I was having a conversation with my sister the other day and we got to talking about failure. Specifically, we were talking about relationships — with partners, family, friends and colleagues — that had failed in our lives.
As my sister was describing an anecdote, there was a moment when she was outlining in perfect detail everything the other person had done wrong.
She finished her explanation with “I know I’m 50% at fault too, but I just wanted to point that out.”
We paused for a moment and then I asked her, “Ok, if you’re 50% to blame, what was your contribution to the failure — what was your 50%?”
There was silence on the other end of the phone for a long time.
And then, she replied back...
“That’s a good question, I’m not sure.”
My intention wasn't to point fingers at her because, well, I’m guilty of doing the same. I was interested in her analysis of what she thought she did wrong.
This got the gears in my mind turning and I started thinking about the times in my own life when I've said,
"I know I'm 50% to blame, but..."
Was I saying that because it was "the right thing to say" or because it diffused the tension?
I’ve said those words out loud many times but haven’t really thought about what I was contributing to the failure. Ultimately, it was because I didn’t believe I had done anything wrong. Or at least, I believed that the other person was waaaay more at fault than me.
Talk about self-righteous. Pfft.
When things fail, it’s natural to want to point blame at anyone or anything around you — intentionally or not — and excuse yourself from the situation.
We’ll blame our boss for being difficult.
We’ll blame our coworkers for not pulling their weight.
We’ll blame our partners for not listening.
We'll blame someone for saying something that provoked us.
There are an endless number of reasons. It’s easier to pick from a list of excuses than to test our own flaws. Looking deeply at ourselves is hard, it hurts and it’s uncomfortable.
In life, things fail.
And even if you can admit that you’re partly to blame and you say those words out loud, do you believe that? Do you really believe that you could be or are part of the problem (or even the whole problem)?
Acknowledging that you bring 50% of the fault is a great first step. To take it a step further, spend more time analyzing yourself the next time things go wrong instead of scrutinizing someone else's every fault.
Don't succumb to that old friend denial and absolve yourself of all responsibility. That's your ego talking and it's refusing to accept that what you don’t like could be true.
It’s possible that the other side is more to blame. Maybe they are at fault. Or, maybe not.
But, that's not important. What is important is to ask yourself what you brought to the interaction? What did you contribute to the failure?
Know that…because that’s your responsibility.