What’s The Common Denominator?

I've used this expression a lot over the years. Most often it comes to mind when someone is midway through telling me about how their bosses always seem to have it out for them, no matter how many times they change roles or employers.

Somehow, magically, somebody else always did the thing that caused the bad result that they’re being called to task for.

A team of coworkers is sitting around a table, arguing about the latest project that's gone sideways.
Photo by Yan Krukau

But what's the common denominator? Who was involved in all of the situations? Yup.

I’m not saying they’re always wrong, mind you. But given the frequency with which I hear tales of this sort, I’m saying it’s also not always the other entity who’s to blame. Were you in the group that mucked up that presentation? Was it some other team that lost the big deal?

Why did “it takes two to tango” just come to mind? Anyway.

I’ve recently come to an additional realization about these scenarios. Many people associate shifting the cause (blame?) onto themselves with losing the ability to externalize their anger/upset. They want, no, they need to be able to blow up at something or someone else.

And that’s legitimate. To an extent. It’s easier to swing at someone else than yourself. It’s when you find yourself always and only swinging at someone else that it may be time to step back and reevaluate.

Besides, if the bad result was caused by someone else, then it should be their job to figure out how to undo/redo/clean up the mess. Now you’ve externalized the cause and the effect.

All of this externalization has a downside, which shouldn’t be a surprise. Since it’s not your fault, you feel like you can’t take charge and implement change. It’s their mess, they should tell you what they need from you to get it sorted, right?

Way to duck responsibility.

A yellow rubber ducky floats on what looks like an above-ground swimming pool. The ducky is wearing sunglasses.
Photo by Rajvir Kaur on Unsplash

What these folks aren’t seeing is that they’ve actually gained the freedom to direct their next action.

You and I may know that we always have that freedom. I mean, who else decides what direction we take in any given situation if not ourselves, right? Reading this right now, we have the benefit of not being tangled up in one of these situations. In practice, I see over and over people letting the fact that they see someone else as causing a situation dictate who decides what comes next.

They’re letting the same person they blame for creating the situation figure out how to clean up the mess they made for everyone else.

Is it me, or does that seem a silly thing to do in that moment?

Writing this out, I’m seeing a new way to look at the ‘common denominator’ thing. Not only might you be the one causing the strife, but you’re also the one who can extricate yourself from the strife that truly is caused by others. Flips it on its head.

So it can be a positive thing as well as a negative one, depending on the specific situation. But how to tell the difference?

I welcome all thoughts here, as I just now formulated the question I haven’t had time to ponder…