Hospice-healthcare-responsibilityWatch out!” I shouted at our little dog Sadie. Then my wife Kathy saw me looking at her and I added, “She’s always in the way.”

“Really? You step on our dog, and then you blame the dog? Who does that?”

Actually, a lot of us do. We start blaming others at an early age, usually to escape parental anger and punishment, but also to preserve our own self-esteem and self-image. Then the behavior sticks, often well into our adulthood. I, and I am sure you, see people in organizations point fingers all the time.

Blaming others (what I might call the blame game) is a poor strategy and not simply because everyone can see through it. Or because it’s dishonest. Or because it destroys relationships. Or even because while trying to preserve our self-esteem, it actually weakens us. There’s a more essential reason why blame is a bad idea: blame prevents learning.

If something is your fault and you don’t admit it, in all probability, you’ll make the same mistake in the future, which will lead to more blame. It’s a cycle that almost always ends badly.

Thankfully there’s a simple alternative to blaming others. Take the blame for anything you’re even remotely responsible for.

This solution transforms all the negative consequences of blaming others into positive ones. It solidifies relationships, improves your credibility, makes you and others happy, reinforces transparency, improves self-esteem, increases learning and solves problems. It’s as close as I’ve ever seen to a panacea.

Once you’ve taken responsibility for something, you can do something about it. It takes courage to own your blame, and that shows strength. It immediately silences anyone who might try to blame you – what’s the point if you’ve already taken the blame? The “blame you” conversation is over. Now you can focus on solving problems.

Being defensive makes you slippery. Taking responsibility makes you trustworthy. You might think it puts you at risk because others may see an opening and jump on you, but that’s not what usually happens.

Taking the blame serves as an example. When you take the blame, others get embarrassed about not taking the blame themselves. When they see you don’t get shot, they feel emboldened to take the risk. And even if they don’t assume responsibility for their role in the situation, you will now be able to avoid making the mistakes you’ve made in the past, which, ultimately, is the key to your success.

There is one tricky thing about taking the blame. To take the blame, you need to have confidence in yourself and your capability. You need the personal strength to accept failure. You need enough self-esteem to believe you can learn from your mistakes and succeed another day. You need to accept failure as part of life and not a final sentence on who you are as a person.

Remember, it’s OK to step on the dog. It happens. Just don’t blame the dog.