“It’s not my fault” syndrome

Why Bother

If you have children, you have probably heard “It’s not my fault” or “I didn’t do it” at least one hundred times per year of their life.  It is a habit that seems to be formed quite early in life to get out of trouble, and actually, for many people, it is continued till the day they die.  Scolding and reprimanding don’t really seem to cure the habit.

As an adult, working in a practice, you may encounter this habit as well.  Something is left undone or unordered and an emergency situation is caused.  Or an error is made by someone.  Or a patient or client gets upset with you or one of your team and the first reaction to that is “It wasn’t my fault, she …”

Is there a cure for this habit?

Yes, there is!  First of all, the person saying it may have become very defensive, having grown up with parents who frequently (and sometimes falsely) accused them of doing wrong.  Following that, they may have had bosses that did the same thing, thus perpetuating the situation.

Typical scene:

  • Boss:  I can’t believe you were so stupid as to forget to call Mrs. Jones to remind her of her appointment.
    Staff:  You didn’t tell me you needed me to remind her.
  • Boss:  Why didn’t you call the insurance company to see if Mrs. Jones has coverage?  You drive me crazy!
    Staff:  It’s not my fault.  I had a lot to do yesterday and couldn’t get around to doing it.
  • Boss:  You shouldn’t be so rude to Mrs. Jones.
    Staff:  It’s not my fault.  She is just such a rude person herself.

Better scene:

I have had a number of staff over the years that had already rid themselves of the habit before joining our team and it was a sheer pleasure working with them.  Here is a sample conversation:

  • Boss:  Hey, you forgot to remind me of my appointment at 4 p.m.
    Ideal staff:  OMG, you are so right.  Let me call and make a fresh appointment and I’ll be sure and diarize it and set alarms to remind me.
  • Boss:  Where are the two files you were supposed to bring me an hour ago?
    Ideal staff:  Oops, my apologies.  I’ll get them right now.
  • Boss:  Hey, you were a little rude with Mrs. Jones and it ticked her off.
    Ideal staff:  Oh No!  Would it help if I called her and restored the relationship with her?

Ideal Scene:

Honestly, as the boss I have noticed that it is how accusatively I point out the wrongnesses that causes a lot of the incorrect responses.  Taking a second to formulate the best way to point out the problem will probably help lessen the defensiveness.  It’s kind of a two-sided street if you want to cure the problem for real.

  • Ideal Boss:  I think we need to rebook the 4 p.m. appointment that I just missed.
    Ideal staff:  I am SO sorry … I will rebook that right now and I promise I will remember to remind you at 3:30.
  • Ideal Boss:  Do you suppose that it would be possible to bring me the two files?
    Ideal Staff:  OMG!  You’re so patient.  I’ll get them right now!
  • Ideal Boss:  Let’s work out a way to handle Mrs. Jones’s rudeness in the future.
    Ideal Staff:  Uh oh, I did it again, didn’t I?  I would love to do a little practicing as to how I can handle her better.

Practice makes perfect

To achieve the ideal scene may take a little work but the result will be a much happier work environment with fewer mistakes and more fun.

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