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Most difficult conversations focus significant attention on who’s to blame for a particular mess in which we find ourselves. To stop the inefficient process of attributing blame solely to others, we need a way that will help us see that our own fingerprints are often on the very knife that is stabbing us!

A great tool for dealing with the “Blame Frame,” or the frame we have that identifies blame solely with another party, is something called “mapping the contributions. Among the several leadership activities I use in my classes, this one is sure to improve leaders’ ability to make difficult conversations more productive.

This tool asks an important and extremely salient question: “how did we each contribute to the problem or conflict that we are experiencing?” The purpose of asking this question and determining contribution is to prepare for the future – let us not repeat whatever we did or did not do that precipitated this conflict or problem. We need to learn about each other and how we work together to be more productive and healthier down the line.

Blame “inhibits our ability to learn what’s really causing the problem and to do anything meaningful to correct it.” Distinguishing Blame from Contribution is key. Blaming is about judging and only looks backward. It asks: who caused the problem? Were they incompetent, unreasonable, or perhaps unethical, and how should they be punished?

Blaming and punishing is an inefficient, backwards looking substitute for truly figuring out the root causes of a conflict or issue. Contribution, on the other hand, is about understanding and looks entirely forward. Questions to be answered to examine contributions are instead:

  • How have we each contributed to this situation?
  • Having identified the contribution system, how can we change it?
  • What can we do to move forward?

Overall, to move from Blame to Contribution we must:

  • Map the contribution system (What are they contributing? What am I contributing? Is anyone else involved?)
  • Take “response-ability” for our own contribution early in the discourse to set an example.
  • Help the other individuals involved understand their own contributions.
  • Make the sensory data and the reasoning (interpretations) explicit.
  • Clarify what both you and the others should do differently, and what you each need to do to influence and improve the situation.

What can you accomplish in your team when you map each other’s contributions instead of assigning blame?