I hate excuses. I think we all do, at least when we’re on the receiving end of one. Sometimes an excuse is legitimate, but far more often than not an excuse is an attempt to avoid responsibility. This of course tends to happen a lot when something has gone wrong.
We don’t want excuses in those situations. We want to know what went wrong, we want the reason for the problem. Then we want it fixed.
But sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between a reason and an excuse.
Most endeavors involve the effort of more than one person, so when you ask Bob what went wrong and he tells you that Jeff was supposed to do x,y, or z is that really the reason or is it an excuse?
Here are some tips to tell.
- Excuses avoid action, reasons fuel action. When we make excuses we are trying to get out of something. When we offer reasons we are determining the next step to take. An excuse is information presented to avoid doing. A reason is information presented to better know what to do.
Sometimes the wording of an excuse and a reason can be very nearly identical. An easy way to figure out what you’re getting? Ask, “So what do we do?” If the answer is a splutter and some variation of “There’s nothing we can do,” you are getting an excuse. If the answer is some form of actionable step or the start of a plan, you are getting a reason.
- Excuses are an effort to avoid responsibility, reasons identify the proper place for responsibility. An excuse is a way of saying, “It’s not my problem.” A reason is based on where responsibility truly lies.
So if, as in the above example, Bob lays responsibility at Jeff’s feet, how do you know if you are getting an excuse or a reason? Ask, “So what can we do?” If Bob gives you a splutter and some variation of “There’s nothing I can do,” Bob is making excuses. If Bob offers factual statements about what happened and seeks to be involved in the solution, even if it’s just as simple as checking in with Jeff weekly or helping with a plan of attack, then Bob is offering you a reason.
- Excuses never end, reasons are a one and done. If you’ve ever been given an excuse for something odds are good that when you checked back in on the issue you got another one. Excuses never come as individuals. If you get one excuse, you can count on another. Reasons on the other hand usually only come once. Once a reason has been identified it can be addressed and fixed. Even if the solution doesn’t end up working out you don’t get the same reason for the issue because you tried something different. Progress is tangible even when it is slow.
As you can see from the above tips, the main difference between a reason and an excuse boils down to responsibility and action. In fact, an excuse for one person can be a reason for another. I’ll give a quick example from my own life.
In 2014 I got a new job. Just as I was arriving for my first day of work I got a kidney stone. One of my co-workers-to-be had to drive me to the ER. When I was released from the ER I was told to rest for a couple days and not work.
I had an ironclad excuse at that point for missing the first few days of work. I had an excuse to lay back and do a whole lot of nothing.
But I didn’t want an excuse not to go to work. I merely had a reason not to go to work. I had some material from the company and I spent those couple of days reading and learning and mastering the material. I took action. Even though there were things that couldn’t do, I chose to pursue the things that I could do rather than make an excuse not to do anything at all.
I certainly don’t always choose reasons over excuses. I have plenty to work on in this area. I need to find the reasons that I avoid responsibility and action and tackle them head on.
It’s the only way to grow, and it’s the difference maker.
This is a guest post from Chris Mann who works for my company, SOS Leadership. It is a report from the SOS Leadership blog.