I admit it. I snap at coworkers. And sometimes customers. Maybe once a week. Not a lot. Only when I’ve just about had it with my workload, or someone pushes my buttons.

I don’t mean anything by it. I always say I’m sorry.

Besides, after a while those I work with learn how to take me.

Unfortunately, we have a new clerk in the office. She arrives at work all bubbly and wants to talk first thing in the morning. I’m not a morning person and don’t like to interact with others until I’ve had at least three cups of coffee.

This morning she offered me banana bread as soon as I walked in the door. I said, “I don’t want to be bothered.” That’s all I said.

I didn’t see or hear it, but she then apparently cried off and on all morning. When our manager stopped by and asked her what was up, the clerk unloaded about how I’ve treated her. She

The manager called me on the carpet. I listened to the complaint and learned the clerk described my voice as harsh and horrid.

I asked why the clerk, if she was so upset, hadn’t come to me. I pointed out that I take full responsibility for my behavior and always say I’m sorry, but this clerk, like a squirrel storing nuts, stored up all the times I snapped and didn’t mention that that I always apologize afterwards.

I left this meeting irritated. Now don’t know to interact with this clerk, other than to avoid her.


You don’t take full responsibility. Full responsibility means that you don’t repeat a problem behavior again and again. When you repeat problem behavior, apologies ring hollow.

Further, you lay the problem at the feet of others. You critiqued the clerk for not coming to you. You expect others to learn how to “take” you.

Yes, this clerk could have done things differently. You don’t, however, have control over her behavior, only over your own. Now you plan to avoid a co-worker whose major mistake was offering you banana bread?

What can you do instead?

You can realize this problem starts and stops with you.

Others won’t need to learn how to take your snapping turtle routine if you end it.

Finally, you might drink those three cups of coffee before you head to work, and read Monday’s post on the right way to apologize,

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8 thoughts on “The Blame Shifter

  1. Whoa. This one had to be hard to write up. I only snap about once a week and I always apologize afterward. There are workplaces where this could get the person a write-up and ultimately fired. Your comments, as ever, are on target. It doesn’t sound like those are genuine apologies, and examining her anger issues and finding other ways to deal with them would be much, much better.

  2. I’ve seen this so frequently in my career that shifting blame almost seems more the norm than taking responsibility. I saw one of my coworkers bullied almost daily for 17 years until management finally intervened. I switched companies and then it was my turn to be targeted by a blame shifter. She went off on me repeatedly; referred to me as “what’s her face” and addressed me with dripping sarcasm when she wasn’t screaming at me. Unlike the clerk with the banana bread I chose to confront my abuser in person. What a mistake! She began screaming at me at the top of her lungs, her face turned purple, the chords in her neck were protruding and I was afraid she would hit me. Her excuse for her behavior? She said she came from a family that regularly had screaming sessions in the kitchen, this is just her personality, and I was overly sensitive and took everything personally.

    The management not only did not address her behavior but indicated I was not welcome to bring it to their table. Much like the employee who had to endure this for 17 years, it absolutely confounded me that this employer did not care how much this kind of behavior depletes an organization. The non-morning person who regularly snaps at customers and staff–why is she still working there? The person who bullied me was offered a promotion to management and the veteran, 17 year abuser continued with her job, salary and benefits.

    I know from reading that it can even get worse–sometimes the abused is fired while the bully is retained. I don’t get it–I simply don’t get it. This isn’t rocket science but sadly enough, maybe it is.

  3. Karen, thanks for your real story. I’ve regularly taught seminars on the toxic effect if bullying and incivility, and there’s WAY too much of it.

  4. Love this. It is very common and I see it and have been on the side of the “victim” per say. We all need to be conscious of how we treat others and remain professional and respectful, no matter how frustrate or irritating interactions may be. Thank you for putting this out there. Good material!

  5. She sometimes snaps at customers??!! That alone should have gotten reprimanded the first time. And fired if it happened again.

  6. Perfect response, Lynne, to this toxic individual who is now playing the victim. I get the feeling she wanted you to validate her “victimness.” Gratifying to know that management stepped up here and did the right thing.

    That said, I have two “rants” (preaching to the choir) about Karen’s great points- specifically the last sentence of her first paragraph.

    1. It’s so misguided that so many blame their personality for their faults. It’s the reason they avoid responsibility for their own inappropriate behavior.

    2. It’s always the insensitive toxic clods that call others, “too sensitive.” Ann Lander’s once advised, “The next time someone tells you ‘you’re too sensitive,’ ask them a question. Why is it that it’s always the insensitive clods that tell others they’re too sensitive?”

    1. What great comments, and I’m loving that several of you have started to respond to each other’s comments. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed everyone’s comments.

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