Accessible version of Avoid blame and shame

The accessible version of the Avoid blame and shame learning module.

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Avoiding blame and shame will help you to learn how to:

  • Provide constructive criticism that avoids defensiveness
  • Keep others positive and motivated
  • Get employees to commit to a plan rather than ordering them to comply
  • Build better relationships.

To access the non-conforming version of this module, see Avoid blame and shame.

Below is the transcript for the Avoid blame and shame YouTube video.


Most people are sensitive to criticism.

When you focus on outcomes you’d like to see, rather than what isn’t working, people are less likely to become defensive, and more likely to be open to possible solutions. It’s important to acknowledge how others feel without dismissing or minimizing their perspective—even if you don’t agree.

For example, instead of saying “Other people have it way worse” or “look on the bright side” you might say, “It sounds like this has been frustrating for you.” When people are upset, they can get stuck in negative thoughts that aren’t helpful. Redirect that energy towards thinking about solutions.

Ask them what they’re willing to do to improve the situation or solve the problem.

If you jump to the defense of another person, it can feel like you’re taking sides, even if your intention is to look at all perspectives.

Stay curious and ask questions to better understand the individual’s perspective.

This doesn’t mean that you’re agreeing or disagreeing, it just means you’re being open to their perspective before coming to conclusions about who’s right and who’s wrong.

If we avoid taking sides, we can help find a solution that respects all parties.

You can ask questions like: “What do you want to happen differently?” or “How can we move forward in a way that’s healthy for you?” or simply, “What would be helpful?” This not only shows your willingness to support the person to find solutions, but they will be more likely to make a commitment to the solution if they come up with it themselves.

When you empower someone to develop solutions – and offer your support to help them do so – they can often walk away from a difficult situation with their dignity intact and feeling like they have what they need to move forward.


Most of us would not intend to blame or shame anyone. Yet, when we give critical feedback, are frustrated with a situation or in a hurry, we may unintentionally come across that way.

When others hear your words as blame or shame, they may feel judged or interpret your behaviour as an attack. In some cases, it can lead to defensiveness, anger, grievances or complaints.

You can avoid these negative reactions by choosing your words more carefully including in times of stress or frustration.

Avoiding blame and shame, includes the following concepts:

State the need

What you want or need rather than what’s wrong.

Stay neutral

Don't agree or disagree – just acknowledge their perspective.

Redirect negativity

Question what helps rather than what they don’t want.

Don’t take sides

Don’t engage in defending others.


Encourage a focus on solutions.


Offer on-going support.

Take a few moments to reflect on each of these points before moving on to learn more about stating what you need.

State what you need

Most people are sensitive to criticism.

When you focus on outcomes you’d like to see, rather than what isn’t working, people are less likely to become defensive and more open to possible solutions.

1. What should you focus on as you state what you need?

  • The positive behaviours you want to see.
  • Honestly describing what they’re doing wrong.


1. Answer: The positive behaviours you want to see. By focusing on what you want to see, people stay open to problem solving.

Acknowledging perspectives

Even if you don’t agree with someone else’s perspective, acknowledging how they feel about it maintains open dialogue that allows you to move forward together.

Here are some examples of neutral language you can use to say what you see and hear.

  • “It must be frustrating when that happens.”
  • “I can see you’re really upset by this.”
  • “It sounds like you feel offended by how they responded.”
  • “I hear that you feel like you’re not being supported.”

Here are some statements that can be perceived as blame or shame.

  • “You're taking this too hard.”
  • “This doesn’t bother other people.”
  • “You’re being too sensitive.”
  • “You don’t understand.”

Tip: By avoiding “You” statements, comparisons, or expressing frustration, you avoid defensiveness and keep them open to positive solutions.

In the next lesson you’ll learn about when someone is emotionally upset.

When someone is emotionally upset

When people are triggered or upset, they can get stuck in negative mindsets, making it hard for them to see a path forward.

1. When this happens should you…

  • a. Defend the other person
  • b. Tell them you don’t want to get involved
  • c. Stay neutral and re-direct negativity
  • d. Ask them to stop


1. Answer: c. Stay neutral and re-direct negativity. You should stay neutral by neither agreeing nor disagreeing with their description of the other person’s actions. Instead, re-direct their negativity by asking questions that might help them think about the situation or their own role differently.

Remember: We don’t want to shame them or blame them in the process—they may be feeling hurt, afraid or betrayed or humiliated already.

What are some ways to you might respond to allow them to walk away with their dignity?

  • “What would you like to do about this?”
  • “What is a solution that you think would work better for everyone?”
  • “What needs to change about this?”

All of these can help keep your words neutral and move the person to think about new ways of responding to the situation.

We can’t really know how other people internalize situations. Many people self-shame and self-blame. However, when we support others to be successful, they can walk away from a challenging situation feeling more positive, and even empowered.

What can you do to empower others to be successful?

  • Avoid blame and shame
  • Let them know you are there to support them
  • Ask what you can do to support them
  • Follow through on what you say you will do

Notice that these questions get the person moving away from what the problem is, and helps them consider solutions.

When people are blaming or shaming others

Any of us may blame or shame others when we feel afraid, attacked, or just need to vent about our frustrations.

Be clear about when you’ll check in to see how things are going and measure progress.

Once you’ve supported an employee to develop their own plan for success, it’s important you:

  • Confirm the details of the plan in writing.
  • Confirm the support you’ll provide.
  • Follow up to check in on how things are going.
  • Follow through in measuring progress.
  • Celebrate success or adjust the plan.

Knowledge check

See Response below to see the answer to the following questions.

1. When can you use the “Avoiding blame and shame” skills you’ve learned here?

  • a. When giving difficult feedback
  • b. When struggling to get buy-in
  • c. When someone is venting or complaining about someone else
  • d.All of the above.


1. All of the above. Avoiding blame and shame can help in many situations. Especially when you’re trying to give difficult feedback or get buy-in.

Tip sheet and resources

Congratulations on learning avoid blame and shame. We’ve put together a tip sheet with the main learning points of this module. We recommend you save or print it as a reference. There are also free resources you can use if you want a deeper dive on this subject.

View the Avoid blame and shame tip sheet | PDF

Why blame and shame don't work for leaders

Avoid blame and shame YouTube video.

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