Interconnected: Conflict is rarely one person’s fault.

July 31, 2023

Fingers pointing at each other

Are you familiar with The Blame Game? You can play it anywhere, anytime! And many of us do. Imagine this:

You’re making your morning cup of coffee and shuffle to the fridge to grab some milk. Barely awake because you had stayed up late watching one more episode of your favourite show, you are looking forward to some caffeine. Just as you’re pulling it out, you accidentally knock over a tower of Tupperware, which sends the orange juice flying. With the milk in one hand and your coffee mug in the other, you watch as the bottle of orange juice slow-motion bounces once, twice, and smashes to the floor; the lid popping off and its sweet golden liquid surging out, underneath the fridge, and soaking the fresh socks you had just pulled out of the pile of unfolded clean laundry.

You would throw your hands up in the air if you still weren’t holding the milk and coffee.

And it’s not even 9 am.

No longer thirsty and now fully awake (no thanks to caffeine), you grab a dishcloth to stem the sticky deluge. Sopping up the mess, your mind begins to spin: If only Spouse hadn’t stacked the Tupperware like that, this wouldn’t have happened. I saw how badly things were crammed in there last night, but I was distracted by Mother calling. Why did she have to call at that time?! And then I got busy with work emails. Ugh, Colleague needs to stop messaging me after hours! How can Company make such a faulty cap on that juice bottle anyway?! I am going to write them an email. And where is Spouse?!! They should be cleaning this up! I don’t even like orange juice!! IT WAS THEIR TUPPERWARE TOWER!!!

As you use your socks to absorb the juice seeping into the corner of the baseboards (because why not, they’re soaked already), you continue to mentally list the litany of scapegoats, lining them up one after another. You’re still muttering to yourself when Spouse comes in, sees the mess, and drops on their knees to help. Worked up into a frenzy, you sputter at them angrily about how they need to stack the Tupperware better.

Yes, maybe they do. But you were rushing this morning as well…so maybe, just maybe, you bear some responsibility too?

It’s a radical thought.

Cow exclaiming don't cry over spilt orange juice

The nature of relationship is that we are all deeply interconnected. This also means that any given situation tends to not be as simple as we might wish it to be.

When things inevitably get messy like in our spilt orange juice example, pointing out these reasons to the mess-that-is might have some merit. Yes, Spouse haphazardly stacked the Tupperware last night as they were cleaning up and hurrying to bed. And sure, Mother called you to say hello. And okay, Colleague emailed you after hours as they were trying to figure out the vexing work problem. But pointing only at these things amounts to excuses – and shirks any responsibility that you also bear.

When bad things happen, it’s usually the result of a series of many things and often involves many people. While context might help explain how a series of steps added up to a moment of regrettable action, it does not exonerate one’s role. Rarely does the fault solely lie with one person. Yet often our focus lingers on the wrongs of other people to the exclusion of ourselves – when in reality, everyone involved bears some level of responsibility.

At this point, you might be realizing you’re better at The Blame Game than you originally thought. But what if we choose to include ourselves in making sense of what happened?

Imagine you are back in your kitchen, having just mopped up all the spilt orange juice. You apologize to your partner for your outburst (after which they concede to their poor Tupperware architecture), change your socks, and head to work ready to tackle the tricky problem that your colleague emailed you about late last night.

We believe this is a worthy amendment to the rules of the game. By recognizing our role in life’s messes, we embrace reality – and act as fairly and honestly as we can, doing our best in complicated circumstances.

The proverbial orange juice will inevitably spill again. And when it does, the question becomes: how can we both accept responsibility and ask others to accept theirs?

This is a good question to keep in mind when dealing with all types of conflict – for in accepting our role we can hopefully contribute towards resolution rather than escalation.

Are you curious about how you can change your mindset around conflict, for the better? A great place to begin is one of our on-demand webinars, such as Introduction to Conflict Resolution and Dealing with Defensiveness. Through these accessible online courses, our team of experts share proven tools of the trade on how to transform conflict into something constructive. Experience the positive benefits of conflict resolution techniques by getting started today.

If you have questions,
please don’t hesitate to call.


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