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In too many workplaces, when something goes wrong, people waste far more time and energy assigning blame for it than trying to find a solution," observes Ben Dattner, adding that the recession exacerbated the problem, so that finger-pointing is now more widespread than ever.
An organizational psychologist and consultant, Dattner wrote a book called The Blame Game: How the Hidden Rules of Credit and Blame Determine Our Success or Failure. You don't mention whether you've ever talked with your boss about his habit of throwing you under the bus but, if not, it's time to start. "Confronting him is risky, but saying nothing and letting this go on is risky too," Dattner notes.
The key is in how you approach the conversation. Dattner suggests asking lots of questions about exactly why your boss believes a mistake was someone else's fault. Pinning him down on the details -- in a calm, non-accusatory way, of course -- will put him on notice that you're tired of being a scapegoat and you want to prevent it in the future. You may also learn something useful about how he perceives your role, and his own.
"Try to get to the bottom of what's really going on here," Dattner advises. Is it possible, for instance, that who was accountable for which parts of a given project wasn't clear at the outset, so your boss genuinely believes you or a teammate dropped the ball? "The biggest mistake I've seen people make is reacting to a situation, usually angrily, without really understanding it first."
Robert Hosking, executive director of staffing company OfficeTeam, agrees. "You need to know exactly how the blame for a problem got assigned to you," he says. "Then steer the discussion toward how to prevent the same thing from happening again."
One way to head off future finger-pointing, Hosking says, is to start documenting everything you and your teammates do. "Often everyone is so busy that things get overlooked or slip through the cracks," he says. "So begin each project with a written outline of who is responsible for what, and make sure everyone, including the boss, has a copy and signs off on it." Detailed accountability might even prevent mistakes from happening in the first place.