Blame vs Accountability – Why Understanding the Difference is Important

people sitting near lake discussing Blame vs Accountability

Blame vs Accountability culture hold a lot more influence than we may think! Whether in our personal relationships or our professional ones, there are plenty of circumstances where these two feelings can pop up.

As we build healthier relationships, we may find ourselves encountering the interesting tension that exists between blame and accountability. The average person often conflates the two, making taking blame and taking accountability interchangeable ideas.

However, when you begin to really look at what defines blame and accountability, you’ll begin to realize just how different they are, and why understanding their differences is so important.

Shifting away from a culture of blame and towards a culture of accountability can make a positive change in our lives. Where blame can be rooted in finger pointing and toxic behavior, being accountable means replacing defensiveness with acknowledgment and taking action to make positive change.

As a life coach, my goal is to help you live a life with less finger pointing and toxic behavior, encouraging you to experience the peace that comes with accountability. Let’s take a closer look at what blame and accountability are, so we can better understand their differences. Then, we’ll explore some tips you can implement in your own life so you can shift away from blame and grow into a more accountable person.

The Difference Between Blame and Accountability

business people in meeting

To better understand the differences between blame and accountability, let’s explore a workplace culture based scenario.

Imagine you are an employee working on a proposal for a huge potential client. Your team is working around the clock on a proposal deck to give to this organization, stressed by a tight deadline.

You are shorter on time than you’d like, but your team pushes through and finishes the deck. You hand off the final file to your team leader, and they send it to the client. When the client gets back to you a week later they explain that there were errors in the document that turned them off of the proposal, so they are rejecting your company and going with someone else.

Your leadership team is gutted by the loss of this potential client. They meet with your team and leadership says that because your team is at fault for the errors in the document, the loss of the client is your fault.

This upsets you and your team. While you may have made a mistake in the document, it was also the responsibility of leadership to review the document before it was sent out. The blame game has painted your team as the group at fault, but you believe you aren’t the only people who should face a negative consequence. While you don’t mind taking responsibility for your mistakes, you wish leadership would take responsibility for their role in this mistake too.

In situations like this, we can begin to see how a culture of blame plays out in our daily lives, and how a culture of accountability could make a difference. In this scenario, leadership is focused on individual blame rather than having an accountability conversation that looks at how all parties may have played into the problem they are facing.

With a culture of blame, we point fingers at others to find out who caused a problem and make them the only party at fault. With a culture of accountability, we point fingers at ourselves, identifying mistakes we may have made to find opportunities for change.

Make sense? Let’s take a closer look at what defines blame and accountability to further our understanding.

What Is Blame?

When we look at the Britannica Dictionary, the definition of blame is:

“to say or think that a person or thing is responsible for something bad that has happened.”

Notice that this definition defines an external situation, where we say some other person or thing is the cause of an issue that is bad. With blame, our primary concern is identifying who or what is responsible for the negative situation happening to us.

The negativity of the situation is what defines it as blame. For example, you wouldn’t “blame” someone for successfully pulling off a wonderful surprise party. However, you could “blame” someone for ruining a surprise party by spoiling the surprise.

In this way, blame is used as a form of punishment for wrongdoing. Blaming others is done to point out a fault, express anger, or create fear.

There is no concern with making room for growth and learning from mistakes in the blame game. We just want to know who caused the bad thing that happened and make them feel bad about it.

What Is Accountability?

The Britannica Dictionary defines being accountable as:

“[being] required to explain actions or decisions to someone” or, “[being] required to be responsible for something.”

Where blame defines the act of saying someone or something else is responsible for an action, accountability is about ascribing that responsibility to yourself and having an explanation for what you did.

This defines the key difference between the act of blaming, and the act of being accountable. Blame seeks to finger-point, to push the cause of wrongdoing away from oneself. Accountability looks inward at our own involvement, not only having us call out our own personal responsibility for an action, but explaining that involvement and figuring out how we can change.

Blame is rooted in a culture of punishment. With accountability, we recognize how individuals play into the collective and see how our actions impact others, without a focus on shame.

Why Is Accountability Better Than Blame?

When we hold ourselves accountable, we take responsibility for our actions and their external impact. It lets us learn from our mistakes, and grow into something better. It gives us the platform to explain why we have done something, for better or for worse. And, most importantly, it gives us the space to grow into something better.

