“It’s all their fault! I did nothing wrong! They’re the ones to blame!”
When we feel wronged, it’s natural to focus on the responsibility of the other person who wronged us. Our own behaviours make perfect sense to us. Even if we did something minor to contribute to the conflict, it wasn’t nearly as bad as what they did.
“They want me to apologize?! I have nothing to be sorry for! They’re the ones who should be apologizing!”
This keeps us stuck in conflict. Each party feels aggrieved by the other, wanting them to make a move to apologize. Now neither party is willing to take responsibility for something that’s not their fault.
Here are three iron-clad ways to protect yourself from unfair blame or fault-finding in a conflict:
- Lead with your 1%
There is the perspective that there is always some shared responsibility in any human interaction. Think of an example: I’m walking down a dark alley at night. A mugger jumps out and demands my wallet at gunpoint. In that moment, it feels like I have no power whatsoever and it’s all under their control. But is it? I may not feel I have a choice, but even in turning over my wallet, might I still be making a choice? Other people might make a different choice: Sizing the mugger up and thinking: “I bet I could take ‘em!” Not me! But am I still not making a choice? Even if it’s 99% about the mugger’s power and control at that moment, might I still have 1% of power and control in choosing to turn over my wallet?
How do we bomb the blame block? Start the discussion by taking full responsibility for your part, but only your part. Even if it’s 99% about their bad behaviour, it will help to influence them by modelling how you can accept your part, even if it’s only 1%.
Rather than saying something like: “You yelled at me! Of course, I yelled back;” try: “I’m sorry about my voice volume in our last discussion.” This isolates your responsibility to just your piece without taking on the whole problem as yours.
- Acknowledge, even if you disagree
Rather than seeing blame and fault as negative, it can help to shift it in our heads: If I have some, even small responsibility, I actually give myself control. Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the horrors of a concentration camp in WWII, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, catalogued his observations of powerful actions even by prisoners of war in horrific circumstances. By acknowledging our role in a conflict, we retain control over resolving it. The good news is: we can acknowledge our role without agreeing or accepting responsibility for the whole problem.
Instead of risking sounding like you’re agreeing by saying something like: “You’re right, I yelled at you;” try: “I’m sorry. Clearly my volume there only made it worse for you.” You’re not agreeing you yelled, but you acknowledge that something under your control had an impact on them.
- Fine then. Don’t apologize!
If the above examples have pinched you because you’re apologizing, you don’t have to say I’m sorry. Some of us grew up in environments where we were wrong as people if we did something wrong. This makes it tough for us to admit to making a mistake as an adult because we don’t want to be wrong people. Others grew up in environments where making a mistake was simply an opportunity to learn. It wasn’t personal about who we are as people. This makes it easy for us to apologize because we see the error as an opportunity to learn and not reflect who we are as people.
Regardless, if you don’t want to say, “I’m sorry,” here are the ABC’s of getting around an apology that will have a similar effect in influencing a positive outcome:
A-cknowledge the negative impact on the other person. For example: “Our last discussion was obviously upsetting.”
B-lame-bomb by accepting your 1% of responsibility. For example: “I shouldn’t have raised my voice.”
C-ommit to a positive future. For example, “I’m going to work on managing my emotions so we can resolve this.”
Lead with your 1%. Acknowledge your role in the conflict. Apologize if you can, or follow the ABCs. You’re now in a stronger position to ask the other person for what part of the conflict they can share some responsibility!