What do you think when you hear the word “responsibility”? The place where I come from (Poland) it usually has negative connotations, and it means you are in trouble. You broke the glass, you are responsible, and you need to pay for it. It comes hand in hand with the fact that our education systems teach us to avoid failures. All of that combined makes us think that responsibility is a bad thing, and we should avoid being responsible for things in our lives. Is this the full picture? What if we look at this from a different angle? If I am responsible, it means I am response-able – able to respond, able to think logically and move, fix and correct things around me. Let’s take a look at the Responsibility Process.
“Be able to respond“ rather than be stuck in your mind
Christopher Avery used to work as a management consultant. He coached and helped many people, and he noticed an interesting pattern. A lot of people were not happy at work. He then came across an emerging behavioural science framework — The Responsibility Process. His career trajectory changed, and today Chris is the CEO and founder of “The responsibility company”. What is The Responsibility Process? Here is the definition from Chris’s company page:
This powerful framework is the world’s first proven how-to approach for understanding, teaching, and taking personal responsibility. It helps us apply our innate leadership ability to face and overcome any challenge. Operating in freedom, power, and choice, we encourage and support those we lead to do likewise.
The Responsibility Process
The Responsibility Process is not something we learn. It is instead a mental process inherent to all of us. It consists of 7 stages. We all go through them every time we face challenges. Our brains are wired this way. The only thing we can do is to be aware, learn to recognise this fact and try to be mindful of the state in which we currently operate.
We all start here. It is common for all problematic situations. Children will bluntly reject their fault, trying to put the responsibility on their siblings. Adults will refuse to accept uncomfortable facts, and so on. Some examples of this stage:
- I cannot believe I did that.
- It is not that bad.
- I didn’t do it.
- I don’t think it could happen.
When things go wrong, and we can’t reject them because it’s evident that something happened, we switch to the second phase. We immediately try to find the fault. Almost always externally. It must be someone else that did something wrong. Someone else didn’t do something, and it led to this situation and so on. We blame others, and we give them the power of fixing the issue. We are left powerless. It manifests whenever we say something similar to:
- Oh gosh, that guy bumped me, and I dropped your coffee.
- It was the other team that was late, so my team could not deliver on time.
- My wife didn’t wake me up so I am late.
- The email was not clear, so I haven’t taken any action.
What we do next in our journey to be able to respond is that we try to justify. We try to find a good reason why others do what they do. We also try to find excuses for our shortcomings. It is sometimes a very creative process. It is also dangerous. We can get to be very good at it. We all hear it every day:
- He is just not careful.
- It is the organisational culture; we cannot do much.
- It is the management; my hands are tight.
The first three stages were external. We often blame and justify people openly. Sometimes is a subtle way, sometimes it is an open protocol. The next two steps are internal. In most cases, they happen only in our heads.
When we realise it is our fault, it is on us, and there is no one to blame, we move to shame. It’s still part of the creative process of “excusoza” disease. We find ourselves guilty, we try to justify our actions, and as a result, we start dancing the shame tango.
- I always do it; Why am I so clumsy?
- I should’ve known better.
- I’ve done it so many times; I am useless.
- Shame on me, I try to tell other people to do it, and I don’t do it myself.
Some folks could say this stage is already the right state. And it’s often very close to being in the optimal mindset. However, there is a significant difference. Feeling obligation, in the long run, will not make you happy. We know that the situation is not good. We went through the process of denying, blaming, justifying and shaming ourselves or others, and now we know we have to act. It has to be me. Who else if not me? The excellent indicator of this stage is the self-talk that starts with “I have to do X”.
- Now I have to clean it all up.
- I have to, but I don’t want to.
- We don’t have a choice.
- It is company policy.
- We have to comply.
Finally, we try to answer the question of why certain things happened, what we can learn and how we can avoid them in the future. When we go through all previous stages, we can respond. Sometimes the difference between the obligation and the responsibility stages is subtle. It may reflect some disconnect with the decisions that we made in the past. “I have to stay home because I have small kids”.
Being responsible should always mean being able to respond. It is very much aligned with the “Extreme Ownership” philosophy. There is still something I can do, there is always some form of response from me, even if the situation I am in is clearly out of my control.
A good example is being late for a meeting. It could be traffic, and it could be the empty tank because someone else used my car. It could be a gazillion of other good reasons to blame, justify and seek someone’s else responsibility for the fact I am late.
We can respond when we realise it is all on us.
There is one more stage that sometimes it’s not part of the primary process. It is why it’s represented on the side. Sometimes we are stuck in our minds for so long that we quit. It usually corresponds to our circumstances. The quit stage doesn’t need to mean we literally quit the work. It usually means the mental state and some form of apathy. It is our self-protection mechanism. We are generally in the recursive loop between the early stages of the responsibility process with no path to take any action. It usually manifests itself in some form of the following:
- I don’t care.
- Nothing will happen anyway.
- It doesn’t matter.
How to practice being responsive?
We all do it. We all go through the process many times in a day. The most optimal state is to be always in the responsibility stage as soon as we can. Ok, so if we all do it, and we have to go through the whole process, how can we practice to be able to respond? It’s as usual as easy and as complicated as to be self-aware.
Heard it (Someone else did it)
The best way to start is to listen. We have many conversations per day. We also hear many people talking. Let’s try to listen to those conversations with our radar tuned to particular phrases.
Said it (What I have done)
The second phase is to be aware of when we do it. We have a specific way of expressing ourselves. That is in line with our mental state. If we are always blaming other people for everything, it should be clear. Sometimes it will be difficult, so what we can do we can help onboard others with The Responsibility Process and ask them to be our accountability partners.
Caught it (Catch the thought before we react)
And finally, when we practise listening to others and ourselves, we will be tuned to it. It will become second nature. At some point, we will be able just to catch the thoughts before we say anything. It is the desired state. And again, we will still go through the whole process. It will be just a split second to go to the top. To clear our mind, to cure “excusoza” with the ability to repose to every situation.
The described model is advantageous. After some time of practising the responsibility model and seeing how effective it is, we may be tempted to start holding others accountable and correcting their state of mind. Do not do it! It usually leads to escalation and contributes to building an adversary relationship.
What you can do instead is to be mindful, try to operate in the responsibility stage and tactfully deescalate situations that you are part of. You can also spread the word about the Responsibility Process by sharing this post 😀 👇
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this article, feel free to share it on social media and spread some positivity.