The biggest problem with a culture of blame is the lack of opportunity for growth. Blame begins and ends with shame and punishment. We are only seeking to identify the cause of a problem and point out how the fact that this source caused a problem is bad. With accountability, we are encouraged to look at how multiple sources contribute to a problem.

In our workplace scenario, there was a culture of blame. Team leaders looked to junior employees, and blamed them for a problem they caused.

In a culture of accountability, team leaders can reflect and recognize that they also failed to catch mistakes. They can take responsibility for not catching mistakes alongside their employees. And through this reflection, teams can work to create a plan where mistakes don’t happen again.

It’s also important to also recognize how this can manifest in more personal relationships, too! For example, consider how blame and accountability can play out in a couple dynamic, especially in the face of conflict.

No relationship is perfect, and there will always be points of contention where blame and accountability can pop up. These can be the little arguments (Who forgot to put out the trash?) to the big ones (Why did you forget our anniversary?). In our culture of blame, many of these fights can end in finger pointing and shame. But with accountability at top of mind, we can look inward to see our individual contributions to conflicts, take responsbility for our actions, and resolve issues.

Shifting From Blame Towards Accountability

couple while unpacking

Now that we understand the benefits of a culture of accountability, it’s time to try and implement it into our own lives!

How we shift away from blame and towards accountability will vary from person to person, based on their situation. The blame vs accountability game plays out in many areas: marriages, friendships, workplaces, partnerships, etc.

As a life coach, I can work with you to better understand what is and isn’t working in your life, and create an approach to accountability tailored to you. For now, though, here are some more general tips to keep in mind.

Remember: Hold Space for Grey Area

One of the reasons we are so predisposed to assigning blame is that we think of situations in terms that are delineated and at times, inflexible.

When we get caught up in our strict definitions of good or bad or right and wrong  it encourages us to avoid being associated with bad, and put ourselves on the pedestal of  good.

Nobody wants to admit they did something wrong. This is why it’s so tempting to push that blame away to someone else rather than recognize that we may have done something wrong.

However, with accountability, being “wrong” or doing something “bad” no longer becomes a shameful thing. With accountability, we take responsibility for our actions and recognize that while we may have contributed to a problem by being “bad”, we can also be “good” in return and take steps to fix it.

In life, there is a lot more gray than we might realize. I always laugh when parents get their kids bundled up in the winter  to walk from the house to a car, take a drive, and walk into a building. Do you really need gloves and hat for that? Or is this one of those grey areas? How many times have we all heard a caregiver say, “You need a hat!” While a child is protesting. Is the hat REALLY needed?  In life there are many gray areas, where everyone can make mistakes despite their best efforts. What matters is taking accountability, and trying to do better.

Take Ownership for Actions

The biggest thing to keep in mind while trying to take more accountability (and create a culture of accountability in your worlds) is to take ownership of your actions.

When a negative situation happens to us, we are primed to focus on blame. Instead, focus on ownership.

Let’s say your taxi got stuck in traffic, so you missed our flight. Rather than immediately thinking “Who or what caused this to happen?” try asking yourself “How did I contribute to what just happened?” When you do this you may find yourself shifting away from blaming the taxi driver’s driving skills or the people ahead of you in line, to recognizing you maybe should have set an earlier alarm, or taken transit instead of the highway.

Taking ownership matters. This mindset can help you get better at recognizing personal responsibility, needed for being held accountable.

Focus on Growth

Finally, in a culture of accountability, the focus should always be on growth.

When we take accountability, we are looking to get better. We recognize that tough conversations about where and how we made mistakes are opportunities to learn from mistakes and grow.

When we prioritize growth, accountability comes naturally! In order to grow, we need to recognize our faults and mistakes and do better next time. It’s a positive cycle that feeds itself, and will eventually lead to a happier life.

Subscribe to my newsletter for tips and info.

Share with your friends

FREE Book Chapter Download

C'mon Get Happy:
Practice Happiness And Gain Momentum

We'll never share your email. Unsubscribe any time. 

FREE Book Chapter Download

C'mon Get Happy:
Practice Happiness And Gain Momentum

We'll never share your email. Unsubscribe any time. 

Share to...