As a consultant and coach I often work with organizations and people who are engaged in blame shifting, finger pointing or the “this has nothing to do with me” attitude. And while this can be true, that something did not start with you, there are always opportunities for people to take responsibility for their actions or reactions. Because you cannot create change or be in control of your path without taking responsibility.
Whenever you are tempted to blame someone or something for an unpleasant circumstance in your life, do the opposite–take responsibility for it. Approach the idea of taking responsibility by asking, “Well, if this idea is true, then where could it lead?” Taking responsibility is not the same as feeling shame or blame or saying “It’s all my fault.” Think about the word responsibility as translating into response-ability. What we are doing is practicing our ability to respond. This is not saying that we choose to have an incompetent boss or a nasty neighbor. We are not solely responsible for all the circumstances of our lives. The point is that we can choose our responses to our neighbors or bosses.
If you seek to take more responsibility for the quality of your life, ask yourself these two questions: “What did I do to help create this situation?” and, “What can I do to turn this situation around?” These are the questions that will lead you to action and change.
When you ask “What did I do to help create this situation?” you will find that few of the problems in your life came uninvited. In many cases you made the choices that set the circumstances in motion. Let’s say you are a person who is in a job that has become intolerable. When asked what’s wrong, often all the answers are about what other people did to create the problems: “My boss doesn’t listen to my ideas.” My co-worker wants all the credit. He makes all the decisions without telling me.” On the face of it, these statements sound reasonable. The problem is that they’re based on the assumption that what other people do, or fail to do, solely determine the quality of the relationship. This way of thinking turns you into a passive victim, a person who has no control. You can change this by looking at the choices YOU made that affected the relationship or situation. Using the example above, you may discover that you are not as clear as you can be when expressing your ideas. You may also discover that you respond to questions about major decisions with, “I’m very busy right now. You decide.”
Asking what we did to create a particular problem often results in good and bad news. The bad news is that many of our frustrations stem directly from what we said or failed to say, or maybe what we did or failed to do. When things are not working, it pays to look first to the person standing in our shoes. But the good news is that since we chose our way into the present circumstances, then it is likely we can choose our way out again. That’s what the next question is about. Ask “What can I do to turn this situation around?”
This question refocuses our attention and moves us beyond the whole self-defeating cycle of resentment, frustration, resignation, and fear. By choosing our next response and moving into action, we stop being a victim and start taking control of life again. Using the last example, you could decide to speak more often and more clearly articulate your ideas. You could choose to participate more in decision-making. By taking simple steps that are entirely within your control, you can turn situations and relationships around. No matter what the circumstances are, we can practice choosing where to focus our attention and which actions to take. The difference in spelling between the words victim and victor is just a matter of two letters. Likewise, the difference between victors and victims in life is small. It could just be a matter of asking the previous two questions— two questions that allow us to take responsibility and really change our lives.