Before we jump in, I would like to give a special shout out and thanks to Dave Newell for reminding me of the John Belushi, Blues Brothers clip on excuses which accompanies this posting!
Last time we considered excuses. Excuses and how they teach
other people about you and how they teach you about yourself. But what about
reasons? When I say I have a reason for acting a certain way, is that just an
excuse too? Let's ponder that together today.
- "I did not make the deadline because I could not concentrate on work. All of this talk about us being acquired by Gigantor Corporation is really distracting."
Which of the above is a REASON and which of the above is an EXCUSE?
Your perspective shapes your reply, my perspective shapes my
reply. I think statement #3 is a clear example of a reason for missing the
deadline, I am not happy with #2 and right now I could go either way with #1.
Let's see if you and I can gain some clarity or determine a way to classify
reasons vs. excuses.
In the Oxford Dictionary the first definition for reason is: "a cause,
explanation, or justification for an action or event. " For example he
resigned for personal reasons or we have reason to celebrate.
Excuse is defined as: "attempt to lessen the blame attaching to (a fault
or offense); seek to defend or justify."
It looks like a core factor which will help us decide the difference between a
reason and an excuse has to do with the intention of the statement. If the
intention of the statement is to avoid blame or perhaps to even push the blame
off to someone or something else THAT is an excuse. If the intention of the
statement is to provide factual information as to why something occurred, THAT
is a reason.
With that in mind, let's again examine our statements.
1) "I did not make the deadline because I could not concentrate
on work. All of this talk about us being acquired by Gigantor Corporation is
What do you think is this a REASON or an EXCUSE? If you have been
through an acquisition or a corporate shake-up, you know that it is
distracting. You worry about what this means to you and your paycheck. Is it
fair to expect that a team in this situation is 100% productive? Most likely
not. I think that whether or not this is a REASON or EXCUSE has to do with who
is saying it and to be really honest, your perception of who is saying it. If
one of your top performers tells you that she is late because she is distracted
by the pending acquisition, you may accept it as a REASON. If someone who is
chronically late or easily distracted tells you they are late because of the
pending acquisition, is it a REASON or an EXCUSE? I have to confess to you that
with some people I have tended to treat this as a little bit of both. I would
take into consideration the degree to which they were late. Fair or not, I had
my own thoughts about how much a delay was REASONABLE based upon the
2) "I did not make the deadline because I had to take some long
lunches in order to help plan my best friend's wedding."
What do you say? I say EXCUSE! Maybe I am too harsh, but my
expectation is that if my team member needs to take long lunches to help plan a
wedding, that time should be made up. I am happy for your friend, yet I still
expect you to attend to your professional responsibilities. I can see where my
team member may find this to be a REASON and find my perspective to be cold or
impersonal. My team member is probably thinking, "Lighten up, this is my
best friend, hopefully getting married one time, for a life time, the work will
always be here."
3) "I did not make the deadline because I was directed to work
on another higher priority project."
I say REASON, but only IF this is true and only if there was not
enough time to complete the work on both projects.
You and I may or may not agree about each of the statements discussed. Who is
right? (Me, because it is MY posting - I am kidding of course!) I do think that
agreeing on a definition for reasons versus excuses is helpful; it just does
not solve the entire problem. There is still the issue of intention and
interpretation. Your team member may believe that she is presenting you with a
factual description of why she missed a deadline, you may believe that she is
presenting you with an attempt to defend herself or shift the blame for being
late. It never hurts to explain to your team your definition of a REASON versus
an EXCUSE and continue to remind them of your definition throughout the
duration of your working relationship.