One of the conversation skills we teach and emphasize in our work with individuals and organizations is also one that people find really difficult: Owning your contribution to the problem.

It creates a very different conversation than one where I describe a difficult issue and then begin reciting all the ways YOU have made it difficult.  Stating out loud, right away, “Here are the ways I have messed up” becomes a powerful, daring act of personal accountability. In addition, it makes clear the things that are completely within my control to change — I don’t have to wait for anyone else to “go first.”

This conversational skill is the antidote to blame and its destructive forces, and a step toward taking full accountability for the success of outcomes and relationships.

One of the trickiest parts of owning your contribution to a problem is doing it without the expectation that it will unleash in another a list of the contributions they made as well. We often get asked, “What happens when I own my contribution and the other person just agrees and doesn’t own theirs?” While it’s unsatisfying advice, we usually recommend resisting the temptation of naming someone else’s contribution if resolving the problem is really your intention.

In a New York Times article published Aug. 13, we were delighted to see this skill being taught to young people. Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl, runs a summer camp for adolescent girls, which aims to help them develop and maintain confidence as they navigate the rocky shoreline of the teen years. Conversation skills are among the things taught, including helping them own their parts when relationships go awry, and to ask directly for the things they want and need.

The article said Simmons hopes that by helping girls resolve tensions with their friends, they will also be developing the skills to confidently ask for the respect they deserve in the future — including promotions and raises — and become the “leaders of their own lives.”

One example the article uses is a conversation between a girl named Taryn and her roommates, who she feels have been excluding her. Her contribution? “Mine was not bringing it up sooner and hoping it would get better.”

Sounds like the kind of situation that happens in the workplace every day.