There are three dimensions to addressing credit and responsibility.
The first dimension is pretty simple, it’s whether or not you actually did the behavior in question. Either you sent flowers to your wife at work or you didn’t. Either you dropped the glass and broke it or you didn’t.
The next dimension is the nature of the act, whether it was a positive act or a negative act. Things we might consider positive include sending flowers, taking out the garbage, or meeting a deadline. Things that might be considered negative include breaking a glass, leaving the milk out on the counter, or deleting an important e-mail.
The third dimension is whether or not you tell others that you did it. You either say, “Yes, I took the garbage out,” or you say, “No, that wasn’t me, I didn’t take the garbage out.
The combination of these three dimensions results in 8 possible conditions when it comes to taking credit or responsibility in a situation. They are as follows:
- You did a good thing and you tell people you did it. = Taking Credit.
- You did a bad thing and you admit that you did it. = Taking Responsibility.
- You did a good thing, but you don’t tell anyone. = Shirking Credit.
- You did a bad thing, but you don’t admit to it. = Shirking Responsibility.
- You didn’t do something good, but you tell people that you did. = Stealing Credit.
- You didn’t do something bad, but you tell people that you did. = Stealing Responsibility.
- You didn’t do something good and you don’t say you did, either. Declining Credit.
- You didn’t do something bad and you don’t admit to it, either. = Declining Responsibility
Let’s examine each of these conditions.
We are generally in favor of people Taking Credit for the good things that they have done. We find it appropriate to present people with awards and certificates when we view their acts as admirable. Overall, Taking Credit is an acceptable behavior, although too much of it might be considered bragging.
Although we aren’t usually pleased when someone does something bad, we tend to be impressed by, and to appreciate, people who Take Responsibility for their actions. Those who Take Responsibility are seen as mature, brave, and honest. We admire Taking Responsibility, although to do it continually without changing the bad behavior diminishes some of it’s appeal.
People that run around doing good things and never tell anyone about them are often seen as humble and honorable, and that is quite positive. However, someone who Shirks Credit for their good works may also be looked upon as a doormat and may be exploited by others who will greedily Steal their Credit. Additionally, chronic Credit Shirking may be a sign of low self-esteem, something that can damage relationships.
Shirking Responsibility is something that almost everyone seems to despise in everyone else, yet someone must be doing it for it to be almost everyone’s pet peeve. Many of the people who are so irritated at the Responsibility Shirkers of the world must also be Shirking Responsibility somewhere or there wouldn’t be so much of it going on for us to complain about. Part of the problem is that it’s very difficult to see when you are Shirking Responsibility and often someone has to tell you. That is so unpleasant that we quickly defend against hearing the feedback and we dig in our heels and defend ourselves, incorrectly, against the accurate laying of blame.
Stealing Credit is considered quite despicable by all, as well, and again, if it were never occurring, we’d have nothing to crab about, so someone must be doing that, too. We frequently observe a superior Stealing Credit from a subordinate, like a boss Stealing Credit for the work of an employee or a Mother Stealing Credit for a child’s accomplishments. This one, as well, is hard to see yourself doing. We are inclined to say we are proud of, or bragging about, our child, not Stealing their Credit. When accused of Stealing someone else’s Credit, we defend ourselves ferociously against the accurate assessment that we are taking someone else’s limelight.
Stealing Responsibility is something that the ‘victim’ of the theft is almost never upset about, but to continually Steal Responsibility for the bad actions of another deprives them of valuable learning opportunities. This is a famous offense of well-meaning, but ineffective parents. Suzie, the High School Sophomore, takes marijuana to school and Mom Steals Responsibility by telling the teacher that it’s her fault because she and Suzie’s father are divorced. The old phrase, “Boys will be boys” can be another way to Steal Responsibility by placing the blame for a bad act on a gender rather than on the individual who made the bad choice.
Declining Credit in cases where no credit is due to you is seen, by most, as the right thing to do, but when someone is really trying to assign undeserved credit to you, it can be uncomfortable to stick to your guns and turn down the praise. The motivation to incorrectly assign credit to someone who hasn’t earned it, is generally manipulative in some way, so although there may seem no harm in accepting false praise, Declining Credit that is not yours keeps you from being indebted to the person trying to give you the Credit. You won’t then, owe them any sort of favor in return for the unwarranted praise.
Declining Responsibility in situations that are not your fault is often attacked as cowardly, unfair, mean, unfeeling, cruel, selfish, or superior. However, those attacks are almost always being made by the person whose fault the action actually is. It is incredibly difficult to keep your cool when being blamed for unsavory acts that you did not do, especially when you know good and well that your accuser did do them, but in order for responsibility to fall where it belongs, you must calmly and pleasantly stand your ground without launching your own attack on your accuser. Keep in mind that most false accusations are designed to cover up a bad act of the accuser. If you enter the discussion as a combatant and behave badly, then they’ll have something that they can actually blame you for and the focus can legitimately switch to you and your bad behavior. Don’t give them that weapon against you. Keep your cool and wait for the blame to fall where it belongs.
When approaching an issue involving blame, credit, and responsibility, the first thing to ask yourself is whether or not you actually committed the act in question. If you did, you know you have some choices. You can admit to doing it or deny doing it. By keeping the guidelines above in mind, you will be better able to recognize the situations in which you should admit to the action and when you should not. Generally, if you did it, you should probably admit it and if you didn’t, you shouldn’t say you did.
It seems sort of easy put that way, doesn’t it? Why, then, is it so hard to get people to take responsibility for their actions and quit stealing credit from other people and to stop bragging so much and to quit letting people walk all over them? Because you’re trying to make someone else do something. These guidelines apply to you. You can’t make someone else use them, that’s their job. Your job is to worry about your own behavior.