What the Absence of Accountability Sounds Like

I have been doing some research in preparation for a workshop on personal accountability a colleague and I are doing for MBA’s at the Fisher College.  As I have been getting into it, I am beginning to notice more about what the absence of accountability sounds like when people talk.  Consider the following example.

The other day I was changing a light bulb in my basement work area.  One of the screws holding the cover on the light was tight, so used a screwdriver to loosen it.  When I was finished with the screwdriver, I threw it down onto the workbench (I was on a stepladder), where it hit and scattered some small ceramic tiles I had been removing from a table made by Laurie’s dad.  I found all the tiles except one and was upset because its loss would mean the table could not be restored in its original form.

When I went upstairs to tell Laurie, my first thought was to say “The screwdriver knocked a bunch of tiles off the workbench, and now I can’t find one.”  And that’s when I noticed how the absence of accountability sounds – there is no “I” in the action of what happened.  My initial thought made the screwdriver accountable for the lost tile, not me.  I was the one who threw the screwdriver and my having done that accounts for why the tiles were scattered.

As I thought more about this one example, I began to notice how many places I leave off any mention of “I” when things happen, as if they happened on their own accord and I was simply an observer.  You know, stuff like “The cup feel off the dish drying rack and broke” rather than “I hit the cup and knocked it on the floor.”  The more I considered explanations for things that I have something to do with, the more I realized that the key word missing in those explanations was “I” and what “I” did that produced the result – good, bad, or ugly.

Perhaps you have noticed the same thing when people give explanations – there is no “I” in what they say except, possibly, when it is something good.  Check it out.  Listen to the explanations you and others give and see when there is an absence of accountability.  Let me know what you discover.


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