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My job requires me to do physical assessments which will be used by practitioners to conduct a review during consultations. The normal practice would be that assessments done on the first day, a review will be given on the next visit on other days.

It was not instructed by said practitioner that the report was needed to be done immediately however I got the blame that I did not follow instructions when it wasn’t the right protocol.

Management said that the right way to take accountability is to apologise for misunderstanding the practitioner however this wasn’t my mistake at all. And I wouldn’t apologise unless I’m to blame.

Is this a toxic workplace?

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    An apology is very cheap, and not-at-all uncommon even if you're not in the blame in the workplace. Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 16:47
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    Can you clarify whether the practitioner is employed by the same company as you? If they're employed by a client of your company, then there are very different expectations around how you should interact with them.
    – Kevin
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 17:10
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    I was taught many years ago to never apologize in business. If you apologize, you are taking ownership of that problem, even if it isn't your fault. Fix things, yes - but never apologize "just because it's the easy way out"...
    – PeteCon
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 17:12
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    Apologising just to smooth things over is a social convention, not a workplace one. In the workplace an apology is basically an admission of guilt.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 22:42
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    @encryptoferia: I once head someone say that it's a dog eat dog world but that doesn't mean I'm now in favor of cutthroat politics. I would much rather work in an environment where people acknowledge their part of a collective mistake being made, instead of an environment where no one ever engages with any mistake unless they feel like they can't avoid the blame any longer. This whole "someone said this to me" justification is a cheap facade to hide behind - who says that the person you listened to had a healthy attitude about workplace behavior? Maybe they were just a big ol' [swear word].
    – Flater
    Commented Jun 15, 2023 at 23:36

5 Answers 5

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Is there a written set of instructions which you are required to follow, but didn't?

If so, apologize, and find some way of reminding yourself to follow procedures.

If there is not a written set of procedures, you cannot be expected to mind-read. In that case, talk to your manager, and ask (a) how you were expected to learn this procedure, and (b) what other procedures are you missing because they do not exist. You may well end up writing those procedures. Your action then would be to apologize to the person, and informing them that a written document for this procedure will be issued shortly.

Think always in terms of the person who comes behind you; what can you give them to make their life easier, that you wish you had had earlier.

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    Sometimes, "the person who comes behind you" is you! I write documentation of procedures as much for my future self as I do for others. If it's written down, I don't have to remember it and I can always refer to it to make sure I"m doing things the same way each time and don't risk missing a step.
    – alroc
    Commented Jun 14, 2023 at 13:40
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Tough to say with only the bare details of this one incident, but no it does not sound like a toxic workplace. Your manager is asking you to take accountability for a very small misunderstanding, even though it may not have been solely your fault. No big deal, I would just take accountability and not sweat it.

It sounds like you are fairly upset about how this situation has played out, so I would recommend talking to your manager about what you can do in the future to avoid this happening again. If I'm understanding correctly this practitioner wanted the report done on a non-standard timeline, so maybe from now on you specifically tell them when you're planning on doing the report so that they can communicate to you if they want it sooner.

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    It was said that instead of being apologetic, I was being rather defensive for telling my side of the story. Thank you for the last points, I would take them positively and work on them.
    – Feeder
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 14:51
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    Sometimes you have to apologize, even when you were right, especially in the workplace. Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 15:58
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If someone asks you to do something which you've never had to do before, their assumption would be that you know/understand what protocol/process to follow.

In the case where they do not tell you - that's on them partly. If they cannot be specific in terms of what and how they expect you to carry out a task, then again, that's on them but on you to at least ask "I understand that you want me to do this 'thing' - Is there specific set process/protocol which you want me to follow? "

If they say no, then berate you because you didn't do it a particular way then, imho, they don't know how it's supposed to be done in the first place.

In which case I'd probably seek advice from someone higher up or a colleague who's been through this before.

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    When I asked a question to clarify, the answer that I get is ‘you should know’. Also this same practitioner did not clearly communicate to a new staff on their instructions and expected a senior to ‘already know’ what’s expected to be done but my point is the clear SOP is to have clear instructions on new staffs. This has happened a few times whereby he/she didn’t take accountability on their part too and assumed that we know what they want.
    – Feeder
    Commented Jun 13, 2023 at 14:43
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Apologising is an incredibly minor thing, the purpose of which is not to indicate blame but to ensure smooth relations in future and indicate you will behave differently in future. Getting upset over being expected to apologise is your ego getting in the way of your success and well-being.

Something went wrong. Someone else was put out as a result of you not carrying out the actions they rightly or wrongly expected you to know to do. Just say "sorry, I didn't realise you needed it for then, I'll make sure that I do it that way in future". Instead of fighting for some kind of status (which, by the way, is making you look worse), take the action that makes things better for the future. You will get more respect and better relationships with your co-workers by doing this.

Being expected to do this isn't a toxic workplace; but a workplace in which no-one apologises unless they are convinced they were personally to blame will rapidly become one.

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Like InBedded16 said, it's hard to talk about a toxic workplace for a one time incident.

I think you are upset because of two things due to your management :

  • telling you that taking accountability here means apologizing
  • calling out defensive behavior when you're disagreeing with them

On the first point, it is simply plain wrong. Apologizing does not mean being responsible, especially if you do it because someone else tells you to do it. You have to apologize when you feel sorry, guilty or have regrets. If this is what you feel then do so.
As a side note, an authentic apology when you have made a mistake is a fantastic way to show authenticity, courage and self confidence. It builds trust between people. For the same reason, don't apologize if you don't mean it. People will feel that you are not being genuine and this will backfire one way or another. Besides, you will feel like not respecting yourself and other people won't respect you either, especially if they know (though not admitting it) you were not to blame.

On the second point, telling people they are being defensive when they are disagreeing shows a lack of empathy and listening. They might be right (we don't know how you expressed your concerns) but it doesn't discard the reasons why you are acting like this. You probably fell being treated unfairly here and it looks like it wasn't heard by your management.

In this situation, I would think about the following to act responsible :

  • Apologize only if I feel I am honestly to blame ; I wouldn't do it otherwise
  • Think about the way you expressed your side of the story to your management and consider if you could do it differently next time not to look so defensive and having more chances to be heard
  • Suggest something to improve the situation so that this won't happen again (to you or anyone else)

This could make this situation outputs something positive for you and the organization. And this is what being accountable means to me.

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