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How to Take Accountability

Professionals are aware of what accountability means, but some don’t put this knowledge into practice. Even in their personal lives, some people shift blame or avoid discussing the issue of accountability altogether.

Knowing how to take accountability for your actions will help improve relationships with colleagues and others.

What Is Accountability?

Accountability is accepting responsibility in both work and life should you make mistakes. Accountable people are willing to sit down, reflect on their actions, and accept if a decision may not have ended well or a mistake has been made. It usually starts with understanding our role; how much of the error was our fault?

There are several advantages to taking accountability for your actions. Most important of all is to build self-awareness.

Being truly self-aware means understanding your weaknesses, habits, and quirks so you can overcome them. You may find that you tend to shift blame when questioned, but that’s not a good habit to continue. By taking accountability, you can teach yourself to stop performing similar actions and instead develop integrity.

After you learn to take accountability, others become more inclined to work with you due to your honesty and willingness to step back. If everyone can do the same, the team should work with each other efficiently and produce improved outcomes. This results in helpful collaboration where everyone will succeed with each other’s help.

The willingness to take accountability will encourage practicing empathy as you decide to think about your actions and how they affect others. Placing yourself in another person’s situation and understanding their point of view is beneficial as much in the workplace as in any relationship.

Accountability vs. Responsibility

Both words may have similar meanings, but you’ll want to practice accountability more than accepting responsibility. In this case, responsibility refers to whether a person is answerable for something. Accountability is when you hold yourself responsible.

For example, you may be responsible for a mistake but didn’t report it to the team leader or your significant other. When you take accountability, you own up to the error yourself.

When you take the initiative and own your wrongs, it’s being both responsible and accountable for your actions. Doing so will help you develop as a person.

How to Take Accountability

Here are some actions to help you take accountability more often. They are not listed in any particular order, so you can learn in your own way and at your own pace. Forcing yourself to learn too quickly can instead create more problems as you overcompensate, likely taking accountability for things that are not even your fault.

Stop and Think

In a speedy society where things are taken for granted and being slow is considered wasteful, many people forget to stop and think about a situation before acting. Doing so is infinitely more beneficial than rushing to solve the problem without ruminating about your role.

There’s no harm in asking yourself if previous behavior or actions were the cause of the situation. If yes, you can progress and decide whether a change is in order. Ask yourself if doing so will affect the outcome positively.

Usually, the only two ways to stop being unhappy about a problem are to modify the situation or adapt to it. In most cases, adaptation by taking accountability, if needed, is the better choice. But you can also attempt both if circumstances call for it.

Being able to stop and think is a good sign that you’re on the path to learning self-awareness. We all benefit by working toward this goal.

Admit Any Mistakes

Once you’ve taken enough time to think, take accountability by admitting if you’ve done wrong. It takes objective thinking to realize mistakes, and shifting the blame is the opposite of what you want to do.

Admit that you genuinely hurt someone with words or actions or made a mistake without chalking it up to external factors.

These factors do exist, and acknowledging them isn’t wrong. To avoid taking the blame entirely, however, is to reject being accountable for your actions. Since you did say or do something hurtful or made a mistake, take accountability because it was wrong, no matter the circumstances.

Of course, you should only own up to any parts you’re directly responsible for. It’s not helpful to take others’ responsibilities onto yourself. They must also take accountability if it’s their fault.

Don’t Play the Victim

Playing the victim is a terrible behavior that shows a person only cares about themselves or assumes the world revolves around them. People who default to this action usually have little control over their emotions.

It’s not conducive to any relationship to pretend to be a victim, as the real victim will likely be hurt even more. Therefore, take a break if you catch yourself about to do this. You don’t want to further hurt a colleague or loved one and make matters worse.

Some people have unaddressed past trauma that entices them to play the victim. They’ll have to start by working on themselves and healing, but this process isn’t a walk in the park. It will take time and possibly external help.

By not making it about yourself, you show the other person the ability to take accountability. You present yourself as trustworthy and willing to admit mistakes.

Look for an Accountability Partner

Humans are social creatures, and we thrive in a community or group. Some people ask friends or family to become accountability partners. This initiative is even better if you and a coworker help each other with work-related accountability.

You and your accountability partner will keep each other accountable for mistakes, such as completing work quotas or making enough progress in a hobby you both enjoy. The best way to keep each other accountable is by scheduling check-ins. These can be in person or through messaging apps if meeting up isn’t convenient.

