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Episode 26 - Transcript

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Hello, I'm Jacek Olender and this is PoLoop Angielski Podcast. For more materials for learners of English and the transcript of this episode, go to my website


I've recently come across this article about blaming people for their mistakes. The article is titled "Faulty Reasoning," and was published by The Economist on January the 19th, 2023. I talked about it with some of my students last week, and it turned out to be really interesting, and a good source of business vocabulary and, more specifically, expressions about blaming people. But before we get to what the article says about this topic, picture this. A sales team is sitting in a meeting discussing the low sales figures for the quarter. Their team leader asks why the numbers are so low. One person says they didn't have enough leads to follow up on. A nice Phrasal Verb, three-part Phrasal verb, "to follow up on something." When you follow up on a lead, you try to change a potential customer, who is likely to buy your product or service, into an actual customer. So coming back to our sales meeting, another salesperson says the leads they were given were not good enough, so they were not easily converted into customers. A third says that they were given insufficient training on the product they were selling. The meeting turns into a mess of every one point pointing fingers and blaming each other. Everyone is trying to shift the responsibility for the low sales figures onto someone else. When something goes wrong, it's only natural to want to blame someone else instead of taking responsibility yourself. It's hard to own up to a mistake. Another three-part Phrasal Verb in action. "To own up to something" means to admit or to take responsibility for something. It's like saying, "I did it". Or "I'm the one who is responsible," instead of ... [extract from the song]. Yes, it wasn't me. But that's not me. That's actually Shaggy, denying responsibility for being caught in the act of cheating on his girlfriend, despite evidence to the contrary.


Anyway, according to The Economist article, the kind of blame game in a work environment that we witnessed in our example is not just frustrating; it's actually really bad for business. Companies with a "Shaggy culture" perform worse than those encouraging employees to take responsibility for their mistakes. And this worse performance could be easily seen in their share prices. Why is blaming so bad? Well, blame culture can hurt the unity of a team and make it harder for people to admit their mistakes. This, in turn, can stop organisations from learning from their mistakes. Some industries, like aviation and healthcare, have learned the dangers of blaming and instead focus on finding out what went wrong and on how to fix the problem. The National Transportation Safety Board, the institution which investigates crashes and close calls, by the way, a close call is a situation in which an accident almost happened; this organisation says that its role is not to find a guilty person but to find out what went wrong and issue recommendations to avoid similar situations in future. When it comes to health care, in Sweden, for example, you don't need to allocate blame to compensate patients if the harm they suffered was avoidable. Also in IT, software engineers and developers conduct so-called "blameless post-mortems," sort of investigations to find out what went wrong when, say, a website crashed, or a server went down.


However, it could be really difficult to stop blaming; adopting the culture of blamelessness comes with some risks. The first problem is that sometimes blame is deserved, and people who deserve to face the consequences could be let off the hook if the blameless environment is introduced. The second problem with the introduction of the blameless culture is the boss. People in positions of power are often more likely to blame others instead of taking responsibility themselves. Of course, it's not easy to change the blame game mentality if the boss is the one pointing fingers. In one experiment presented in the article, some people acted as the boss, and others as workers. They were shown a mistake someone had made and an apology saying it was because of a bad internet connection. The bosses were much more likely to blame that person for the situation and wanted to punish them financially, even though it wasn't their fault. So the study shows that when people have power, they are more likely to be unfair and blame others for things that aren't their fault. What's more, just like Covid, blame is contagious. Since bosses are the most visible people in a firm, when they point fingers in a company, everyone else does the same, and the blame culture is born.


So, to sum up, assigning blame can often lead to negative consequences. When people are afraid to take responsibility for their actions, they may start to hide their mistakes. This can lead to a lack of transparency and trust within the organisation. On the other hand, companies where people are encouraged to own up to their mistakes and learn from them are better at making continuous improvements and generally are more efficient. That's why leaders should promote an environment where individuals feel comfortable admitting their mistakes. This can lead to a more positive work environment, increased innovation, and improved performance. Don't you think the same could be said about teachers and schools?


That's it for today. You can find a link to the economist article in the notes accompanying this episode. I also encourage you to find in this recording all the phrases connected with the topic of blame. There are quite a lot of them. A transcript of this episode could come in handy for making such a list. You can find a link to it in the notes as well. Thank you for listening. Speak to you next week. Bye

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