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Replacing the “Blame Game” with Something Better

Dispute Settlement Counsel by Michael Zeytoonian.

In one of the strangest presidential campaigns in American history, one common theme stands out, unfortunately – that of finding fault with the other side. For whatever reasons, politicians spend too much time talking about what their opponent is or has been doing wrong. Donald Trump casts himself as a political outsider. Yet he has already embraced the politician strategy of harping on the other side’s faults (“Lyin’ Ted”, “no energy Jeb”, “crooked Hillary”). Hillary Clinton points out that Trump didn’t offer any new ideas or solutions in his speech and only talked about others. But then she didn’t offer any new ideas either, instead talking about Trump!

Voters complain about this. Yet those same voters quickly cut loose candidates with new ideas, and latched on to the catch phrases about blaming others. The only new things we now know about Hillary or The Donald in all these months are their respective running mates. There have been no suggested solutions or insights for repairing the partisan political logjam in Washington, D.C. or how they will address our many pressing problems. While issues like Benghazi, lack of government experience, careless use of a cell phone and several business bankruptcy filings are all relevant information, we got it already – several months ago. Move on.

People say they are more interested in what is being done to make things run better, success stories in business, government or other endeavors. Yet they are also driven more by a desire to make someone pay than to fix the problem. The conversations on Facebook (today’s water cooler, without the water and without the face time) and elsewhere parrot this same superficial song. Blame the Democrats for not cutting spending. Blame the Republicans for not doing anything constructive. Blame ISIS, the big banks, superpacs, Brexit, the internet!

There is not much gained by laying blame. The preoccupation with finding fault is a different exercise than figuring out what went wrong in order to SOLVE THE PROBLEM and MOVE ON! I’d like to hear how these candidates will reach across the aisle, work with others they disagree with and dissect problems, learn from mistakes, collaborate and build on each other’s ideas. How will they eliminate waste of anything – time, talent, food, energy, resources and money? I recently read about how Thomas Edison was confident he had not failed before he finally invented the light bulb, but that he had found a thousand ways not to make a light bulb. Edison was not interested in blaming anyone for his failures, including himself. He used his mistakes only to help him succeed. How refreshing – and game changing – is that?

In the work of dispute resolution, this is a key distinction. The focus of traditional, adversarial dispute resolution and litigation are on the past and establishing liability, even when there may not have been anyone to blame for what was “an accident” or “an honest mistake”. It is largely an endeavor of
pointing a finger, rather than a quest to solve the problem, and lay the groundwork for a more
productive future. There’s a huge difference between figuring out why a light bulb didn’t work and
making an adjustment and looking for someone to give you a bucket of money because the light you
were using didn’t work right.

Most people agree that it make more sense to utilize dispute resolution processes that are focused
on solving problems, getting closure and moving forward than those that look backward and determine
fault. But those same people are still be driven by the emotional pull of laying blame, even when their
rational sides say otherwise.

I suppose we could blame them for that. Or we can all engage in the pursuit of making an emotional
and strategic shift in the way we respond to things that don’t go as hoped. An organization called the
International Academy of Collaborative Professionals (IACP) has a goal of “transforming the way people
resolve conflict worldwide”. In 25 years, it has grown from a handful of like-minded lawyers to over
6,000 members from over 20 countries. I’d love to see it grow to 20,000 and more. I’d also love to see
more articles written with titles like “Getting to Yes”, or “Here’s How I’d Do It” rather than “Not Without


Michael A. Zeytoonian

Michael A. Zeytoonian is the Founding Member and Director of Dispute Resolution Counsel, LLC and is a lawyer, mediator and ombudsman. He is formerly a partner and now Of Counsel at Hutchings, Barsamian, Mandelcorn & Zeytoonian, LLP, in Wellesley Hills, MA. He specializes in employment law, business law, special education… MORE >

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