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Whose Fault Is It Anyway?
Posted by dirkgently1066
8th Jun 2014

At work today, an issue was identified on a case I had worked on. The issue itself was irrelevant and quickly resolved but my reaction to it was interesting.

As soon as I knew I had been involved in the case, I assumed I had done something wrong. No grey area, no doubt, I had made a mistake and it would lead to a complaint.

I immediately entered panic mode, desperately scrabbling around to find out more information, to understand what had happened, how I had got it wrong. I volunteered excuses (I'm new, I don't know all the processes), seeking understanding and forgiveness whilst offering myself none.

Moments of clarity emerged as I started to understand that this may not be my fault. But my recounting of events, to explain to others what had happened, sounded to my ears like excuses, like an attempt to apportion blame elsewhere.

Of course the reality was nothing like the fantasy. I had made no error. There was no complaint. There was simply an administrative process to be completed to resolve a simple issue.

What prompted me to react in the way I did? It wasn't the incident itself. The issue raised was, in the grand scheme of things, trivial. There was more going on here.

Catastrophising - I leapt to the worst possible outcome. No middle ground, no collecting £200 as I passed go. Simply a jump from nothing to guilty. It was my fault and it was serious, my mind would not countenance anything else.

Unrelenting standards - even if I had made a mistake, that's surely okay. I have only been with the company a short time, I'm still learning. Sounds reasonable doesn't it? It's certainly what I would tell someone else in my position. And yet I would not allow myself the same comfort.

Projecting - how could I possibly know what others are thinking? Yet I convinced myself that they thought I was a nefarious back stabber, shifting blame, pointing fingers.

There was one other interesting observation. Until this point in the day, I had been virtually falling asleep at my desk. When this 'crisis' hit, suddenly I was alert, energised. Clearly this was the adrenalin kicking in, the fight or flight automated response. It is easy to see how this state can be addictive. I felt alive, ready to tackle a problem, even one that didn't exist. Despite knowing the ramifications, I craved that buzz, that sense of purpose.

Mindfulness teaches us not to judge, to be in the moment and to observe. The thinking errors above come from projecting, filling in the blanks without full consideration of the facts.

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