How to Deal with the Excuse Monster

By Bryan Orr

Front door: Knock knock….

You: Who is it?

Behind the Door: It’s your friend, Reasons….

You: Um… This doesn’t sound like my friend Reasons, it sounds like Excuses

Door: STOP JUDGING ME!

The problem with excuses is that when we make them we often don’t know it, unfortunately we’re the only one who doesn’t see our “reasons” as an excuse. Here are three common excuse scenarios in business and what to do about them.

Justifying a Bad Decision

My grandpa is a great guy, but he is a bit of a hoarder. Whenever he has extra of something he squirrels it away in one of his many storage buildings because he “may just need it someday.” On the rare occasions that his employees or my grandma have convinced him to throw out or sell something, he will often manufacture the need for whatever it was to justify his pack rat habits.

This trait of justifying a decision or philosophy using the known past is called Post Hoc Rationalization, and it is one of the most common types of failed logic. Everything from superstition to poor public policy can be traced back to somebody who created a thought process to explain something based on a limited set of information of their own past instead of the best data available now.

As leaders we are especially susceptible to this when faced with the choice between admitting that we made a poor choice, or forming a story to make it seem like a good decision. The only way to combat this kind of excuse is to consider if you are analyzing the decision with all the best information, or just defending the decision you made or the position you want to maintain.

Failing to Keep an Agreement

Have you ever stopped to feel sorry for the kid who really did have the dog eat her homework? What is she supposed to say to the teacher?  If you have ever been late for an assignment, gone over budget on a project, showed up once dinner had already started or forgotten an anniversary — you know how it feels. When you get a chance to speak about it the first inclination is to say…

The traffic was horrible, you got so busy and you totally forgot, so on and so forth.

An excuse usually goes “I’m sorry, but (excuse)”, when in actuality you failed to keep an agreement of some sort, so just own it; in most cases an “I apologize” will go further than any reason you can come up with.

In cases where there is a reason that actually matters to the other person you can say the reason first and then end with the apology: “When I did the original budget I didn’t account for the fact that fuel prices would increase by 40% over the next 6 months, I do apologize for the overage.”

Using the Moral Trump Card

The type of excuse that business leaders will often get from an employee has the tone of moral reason such as “I can’t work tomorrow because I need to do something with my family” or “My kids are sick so I need to run home” and a wide range of other things that come up that are more important than work.

Now don’t get me wrong, your employees’ families and their health should be more important to them than a job. The challenge comes in when you start to see a pattern with certain employees using reasons to not work more often than others. It can affect productivity and erode morale if it isn’t dealt with.

In order to get control of the situation you have to discuss very specific work related benchmarks and get agreements with your team about them. Either they will accomplish a certain amount of work, work a set # of hours, or they will have a certain percentage of availability. If they are unable to accomplish what the job requires on a regular basis then the reason they can’t doesn’t matter.

Be careful when dealing with someone who uses the moral trump card. They will attempt to draw you into their reasons and get you to pass judgement on them or justify them. Either way you will lose.

Once I stopped engaging with reasons (excuses) and instead focused on agreements the conversations in my business became much more clear. 

What excuses do you hear most often in your business?

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Bryan Orr
Bryan Orr is a blue collar business owner who helps executives and business owners use storytelling to communicate powerfully with customers and staff. Bryan is a founder of an award-winning small business in Orlando, Fl as well as sought after podcast producer and consultant. Get to know him at Bryanorr.com.

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