How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
Blameless conversation occurs where problems have happened or people disagree, yet there is no assumption nor accusation of blame.
Rather than thinking 'Who's fault is this?' People start with 'What happened?' Even when it appears a problem is caused by a person's actions, it is assumed that they did not intend to cause the problem. It may also be assumed, until it may be proven otherwise, that they are competent.
The first exploration is the wider situation. What else contributed to the problem? Were there external factors? Did the person have all the tools and support they needed? Were they overloaded or stressed? Were they tired or distracted?
The biggest question is not about blame, but how to prevent or reduce recurrence. This is a far more valuable activity than punishing people.
The leaflets did not all arrive on time. Do you know what happened, so we can ensure they all get delivered next time?
We don't seem to be spending much time together these days. I want us to be happy.
What can we do to help this? Yes I know you forgot again. I wondered if anything is distracting you.
When things go wrong, many people are quick to blame others. Yet blame achieves little other than to encourage people to avoid it. Blame says 'You are wrong and bad and deserve punishment'. It also says 'I am entirely innocent and good, and higher status than you', which is often the inner reason for blame conversations.
Talking without blame assumes people are good and want to do the right thing, which fits exactly with their views of themselves. This makes conversation much easier as they feel less need to defend themselves. Paradoxically, perhaps, this also helps people admit responsibility.
Blameless conversations can be difficult. Partly this is because blame is cultural, habitual and we seldom think about what is actually going on. Blame conversations are also tempting when they make us feel superior. They also take the focus off ourselves, should we be feeling any guilt. It positions us as judge and jury and casts the other as guilty defendant who must either admit guilt or try and fail to defend themselves.
Blame conversations may also be about an absent third party, such as when we gossip about others. This is easier even than direct blame as it avoids the difficulty of the defendant defending themselves, perhaps rather successfully. The participants effectively share the sense of superiority over the absent victim, socially cementing this gain.
Blameless conversation requires two or more people to all stand back from blame, which can be tricky when participants are trapped in blame thinking and may even blame the non-blamer to sustain the status quo.