Trying to learn to be accountable alone may be possible for some, but taking accountability usually involves at least one more person. That’s why having others to help is beneficial.

Improve Your Time Management Skills

Procrastination is a deadly enemy to those wanting to take accountability for their actions. If you’ve made an error and put off taking responsibility, it will only get harder as time passes.

Another aspect is not to waste time, which is a similar concept but ultimately separate.

Don’t overcommit yourself. If you believe adding more work or tasks will make you miss a crucial deadline, it’s all right to say no. That’s good time management that lets you work constructively. It’s a way to avoid having to take accountability for a missed deadline or forgotten bake sale item for your child’s school.

Apologize Properly

Making an apology seems natural enough, but it’s an art form many fail to master, even at the most basic level. Some apologies aren’t words of regret but deflections of blame. In fact, these usually make situations worse.

A poor apology would be saying sorry because someone else made you do something, and it’s not your fault. That’s not taking accountability for your own actions. Adding words like “but” or “because” tends to backfire. Here are some examples:

  • Taking responsibility: “I’m sorry I made you feel that way.”
  • Deflecting the blame: “I’m sorry, but you did it first.”

You’ll want to make a genuine apology, saying you feel remorseful for causing pain and that you’re willing to make amends and avoid repeating such a mistake. Note that this apology focuses on the person you’ve wronged, not yourself.

The root of backhanded apologies is toxicity, and people may not realize how some normalized behaviors are harmful to others. It will take time, but it’s possible to unlearn these terrible habits.

Get Rid of Toxicity

Continuing in the discourse of toxicity, many people claim to hate this kind of behavior only to practice it themselves. It’s not right to blame only them, as they may be surrounded by other toxic individuals who normalize evil acts. Self-reflection and talking to others is the first step to undoing toxicity.

It can be painful to discover that we’re actually the toxic ones in some situations. But, once you undo the damage and complete the transformation by taking accountability for your actions, you’ll feel liberated.

Set Concrete Goals

Even the smallest concrete goals play an essential role in taking accountability. If you can do well in minor tasks, you can employ the same energy in critical assignments. That’s not to say training or assistance isn’t necessary, but having the proper mindset is vital.

Get up early in the morning and make breakfast. Do some push-ups every day. Hold yourself accountable for these small goals; the larger ones will come more easily.

How to Take Accountability

How to Not Take Accountability

It’s good to know how taking accountability works, but looking at what is not taking accountability will help by viewing the contrast. Here are some common traps to run from.

Lack of Clarity

You need to be clear when setting expectations and metrics. If you don’t have a definite goal, you won’t be able to reach it, and many people tend to give up due to not knowing whether their efforts matter. Avoid anything that muddles the picture.

Precise instructions and finishing lines are more easily reached. If the goals aren’t clear, they can’t be met, and taking accountability for something out of your control is hard, potentially leading to the blame game.

Wasting Resources

Resources like company budgets and time must be productive to benefit the team or yourself. Once these finite resources are wasted, there’s no getting them back. It’s easy to procrastinate or not pay attention to details; before you know it, you must take accountability for your wasteful actions.

Not Setting Boundaries

Autonomy can be dangerous if there are no boundaries to prevent mistakes. Whether in a team or a relationship, you need to stay within reasonable limits and not push them. If you make mistakes, these limits will help you pinpoint how much accountability you need to take.

Why We Don’t Take Accountability

While you know how to take accountability, some aren’t aware of why people avoid it. Most of us have been trained to be responsible and accountable to others at school, work, or home. However, few receive instruction on how to be accountable to themselves.

We know we should be accountable to others, but when it comes to ourselves, we may skirt around the matter and deny doing so. Others hate feeling responsible for their mistakes and choose to shift blame out of selfishness. Both downplay situations and make us convince ourselves we’re not guilty.

Some who are afraid to face their mistakes will justify not taking accountability. They know it’s wrong to do that, but pride makes them shirk the accountability.

There’s also another possibility as to why people don’t want to be held accountable. They may feel afraid to make mistakes and fail. This fear makes them deny the truth in front of them and avoid accountability.

It’s a necessary skill in life to learn from mistakes and improve. Failure is the mother of success; we can learn as much from failure as from success.

Always Stay Accountable

Knowing how to take accountability towards yourself and others is a skill many must master and refine over time. It may not be easy to learn, but the results and advantages of learning how to take accountability to make the efforts worth it.

You can enjoy better relationships, develop higher levels of empathy and integrity, and reach your goals once you learn how to take accountability.


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