07/08/11  at  12:44 PM


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•Posted by Irma Whitten  on  03/15/13  at  09:05 AM

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