Ben Dattner, an adjunct professor of psychology at New York University, says that much of the stress in today's workplace from a difficult economy has caused us to go back to our childhood roots — and that means blaming others.
At the same time, we may grab for more credit, resulting in a workplace that is less innovative and more demoralized.
"Workers who are demoralized or resentful are those who work in a culture of blame," Dattner says. "Those who are happy, motivated and fulfilled don't complain that they're being unfairly blamed for something."
In his new book, The Blame Game (Free Press, $26), Dattner says some personalities are more prone to wrong-headed credit and blame. For example, a cautious personality is very sensitive to being blamed and may withdraw or brood when criticized. A diligent perfectionist constantly blames himself or herself while judging others harshly yet also quickly pointing fingers.
Understanding how different personalities — including your own — react to credit and blame is important, as well as understanding the natural instincts for hoarding credit and shunning blame, Dattner says.
By understanding our natural tendencies, how our organizations function and leaders' effects on blame and credit, we can better understand and control our own reactions to the blame game, he says.
Sometimes, Dattner says it pays to accept some of the blame some of the time. This can help you gain the trust of team members. Still, he advises caution when using this strategy.
"It has to be genuine," he says. "You don't want people to think you're trying to pull a fast one by being a martyr, so they decide to pile on and add more blame."
"But there is nothing better than admitting uncertainty to build trust. You can say you wish you had done something better."
If you're dealing with a culture that fosters blame at work — or if you're guilty of hoarding credit while hurling blame — Dattner has some strategies to improve. Among them are learning to:
• Step back. If a boss or colleague blames you for something, don't overreact.
Try to look objectively at why the person is casting blame on you, such as the person's upbringing causing him or her to react in such a way.
• Don't go overboard. Just because you begin sharing credit and casting less blame doesn't mean others will reciprocate right away.
Give things time to change without becoming upset. That can make people more rigid and defensive.
• Become more self-aware. Understand your triggers — things that might cause you to revert to blaming others.
Try to figure out your habits when it comes to giving credit or casting blame and look to work with others who bring out the best in you.
• Avoid stereotyping. While it's against the law to discriminate against someone based on factors such as race or gender, more subtle prejudices may come into play.
Maybe you're in human resources and have adopted a habit of blaming those in marketing for certain woes. "You begin to blame the wrong people for the wrong reason at the wrong time," Dattner says.
• Give others the benefit of the doubt. When stressed, you may revert to a habit of blaming.
Instead, recognize your anxiety and try to create a more positive outlook. Even if you're in a difficult situation with your boss, try to think of something about the person you admire or respect and your supervisorknow about your appreciation.