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Workers Under Threat: Blamefest Stunts Innovation [Ed. Note: Who Wrote This Headline?]


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If the chart above is giving you flashbacks to your last roundtable, chances are you've been blamed for something before. Was it your fault? Doesn't matter. Others in the room are likely to start feeling angry and defensive. Arguing is likely to break out. Then finger-pointing. Then middle finger-pointing. Did he just call you a "skank" below his day-old coffee breath?! Oh, no he didn't!

Where were we?

Ah, yes. Arguing amongst each other stunts innovation, according to a new study by the USC Marshall School of Business and Stanford University. The study, "Blame Contagion: The Automatic Transmission of Self-Serving Attributions," points out that blamefests make everyone who overhears them fearful to take risks and less likely to learn from their mistakes. Rather then laying out your plan to revolutionize an industry, you just want to prove you aren't as big a liability as the guy the next cube over. But there is hope! Here's a quick, three-step process to get back to teamwork, one of the things that will probably help all of us pull out of this recession:

Step 1. Recognize the instigators: Blamers are classically insecure, narcissistic, and defensive. Sure, no one likes that guy, but if you can't get rid of him you can at least dampen his influence. Make sure everyone gets a chance to share some things they are doing right during a meeting. Self-affirmation disarms the insecurity that can lead to future accusations. [Ed note: Hey, Ben, if I know one thing, it's that a little humor could help this piece.]

Step 2. Admit our own shortcomings: Managers should always acknowledge their own mistakes first. It shows you're willing to take one for the team. Also, only blame underlings in private, so they don't feel like it's a public stoning. [Ed note: Hey, Ben, can you come by my office after this post? We need to chat.]

Step 3. Reset the paradigm: Behind the scenes, be sure to reward employees who are learning from their mistakes. That way they'll look forward to you correcting them. Or else pull an end-around, like a public planning session where you show off the best mistakes made and what was learned from them. Unless you're Michael Scott, you can probably pull off this sort of office party successfully. [Ed. note: Hey, Ben, if you're still here after our meeting, have a pull off the bottle of Jameson's in my desk drawer.]

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