Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;
I am a graphic designer for a small agency. It is my job to handle the computer files and graphics, but for any job, there are usually several other professionals that need to also be called in, such as printers, copy writers etc…
I have never screwed up a job with my own end of the work, but for some reason I am always blamed when a deadline is missed or there is a typo in the brochures after printing. Nearly all of the time, the delay was due to the printers being late or someone else missing the typo. I am not the printer and it isn’t part of my job description to check the copy for mistakes (the client is supposed to do this since they know all the information), but who does everyone yell at? Moi.
The problem is, I feel guilty every time this happens, even though I know it’s not my fault. And it doesn’t matter what I say, it always plays out the same way. I’m not an ad executive or a big company, so I am the whipping boy. How can I live with this crap?
As humans we have two languages, verbal and nonverbal. We interpret language non-verbally. What this means is it is less important what you say as it is how you say it.
Your sense of guilt undermines you at every level. For you, guilt and compassion are the same thing. You are compelled to do for others, which puts you in the position of also taking responsibility for them. Your nonverbal body language communicates this instantly and automatically. People give you too much and then you proceed to do too much. Without intentionally doing so you volunteer to be the whipping boy.
In order to change this you need to understand something about INTENT.
Intent is about the big picture. You need to learn to negotiate based on the big picture. “If I do that job with those resources it will take too long and cost far too much. Considering the big picture, a better alternative might be….”
Our culture is bad at understanding intent. The best place to see this is in the stories we tell to our kids in order to teach morals. There’s the standard one about the stranger who shows up at your door… and if you don’t invite them in and feed them, you will be cursed. This is supposed to teach charity and selflessness; however it doesn’t translate into our culture. “Don’t talk to strangers” is better advice; you would never teach your kid just open the door and allow strangers in.
The problem is with losing intent and the big picture. 2,000 years ago when these stories originated, a beggar needed food, you had food. In the big picture you all were equally matched. Today when a stranger shows up at your door with a car breakdown it could be a real car issue or mental illness or criminal intent; you are not the one best suited to help. You aren’t a mechanic. You can’t fix his car but you can point in the direction help is available or call 911. No one who is just hungry shows up at a suburban door these days. So without examining the intent of our story what we end up teaching is just poor boundaries and sacrifice. This is why with good intention you make things more complicated than they really are.
So before you blame everyone else examine your own boundaries.
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
The Granny Doctor says:
I too suspect that Bill is setting himself up, because I have had experience with co-workers who have tried the same trick on me. It’s a game that has definable rules and one of them is: if you don’t have your hand held out, they can’t slap it in your palm. Granny has long since learned to keep her hands in her pockets.
What to do about the situation that has been established at your agency? It would be nice if, when we decided to finally assert ourselves, everyone would go along; but what is probably going to happen is that people will stomp their feet and insist on trying to make you go back in your box. My suggestion is that when they do that, don’t be a butt head and make the mistake of thinking self assertion means yelling louder or acting self-righteous. The best way to ward off your fellow players in the Blame Game is to document and list exactly who is expected to do what, and when, and have everyone agree to it before you begin the project. When someone screws up and they try to blame you, just point to the list. It’s hard to blame a list.