Directing the blame for a sticky situation onto someone else is a surefire way to clear your name… and strain a relationship.
Metaphorically speaking, throwing someone under the bus essentially means to direct the blame for a negative situation towards another person, thereby clearing your own name. Wikipedia defines throwing someone under the bus as “to betray a friend or ally for selfish reasons.” This is much like actually pushing a human under a bus hurtling down the road in order to save yourself, except, well, no one gets pinned under a massive metal vehicle.
While throwing someone under the bus has short-term potential to get you out of a sticky situation, it almost certainly is accompanied by longer-term animosity between you and another person or group. So… now that you know what it is and what the ramifications are, how do you do it?
How to go about throwing someone under the bus
Throwing someone under the bus is hardly ever planned in advance, but this is good information to have in the back of your head for when you find yourself in one of these sticky spots.
- Make sure the situation merits throwing someone under the bus. “Ryan, did you take two cookies? I said ‘one each’!” The punishment here is so minor that you’d be stupid to try to out Bob for taking three cookies and clear your name. Just say sorry and move on!
- Make sure the person being thrown under the bus outranks you in some regard or your spinning of blame loses merit. At work, putting the blame for a missed shipment on a subordinate only makes yourself look bad. “Umm, why are you listening to Glenn? He’s a 22-year-old intern. You’ve been here 23 years for Chrissake.”
- Make sure the person being thrown under the bus can’t easily deny your claim or prove you wrong. “Actually, no, I didn’t dare you to do that, and I can easily prove it. Here’s a video of me specifically telling you “do not under any circumstances pull down a 90-year-old war hero widow’s pants while she’s giving an important televised speech.”
- If you have time, consider long-term ramifications. Saving yourself from getting into trouble might have a short-term payoff, but consider how the person you’re blaming will look at you after the fact. It could cost you a job or friendship!
- Is the person you’re throwing under the bus actually to blame? If yes, perhaps outing this person is warranted. “Sorry Danny, I’m not taking the fall for this. You were the one who greased up the diving board.”
- By throwing someone under the bus, could you be getting someone fired, jailed, or worse? “It was all Mike’s fault, he changed the knobs on the oven! The donuts got burned because of him!” “Well, since Mike is on probation, he has to go to jail for thirty years now!”
- Will you throwing someone under the bus just look sad and desperate and cause someone to lose respect for you? “Oh Jared, just this once I thought you could man up and take the blame. It’s never your fault, is it? I now look at you in a different light and will treat you accordingly.”
- Conversely, perhaps taking the unwarranted blame for this incident can earn you some big points with the person you’re protecting, especially if you see some sort of romantic payoff! Just make sure the punishment isn’t too severe. “Yes, Mr. Shelby. It was me who painted a big penis on your garage door. Sara here was an innocent bystander. That green paint all over her was from painting banners for the church bake sale!”
- Even more elaborate yet, do just the exact thing above, but make it obvious to the authoritative figure that you’re lying and covering for someone. Not only will you not be believed and therefore blamed for the incident, but you’ll still earn the points from the real perpetrator for trying to come to their rescue.
- If someone has thrown you under the bus, you, in turn, can still direct blame to someone else, or even back onto the first person, if you’re quick on your feet. There’s no limit to how many people can be thrown under the bus. It could be a chain of dozens!
More examples of situations where someone was thrown under the bus
- Ron was in big trouble at work for spending $1200 on a dinner with clients, well over the budget of $150. When meeting with the bosses to discuss, Ron threw his fellow salesman Timmy under the bus by saying “Well, it could be worse, Timmy over here dropped $27,000 of company money at the strip club mostly on himself,” then showed the group pictures of Timmy “making it rain” on the dance floor. Ron’s situation suddenly seemed forgivable, but his longtime associate Timmy was now in serious trouble. While Timmy was allowed to keep his job, he lost his company credit card and travel privileges. And now Timmy hated Ron and spent every day plotting his revenge.
- Sandy and Deb were caught red-handed skipping school to go to the beach. Pictures of their glistening bikini bods were plastered all over Instagram with the caption of “Skipping class—bet you’d like a piece of this, Principal Wesley!” When Mr. Wesley saw the pictures, he brought the girls in for punishment. Deb, in a desperate attempt to avoid her angry military father’s wrath, decided to throw Sandy under the bus. “It was all her idea, Mr. Wesley! She picked me up at my house that morning—I thought we were just coming to school! She drove to the beach and threatened me if I didn’t pose for those pictures! It was all to make her ex-boyfriend Bobby jealous,” she wailed. Sandy, speechless, was left to take the fall. They were now worst enemies.
- Jeff, as a hilarious prank, replaced his boss’s Viagra with max-strength ExLax pills. After the weekend, presumably after Mr. Anderson had taken the meds and had a romantic evening go horribly awry, Mr. Anderson reviewed the security footage and found out Jeff was to blame. But Jeff quickly placed the blame on his supervisor who had dryly chuckled and said “yeah, that would be funny” when Jeff ran the scheme by him, never really believing he had any intention of following through on it. “Yeah well I never would have done this if not for Mr. Tubbs,” Jeff cried. “He kept saying how funny it would be. He knew about this the whole time. I was only doing it to impress him!” Mr. Tubbs was fired and criminal charges were pressed.
My Hot Take
Oh, yeah. I did this pretty frequently at my first job as a young pup out of college. I can’t remember the exact circumstances but I’m fairly certain I threw my first manager under the bus after I got in trouble for something and left him to take the fall. He wasn’t pleased with me in the heat of the moment, but life went on.