Resilience is the ability to cope well with difficulties and to bounce back from setbacks. While some people are naturally more resilient than others, resiliency can also be intentionally developed.
Contribution vs. Blame
The difference between contribution and blame can be the difference between productive problem-solving and tense stale-mate. The way we language is critical. The words we use can shape our subsequent perceiving and thinking. Flexibility, including flexibility with our languaging, is a characteristic of high-level resilience. Blame tends to lead to exercises in responsibility tossing; each person involved trying to toss the blame and responsibility to someone else. Exploring contributions (contributing factors) to a problem facilitates the identification of the problem’s sources, and so facilitates the finding of potential solutions to the problem.
Suppose a team is working on an important proposal (are there any non-important proposals?). The writer brings the proposal draft to the team leader shortly before a critical deadline (vs. a non-critical deadline). The team leader reviews it and asks why the change from the previous day was not included. The writer claims no awareness of said change from the previous day, while the team leader insists that he informed the writer of the change. At this point, a common human reaction is for the writer and team leader to start blaming each other, for not transmitting (“You didn’t tell me.”) or not listening (“You don’t’ pay attention when I speak to you”), directly and verbally, or in other myriad forms. The writer will work like crazy to make the change, the team leader will sign off barely in time, and “Who is to blame?” will be heavy in the air.
Or, the writer and team leader will work to correct the change. And then will review what contributed to the mix-up, for example: poor communication between the two, verbal vs. written notices of changes, lack of a daily briefing to review important updates. Identification of contributing factors more easily and directly leads to problem-solving the situation.
We can easily be thinking from a blaming perspective unawares. Consider, as an example, a couple with long-term marital issues. The husband decides he wishes to improve the relationship and begins to make positive gestures toward his wife, which the wife rebuffs, and the husband begins to distance himself even more than before. People may think, well, marriage is 50-50, each needs to look inward; or some might suggest a 60-40 liability split, or even 90-10. The husband should have approached his wife differently. The wife should not have been so quick to rebuff the husband's advances. The husband should not have given up so easily. Also here, a more productive and more resilient approach is to think about contributing factors, preferably together. Marriages typically have achieved a certain balance, not always a happy one, but a balance nonetheless. One-sided moves can upset that balance. Potential contributing factors in our current example could include: lack of fuller communication by husband to wife regarding his intentions, or wife having adapted to an independent lifestyle and feeling husband's gestures as intrusion. Blaming tends to lead to beliefs that the other person should fix themselves, which tends to lead to defensiveness. Exploring contributing factors tends to consider a wider picture, with greater willingness of those involved to productively address sources of the problem.
Two caveats: It is human, and only cheating oneself, when focusing on blame while pretending to call it something else! And, sometimes we really do swim with sharks, and it is necessary to play the blame game in order to survive in the waters. Even then, internally focusing on contributions vs. blame will allow you to more effectively problem-solve swimming in shark-infested waters. And, stay on the lookout for clearer waters where others involved may be open to participate in focusing on contribution versus blame.
Carolyn S. Tal, PhD
Psychologist and Consultant - working with individuals, couples, and business partners