When Making Excuses Becomes a Problem
Everyone makes excuses.
A lot of them.
Excuses allow people to save face and protect themselves from being judged harshly when they underperform or fail to meet the expectations of others.
Excuses shift the focus from personal responsibility to a cause beyond our control. People make excuses because it’s a painless way to escape a compromising situation. It’s always easier to blame a sudden illness, a faulty alarm clock or an incomplete report, than it is to point the finger at our own actions.
While a degree of excuse-making is normal behavior, some people are full-to-overflowing with excuses. Once a team member acts defensively by automatically offering an excuse anytime they discuss their work or progress, a leader has a problem on their hands.
When people make excuses all of the time, they are telling leaders that they refuse to be accountable. Team members addicted to excuse-making learn poorly, fail to accept feedback, and annoy the responsible people around them.
Because most habitual excuse-makers don’t recognize the prevalence of their defensive explanations, breaking the habit is a tremendous challenge for leaders.
Leaders must remember that an excuse is a reason given to justify an unmet expectation or performance. That reason is rarely the primary cause for underperformance. For the excuse-addicted, the root issue almost always stems from a lack of personal responsibility.
Leaders who want to help a team member break the habit of excuse-making must ask them to explore the real reasons for poor performance. By helping others identify the actual cause of underperformance, leaders indirectly confront those team members about why they prefer not to take personal responsibility for the choices they make. This is an uncomfortable but necessary conversation.
By identifying the root cause of unmet expectations and asking others to take full responsibility for all of their actions and consequences, good and bad, leaders begin the process of substituting an ineffectual world view (one replete with excuses) with the productive view that we own everything that happens because of our actions. This shift in thinking is aided by asking the offending party to refrain from making excuses about anything for a period of time.
Excuses rob people of personal growth. Leaders make excuse-making uncomfortable for those who offer them incessantly. When people refrain from making excuses, they learn to deliver.