to problem-solving, you will be able to communicate what you plan to do, not just bring bad news.
Ask questions-using a neutral tone of voice-to understand the issue and implications. Questions that start with What and How are likely to sound less blaming than questions that start with Why. (Assuming you don't ask "What the heck were you thinking?" or "How did you make this mess?" Those questions would not be helpful.)
Figure out what to do about the immediate issue. Ask if the person who brought the problem needs help. If she doesn't need (or want help), don't inflict it. Agree on how you'll assess progress solving the problem.
Ask for the help you need to explain the implications to others.
Later (but not much later), you can investigate root causes. Don't assume that it's a problem with the individual; the issue may very well be a system problem. There may be other lessons to learn from the problem-for example, how to set expectations, how to break work into inch pebbles, and how to make progress (and problems) more visible. Be careful of your phrasing. Keep it neutral and on an adult-to-adult level. "What did you learn from this" can sound like a parent or teacher speaking to a child. And don't call it a "teachable moment"-that phrase smacks of condescension.
In organizations where blame is pervasive, blame is the systemic issue. The only way to work out of blame orientation is to choose not to blame. Instead, demonstrate problem-solving, and gradually rebuild trust with those with whom you work directly.
There are times when we do have to hold individuals responsible for their actions. But usually it's more important to fix the problem and learn from the situation.
If you find yourself on the receiving end of blame, do your best to stay centered and move toward problem-solving. Articulate what you know about the problem, what you have tried, and where you need help. Remember that blamers often feel small and scared. Blaming is their way of coping with those feelings.
So, what happened at the kennel?
When I made my request to check availability the fourth time, the receptionist finally walked over to a wall calendar that showed all the kennel reservations for the week. There was space for Pudge. It took three minutes for the hand off. I expressed my gratitude that there was a place open and continued on my way.
You could look at this and say the receptionist is a little slow and doesn't understand customer service. But I think there was something else at play. She didn't want to be blamed. Fear of blame begets blaming, and blame always delays solving the problem.