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Making Others Accountable

If you hear yourself saying, "I want to make her/him accountable." That's a little flag letting you know important needs are up for  you. Approaching those needs from the idea of "making someone accountable" is the shadow of domination culture in your thinking.

In domination culture, you are instructed to push, pull, prod, encourage, shame, convince, and manipulate people into doing what you want. And behind all that pushing and prodding is the usually some sense of "you are right in doing so". After all, people should be accountable for their actions, right?

When coming from the consciousness of Nonviolent Communication (NVC), no amount of being "right" will meet your needs or those of others.

Coming from an NVC consciousness, you might hear yourself saying something like this with regards to accountability: "I value the sense of trust and integrity I experience when I hear my co-worker acknowledge her part in the failure of the project and what she will do differently next time."

It's not about what people should and shouldn't do. It's about what meets needs and what doesn't.

Let's examine the word account and what needs it points to. Relevant dictionary definitions say:

  1. to make satisfactory amends
  2. to give satisfactory reasons or explanations
  3. to be the cause agent or source of
With definition one, my guess is you have needs for empathy and caring. You want the other to understand how their actions affected you. You would like to make a specific request that would better meet the needs of you both. To meet your need for caring you might ask if the other person felt any sadness or regret hearing that their behavior didn't meet your needs and what they would do differently in a future similiar situation.

With definition two, my guess is you have needs for clarity and connection. When you see someone do something that doesn't meet your needs, you would like to know what needs they were attempting to meet with their behavior. From this place a dialogue can begin about what behavior might be more efficient in meeting needs.

With definition three, my guess is the needs for honesty and responsibility are up. You would like the other person to express honestly about how they did not keep an agreement or follow through on a responsibility, and then offer to do something to help in the current situation. 

Given this understanding, what might a conversation look like?


Let's say you have an employee who has been 15 minutes late for work five of the last ten work days. Let's call this person, Jim. When asked about it, Jim has a different reason for being late each time. Your needs for trust and dependability are up. A conversation might sound something like this:

You: Hey Jim, I am noticing I'd like some clarity about a topic, before you start on that project I would like to talk for 15 to 20 minutes, would you be willing to talk with me now?

Jim: Okay.

You: (beginning with empathy) Jim, I've noticed on the sign-in sheet you have been late five times in these last two weeks and I am wondering if you have been dealing with something big outside of work?

Jim: Oh, I am sorry about that, it's just been one thing after another, traffic, and getting my kid to school, my dog got lost one morning, and I had a dentist appointment. Things have just come up.

You: Yea, it sounds like you are juggling a lot of details and it's hard to keep all the balls in the air.

Jim: You got that right. But I will get here on time from now on, I promise.

You: (you continue with empathy knowing that a promise made without understanding of the problem is more like a wish) Yea, I am guessing that you get a bit overwhelmed and need some clarity about how to keep everything moving in the way you would like.

Jim: (he pauses and relaxes receiving your empathy). That's true.

You: (sensing Jim is no longer on the defensive and has felt heard you move to honest expression). Jim, I am wondering if you can hear what comes up for me around this?

Jim: Sure.

You: For me, when I think about your agreement to be on time and notice that hasn't happened 5 of the last ten days, I feel nervous because trust and dependability are important to me. Can you tell me what you understand me to be saying?

Jim: You're nervous cuz you have to be able to trust me.

You: Yea, so I have an idea about what I think would helpful.  Are you interested in hearing it?

Jim: okay.

You: I am wondering if you would be willing to take a day and think about your agreement to be hear at 9am and decide if that's something you really want to do. If it is, I'd like to hear about what you might do differently in your life to support that happening consistently. So what comes up for you hearing my request?

Jim: What if I decide I don't want to be here at 9am?

You: Then I'd like to hear what about that doesn't work for you and investigate what would work.

Jim: Well, I know if I could come in at 9:15 I could always be on time.

You: I am wondering if you would be willing to take more to think about exactly how things would be different, and talk with me tomorrow at this time?

Jim: Okay, I can do that.

This week take a look at where you would like to hold someone in your life "to be more accountable".   Enter the dance of empathy and honest expression either with them or just in your own reflection. Guess the other's feelings and needs and identify the needs that are up for you.  What is a specific request you would like to make.

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