How to Banish Blame

man talking on the phone

Whether I’m working with a team on customer service or sales skills, our conversation inevitably includes a discussion about how and why everyone seems to be more irritated these days.

There are lots of reasons – the economy, world politics, the environment – to name a few. These are things over which most of us have little control. We do, however, have control over our words … and how we say them. There is a simple change we can make in how we speak to our clients, prospects, family and friends that will minimize the irritation that runs through our days.

What is this simple change? And how can you use it in your conversations? Keep reading to find out. 

I recently found myself in the position of a customer who needed some help. An invoice that normally arrives by email was nowhere to be found. I searched in several ways, checked my spam folder … nothing. Like most of you, I’m paying close attention to my budget and was wanting to crunch some month-end numbers. I called the company to have them resend the invoice.

My call was answered in a rush, which I expected. It’s a time of year when this industry is pushed to the limit with calls and questions. I quickly gave the necessary information for the person to find my file and explained my problem. The response immediately created irritation:

“Have you checked your email? We sent it to you. And you need to check spam. Anyway, you’ll be getting a detailed statement soon.”

On the surface, this conversation would be irritating to anyone because there was no offer to help by resending the invoice. But there’s a language lesson here for all of us and it is about the use of the word “you”.

My irritation was sparked as soon as they asked if I’d checked my email. Here’s an example of the cranky thoughts that started to surface: I mean, if I’m calling you to tell you I haven’t received an email, doesn’t that mean I’ve checked? I’ve been working with computers since 1987 – I do know how to check an inbox.

This was followed up by the instruction to check spam which amplified my irritation. I managed to control the urge to be sarcastic and I ended the call without delivering a lecture on customer service. But I continued to consider my reaction to this conversation for the rest of the day.

My irritation came from the experience of blame. The use of the word “you” felt like finger-pointing, telling me that the missing invoice was my fault. Any conversation that includes, implies or casts blame is going to spark an emotional response.

So what happens when that first “you” is replaced with “we”?

“Let’s see if we can find the problem. I’m assuming you’ve checked your email and spam? It does look like we’ve sent it to you but I’ll send it to you again right now.” 

This even works with domestic chores. Instead of saying, “You never take out the garbage,” how about, “Let’s talk about how we can get the garbage to the curb on time.”

Yes, some things are the other person’s fault but pointing that out doesn’t support an excellent conversation that leads to a solution. It results in defensiveness, irritation and sometimes anger. And once someone is emotional, they cannot hear and the opportunity to communicate evaporates.

Whether customer service or sales are part of your daily life, or you want to inspire better conversations with family and friends, start paying attention to where and how you use the word “you”. Let me know what you discover and how it impacted your communication.


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