Why Is It So Hard To Hold Someone Accountable?

hold others accountable

One of the things my clients generally don’t like doing is holding someone accountable.  The context is typically confronting someone about something they haven’t done.  Less often it is about something they have done which falls outside of what is acceptable.  In each case, it involves a confrontation, something which we prefer to avoid.  Confrontations run the risk of creating ill feelings and breaking down trust. It is no wonder we prefer to avoid holding others accountable.

Why do we have to hold someone accountable?

Rather than focus on how to hold someone accountable, I’m going to explore how we get ourselves into this situation in the first place.  Wouldn’t it be more fun for everyone if we held ourselves accountable?  Is that possible?  In my experience it is, and it requires we get things right from the start.  By start, I mean when we first make a request of someone.

The act of making a request is very simple, and yet it is the cause of so many breakdowns.  The goal of making a request is to generate a committed response, be that a yes or a no.  The key is commitment.  So often, requests are really demands.  I need you to do X.  We don’t get a committed response.  What we get instead is compliance.  There is no understanding of why it is important or whether the recipient is able to do it.  They may not have the skills or capacity, amongst many other limitations.

The importance of commitment

If I am not committed to do something, it will always be a chore for me to do it.  Unless I am especially disciplined, it will fall to the bottom of the pile and other work will take its place.   It only gets done when the requestor follows up and manages the request by confronting the recipient.  This usually ends up in the blame game.  The recipient might say they weren’t clear on what was required or when, etc.  It might ultimately get done, but it’s not a pleasant experience.

So how do you gain a committed response?  By making a clear request and being truly open to receiving a yes or a no.  This involves being clear about what is requested and more importantly why it is needed.  Make it safe for the recipient to give an honest response.  Do they have the skill and capacity to get it done?  Is a trade-off of other tasks necessary?  Do they need help getting it done?  If you can get to an honest committed yes, it is very unlikely you will have to hold others accountable.  They will hold themselves accountable.

Comments (2)

Andy this is helpful — a great exploration of an everyday important topic. I really like that you put “…and more importantly why it is needed”, because for me this grounds the whole conversation in care and emphasizes the link between what we care about and what we commit to. Thanks.

Hi Phillip,

Thank you for another very thoughtful comment. It is always great to hear from you!


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