Have you ever worked with someone who's always right? You know, one of those people who can always find a reason why a customer, client, or coworker is to blame for their personal shortcomings. Poorly prepared presentation? The client lacks vision. Accounting error? Faulty software. Disagreement about corporate strategy? It's all you're fault -- you're incompetent, short-sighted, and a stupid-head (which sounds just about as rational as the other insults when they're spewed in a defensive fit of rage.)
Turns out we're actually wired that way. Research conducted at Yale University indicates our brains justify our choices as a way of attaining peace of mind. The study shows that rationalization is an evolutionary development intended to clear our minds of conflict so we're free to react when significant decisions need to be made -- decisions of actual survival. In other words, it's the mind's way of saying, "I did nothing wrong. I don't have to waste my mental capacities worrying about this."
You may think this won't help you deal with the annoyingly combative person who refuses to be accountable. But it does offer a little insight into the psychology behind justification. Perhaps next time your coworker or subordinate starts demonstrating responsibility-shirking behavior, you'll look at the situation from a different perspective, and respond in a more productive way. After all, if Mr. or Mrs. Always-Right sees mistakes as worrisome -- and if you reinforce that idea with your reaction -- that person misses out on the opportunity to benefit from failure.