The research, by USC Marshall School of Business and Stanford University, show that the work blamestorm after something goes wrong is something that quickly catches on. On a more sinister note I think, it demonstrates how marginalisation and finger pointing at certain groups (for example immigrants) spreads and finds a willing audience.
According to Science Daily, two academics conducted four different experiements, “and found that publicly blaming others dramatically increases the likelihood that the practice will become viral.”
In one example, participants read about California Governor Schwarzenegger blaming special interest groups for the failure of a special election that cost $250. The ones who did so were more likely to blame others for their own unrelated short-comings. In other words an aura of negativity spreads, even if it’s about something completely different.
The reason? “It triggers the perception that one’s self-image is under assault and must be protected.” So, “not me, guv!”
Looking at the workplace, one of the academics Nathaneal J Fast, says that a blame culture creates a ‘culture of fear‘ and advises companies to embrace failures and mistakes as something to move on from, like Intuit, which has a ‘When learning hurts’ session.
Also touch-feely ’self affirmation’ seems to help. In one of the experiments, people who affirmed their ’self-worth’, were less likely to point fingers.
That makes a lot of sense really. Foster a positive environment in your organisation and it will spread, or there’s a constant tendency to shift responsibility, that will take hold too and have unintended, wider consequences when it comes to productivity, the day to day atmosphere and so on.
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