Pole Barn Mistakes: Taking the Blame

I was once at a get together at a friend’s house. It was crowded, with about twice as many people as the space comfortably fit (must have been a good party). Being as it was a casual event the kitchen became the hub of activity, with food and drink preparation, cooking, chattering and of course, clean up.

Besides all of the human guests there was a dog in the mix too.

Dog With Long TailI was at the sink washing dishes when I heard the dog yelp behind me. I turned just in time to see a woman curse at the dog as it dashed out of the kitchen. She had obviously just stepped on his foot or tail.

“Watch out!” she shouted after the dog, then saw me looking at her and added, “He’s always in the way.”

Really? You step on a dog and then you blame the dog? Who does that?

Actually, a lot of us do.

Blaming others is a poor strategy. Not simply because everyone can see through it. Or because it’s dishonest. Or because it destroys relationships. Or even because, while trying to preserve our self-esteem, it actually weakens it. There’s a more essential reason why blame is a bad idea: Blame prevents learning.

If something isn’t your fault, then there’s no reason for you to do anything differently. Which means, in all probability, you’ll make the same mistake in the future. This will lead to more blame. It’s a cycle which almost always ends badly.

Thankfully there’s a simple solution: Take the blame for anything you’re even remotely responsible for.

This solution transforms all the negative consequences of blaming others into positive ones. It solidifies relationships, improves your credibility, makes you and others happy, reinforces transparency, improves self-esteem, increases learning, and solves problems. It’s as close as I’ve ever seen to a panacea.

Contrary to what you may feel in the moment, taking the blame is the power move, strengthening your position, not weakening it. First of all, because once you’ve taken responsibility for something, you can do something about it, which gives you strength.

But also because it takes courage to own your blame, which shows strength. It immediately silences anyone who might try to blame you — what’s the point if you’ve already taken the blame? The “blame you” conversation is over. Now you can focus on solving problems.

Being defensive makes you slippery. Taking responsibility makes you trustworthy. You might think it puts you at risk because others may see an opening and jump on you. But this is not what usually happens.

There is one tricky part of this. To take the blame, you need to have confidence in yourself and your capability. You need the personal strength to accept failure. You need enough self-esteem to believe you can learn from your mistakes and succeed another day. You need to accept failure as part of life and not a final sentence on who you are as a person.

Now you may be thinking, “This is all well and good, but how does it apply to pole barns”?

Hansen Pole Buildings’ clients (and probably those of most businesses) generally fall into one of three categories.

The first (where the majority reside), follow directions and are self-reliant enough to work themselves past unforeseen challenges. They send in photos when their buildings are completed.

The second is more often than not an unhappy camper on a good day. “This building kit is the worst ever, your engineer is an idiot, and you need to fix it now”. Hmmmm, I think. Same kit we send out to the 98% of people who rave about quality and design, and the very same engineer.

I go with, “How about we look at the Building Plans and see what went wrong”. All too often I get a variation of, “Let me go look for them….now where are they?”.

Once the pole barn plans are out, the root of the situation is often uncovered. If not, we take the position of, “We must have done something wrong”. We track the path – Materials List is compared manually to the building plans, purchase orders to the material list, vendor confirmations to the purchase orders, and delivery tickets to the confirmations. As humans, we make mistakes, we are not perfect – we admit them and then do the important part – we resolve them as expediently as is reasonably practical.

All too often, even after the mistake is gently pointed out to them, do they admit to culpability. My sympathy level – low.

The third is generally a building owner who is diligently and carefully doing his or her own work. The call comes in, “I’ve made the worst possible error ever. You’ve probably never heard anything so bad.”

I actually love these people – they are so good to work with.

In my past life, I managed 35 pole building crews, across six states. If a mistake could be made, my crews found a way to do it. I’ve yet to have a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) builder top what my guys had done. I happily tell clients this story, talking them down into a more realistic perspective.

For these folks – I’ve always done everything reasonably practical to assist them. Worked them through how to solve a problem, and not repeat the mistake. Sent them a couple hundred screws for free, or arranged more or replacement materials at a discount.

In other words, it’s OK to step on a dog. It happens. Just don’t blame the dog.

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