Fault: responsibility for an accident or misfortune.
Fault: an extended break in a body of rock, marked by the relative displacement and discontinuity of strata on either side of a particular surface.
Some of us instinctively look to others to find fault for the disfunction of this world.
Some of us instinctively look to ourselves to find fault for the disfunction of this world.
Both of these actions create displacement and discontinuity in the strata of our relationships.
Assessing fault will always results in faults.
Fault begets faults.
So, which one are you? As the author, allow me to go first. I live solidly in the “instinctively looks to others to find fault” category. Like, really solidly. I work alone in my studio almost 100% of the time. And, still, when something is out of place, or a tool I thought was sharp turns out to be dull, I instinctively think: “What happened?” “Who did this?” I have learned over time to recognize this pattern and I can now laugh at myself. But, all the same, it still happens over and over.
What I have realized is that with each of these repeats of the external fault cycle, relationships are impacted. When I place blame for something at someone else’s feet, they are reduced in my mind, I am elevated, our relationship to one another is stratified, our relationship with one another is diminished. Fault begets faults.
I have noticed that the results are no better for those who “instinctively look to themselves to find fault.” This person is continually returning to these statements: “What did I do wrong this time?” “Can’t I do anything right?” “ I am such a failure!” When a person looks to themselves and finds fault, they diminish themselves in their own eyes, they feel unworthy for relationships. Their relationship with others is stratified, their relationships with others is diminished. Again, fault begets faults.
This is not just an issue for individuals, but, also at the organization and society level. You would need to look no further than the political scene in the United States to see the fracturing of relationships that fault finding can have. Right blames left. Left blames right. People are swept up in the floodwaters. Our relationships to one another are stratified, our relationships to one another are diminished. Fault always begets faults.
Why does this relationship between fault and faults exist so strongly, and more importantly, what can we do about it?
When fault is being established, there is a very particular question that is being asked. “Who is to blame?” Establishing blame for something may indeed at times be an important task. When there is a murder, yes, lets find the facts. But always, a side affect of establishing blame is the inevitable stratification of relationships. The one at fault has a diminished standing. Everybody else goes up.
Often that can be the entire reason for asking the fault question: diminishing others standing. Politics is an excellent example of this, but it happens elsewhere as well. In personal relationships there is often an intentional or unintentional desire to weaken someone else’s standing so that ours can increase.
But, there is a different path forward. It comes by asking different questions…questions that focus on solutions. Instead of asking who is to blame, ask questions like “How do we solve this?” “How can this liability become an asset?” “What can we learn from this?” “Are there other things can we focus on instead of this issue?”
Each of of these questions brings about collaboration and therefore enhances relationships. Each of these questions focus on the future rather than on the past. Each one of these questions focus on solutions instead of problems.
Changing the questions, changes the game you are playing. Changing the questions changes your outcomes. Changing your questions changes a situation that stratifies and diminishes relationships into a situation where people are pulled together, problems are solved, relationships are unified and outcomes are improved.
I am by no means an expert on this subject. But my firsthand experience and my observation of friends and family (and sometimes total strangers) has taught me the truth and power behind changing from fault focused questions to solution focused questions. I have been exposed to the idea of asking better questions for a while, but recently I read the book Change Your Questions, Change Your Life by Marilee Adams. It was my first exposure to a full book focused on the subject. If reading this blog has piqued your curiosity about asking better questions, I would encourage you to give it a read or a listen. It is an easy read, delivered almost entirely in narrative format following a businessman, Bob, and his life-changing journey into the world of better questions.
2. Image credit: Tucker Monticelli via Upsplash.com