Unfortunately, very often, when things don’t run as smoothly as expected or exactly as planned, group dynamics push the people within to look for a scapegoat to blame it on. This may be perpetrated by otherwise very decent people, simply because while in a group, our moral senses are somewhat modified and subjected to the aforementioned group dynamics. This tendency to find a scapegoat to push the blame onto may especially occur in work environments crippled by bad management practices (either the boss is too rough/severe or everything is too lax until the last moment/deadline). It’s good to focus on becoming a better team player all-together, but if it comes to that situation where people are looking for a scapegoat, here’s how to avoid getting dragged into the whole mess in the wrong position (having the blame be put on you).
1. Be known among the highly efficient.
The more respected you are, the less suited for the position of the scapegoat you become. In other words, people are less inclined to put the blame on you for something that goes amiss, simply because the rumor wouldn’t be very plausible with you in that role. Make sure you make your merits well-known each time you score points (try not to boast, though). But if you ever are really to blame for something, don’t try to deny it: own up to your mistakes as yet another sign of your professional integrity.
2. Warn about potential problems.
Also, as often as you can, try to advise others about potential concerns and speak up when you notice that something may go wrong with the way things currently are. That way, even if the general strategy does remain somewhat the same, in the even that things do go wrong at some point, you may at least say ‘I told you so’. It’s not nice to avoid blame by placing it on others, and good communication at the workplace should always be about finding solutions rather than placing blame, but if blame is going to be placed anyway, then it’s less likely for the person who warned about the problem to be found guilty and more likely for the ones who heard about it and changed nothing.
3. Try not to get on anyone’s bad side.
Try not to upset anyone by treating them unfairly, by gloating at their failures or by boasting your success and so on. Having enemies is always a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean that you should make friends at work either. Keeping things impersonal is always the best idea, but to make sure you aren’t viewed negatively try to avoid anything that might cast an unfavorable light on you or attract the wrong kind of attention. For instance, try to never gossip, even if it might earn you a few short-time friends. Trust us, these are not the kind of friends you want, and being viewed as generally trustworthy and competent is way more important than being part of a clique. If you ever witness a situation where someone is being scapegoated, try to speak out in their favor and to get everyone to focus on the solution to the problem rather on perpetrating this kind of tension. Also, from that point on, try to stay as far away of the scapegoater as possible, so you don’t become a viable target for a person with such practices.
Scapegoating (or work bullying) is considered among the worst plagues of today’s work environment, with negative effects both to the individual and to the company’s productivity. There are even organizations that deal solely with this problem, trying to raise awareness of it and to promote its prevention. So, if you can, try to speak up when you notice someone else being targeted as the one to blame by default in your company. And for self-protection, apply our 3 strategies so you don’t become your team’s scapegoat. Good luck!