There is a place for blame, particularly if it’s a place that’s visited briefly, on the way to somewhere else. The key is to remember that when we judge someone (or ourselves) for blaming, we’re not improving things.

More often than not, blame is a tiresome game we catch ourselves and others using to avoid responsibility. It’s not pretty, and most of us work hard to root it out. After all, blame is considered one of the greatest impediments to effecting change.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross included feelings of blame (along with anger) in her “Five Stages of Grief”. A critical part of her contribution was to make us aware that all the feelings that go along with extreme change are normal and acceptable. In fact, she originally presented her ideas as “the Five Stages of Receiving Catastrophic News”. That’s any catastrophic news: Even positive experiences can trigger some or all of the stages of grief if the change is significant and/or sudden.

The US Army has an interesting page on change management that uses Kubler-Ross’ model to help program managers deal with emotional responses to change. And the study of change management itself—from managing small, personal changes, to project changes, to massive organizational or societal changes—often looks to that same model as a way of addressing how human beings deal with change. In fact, there is an enlightening chart that not only illustrates the stages, but also serves as a simplified road map for navigating some of the sticky pitfalls (“Everybody’s furious: I’ve failed!”).

Consider the possibility that we may use blame as a handrail to pull ourselves out of even more debilitating feelings. If we keep reaching for the next handrails past blame, rather than stopping there, we’ve moved ourselves into more positive and productive states of mind. I haven’t seen the movie, The Secret, but I’ve read some of the Abraham Hicks material that sparked it, and there’s an awesome list of emotions, called the “Emotional Guidance Scale”. It climbs from the darkest, most helpless, to the grandest and most elevated feelings (well, actually, it starts at the positives and works down, but I tend to read it the other way around). He warns against attempting to pop from fear and hopelessness directly up to happiness and joy (have you watched anybody attempt to do this?), and suggests allowing even a few of the in-between steps.

Both Kubler-Ross’ model/chart and Hicks’ list are profound tools for seeing emotions—even “bad” ones, like blame—as part of a continuum. Remembering that it’s a continuum, a process, can help us deal with change, respond to negativity, and guide challenging projects through to great ends.


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