What You Need to Know About Accountability and Active vs. Passive Thinking in Work and Life

05 / 21 / 19 | Candidates

Have you ever found yourself making excuses for something that wasn’t your fault? Or are you wondering why you keep having bad luck? If this sounds familiar, then you’re likely engaging in passive thinking.

A lack of self-accountability often results in passive thinking instead of active thinking. Passive thinkers think in terms of blame and who’s at fault. Active thinkers recognize their responsibility and accountability, that is, their ability to respond to circumstances and to give an account of their actions.

What Does an Accountable Employee Look Like?

An employee’s accountability in the workplace depends on a willingness to respond to the things that happen in his or her life, even if a thing is out of their control. They take action (and accept responsibility) for the things that are within their control while accepting and making adjustments for the things that aren’t.

Take your commute for example. If the commuter train is late because of problems on the track, it’s beyond your control. However, there are ways you can take accountability for your commute, even when you’re delayed. You can pre-plan alternate ways to get to work in a timely manner. You can maintain healthy communication with your employer, so they are always aware of delays. If your job allows it, you can carry your laptop with you and work remotely in a nearby coffee shop or work from home when your commute is hindered.

On that same note, if you’re an employer, you can participate in a transit pass program for your employees and respond to transit delays by making accommodations rather than penalizing people for being late.

How Can I Become an Accountable Employee?

Taking responsibility as an employee, employer, partner, parent, etc. requires self-awareness. You can start by asking yourself three questions when things outside of your control happen:

  1. What could I have done differently in this situation?
  2. How can I avoid this situation in the future?
  3. How can I turn an apparent weakness into a strength?

After considering these questions and their answers, put your solutions into action (the answers to questions 2 & 3). Own your choices and act decisively. Doing so will make it easier to account for your actions (i.e. report to your boss) in a positive way that works to your benefit. (But remember, you ultimately have no control over how your boss acts.)

Try not to think of accountability in negative terms. It’s really much more about being an active thinker who responds to challenges and bumps in the road with agility, creativity, and self-awareness.

Working with Your Employer

Employees who practice active thinking exhibit excellent self-reflection skills and are always finding ways to improve. (including the account they give of their actions.) Your employer can help you improve the way you communicate, strategize, generate reports, and track your time and efforts in a way that reduces passive thinking and passive language.

Think and talk in terms of the actions you can and will take, rather than in terms of things that happen to you and around you. Pay attention to how your thinking and talking affects your performance and talk with your boss about measuring the improvement as well.

One way to take responsibility at work is to avoid the attitude of “that’s just the way things are, so why bother.” You do have control over your own actions, and there are always things you can do to bring more value to your role. Your employer will only be pleased when you are continuously looking for ways to improve your performance and better the organization.

Working with Yourself

The above examples are things you can actively do to take accountability for your job, even when it seems like the world is conspiring against you. And, in fact, having a mindset of accountability translates into all aspects of life, whether it’s personal relationships, parenting, volunteering, paying bills on time, and much, much more.

Apart from the workplace, active thinking helps you grow, excel, and cultivate compassionate acceptance of the self and others. As stated above, passive thinkers think in terms of blame and who’s at fault, while active thinkers think about how to respond to a situation and how to move forward.

For example, in an argument with a spouse or partner, a passive thinker asks “Who’s at fault here? Who’s to blame for this?” An active approach would be to think in phrases like, “How can we learn from this? How can we make it right? How can we fix it?”

How Can I Become an Accountable Person?

Ultimately, active, accountable thinking is something we can learn. It’s something you can practice daily, even in the most ordinary of circumstances.

For example, while you’re standing there on the platform waiting for that delayed train, ask yourself some questions:

  • How can I make good use of the time I spend waiting?
  • What can I do to repair the inconvenience or harm this delay causes my family, friends, employer, or clients?
  • What power do I have to respond to this and other circumstances?

Active thinking begins with the awareness that we have the ability to give an account of ourselves and our actions and the ability to respond to the world around us. Exercising those abilities—acting rather than being acted upon by circumstances—will allow us to grow in all aspects of our lives.

Find New Job Opportunities Today

G. K. Chesterton famously said, “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” This essentially means that active thinkers see obstacles outside of their control as opportunities for adventure and growth.

Growth, accountability, and venturing outside of the comfortable—getting comfortable with the uncomfortable—are among our core values at Atlas Staffing. We’re eager to place you in a job that allows you to thrive. And if our core values resonate with you, why not consider joining our team? Let’s adventure and grow together!


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