“The dog ate my homework.” It’s probably safe to assume that this simple phrase started it all. It was the introductory excuse we all learned as kids (whether we had a dog or not). Although the teacher never really bought it, we, as kids, somehow thought that by delivering this verbal response, our situation was justified and would, thus, get us out of a jam.
As a child, do you remember your parents ever running into your bedroom because you were fighting with your brother or sister? “All right, who started it?” the parent would say, as both kids in resounding unison would point at each other and say, “He did!” While it never really mattered who started the fracas, any chance to, not only, get out of trouble, while simultaneously throwing a sibling under the proverbial bus, was always a favorite of mine.
What started out as a seemingly harmless defense mechanism against possible ridicule, or even a punishment of some kind, “the excuse” has become part of the fabric of our lives.
Later in life, the ridiculous phrase of “It’s not you, it’s me” became an epic go-to line that we used on a significant other that had just become, well, insignificant to us! When examining that old-school expression, it is obvious that this was just a way of letting someone down easy, so as to not hurt their feelings. You could even declare it a lie of sorts, because it was almost always about the person being broken up with rather than the so-called instigator of the break-up. Hey, I’ve been on both sides of that fence in the past, so it’s safe to say I was only a part-time prevaricator.
So, how do a couple of harmless excuses turn into little white lies? How far do these white lies that many of us churn out on our own behalf have to go before they become damaging to the other party involved? Therein sits the conundrum.
How about this one: Have you ever inquired with a friend, neighbor or family member about joining you in an event or an activity, only to receive a reply of “I don’t have the time for that”? Been there; done that. Here are two very different examples of this scenario:
“Hey, Joe, would you like to start working out with me at the gym so we can lose some weight?” Oftentimes, when the other person fires back with the “I don’t have the time for that” excuse, it just reeks of crap and it looks and sounds bad, too.
Other times, that phrase can be very beneficial. “Hi, Larry, its Marc calling; I wanted to know if you had the time to help me move my piano from the second floor of my house down to the living room today." Now, all of the sudden, your excuse…or little white lie, sounds and feels brilliant when rolling off the tongue, doesn’t it?
Truth be told, there are times and places for excuses in life. However, in business, it can be seen as a sign of weakness by colleagues, subordinates or clients if a pattern of excuse-making becomes habitual. For many people in business, making excuses tends to be the easiest and quickest way to temporarily solve a problem, when in actuality, it only exacerbates the issue. Do you have people in your daily circle of involvement that you can identify as an excuse-maker? I can name several.
You write in an email…“Good morning, Larry; I was inquiring about the delivery of the project documents you had promised me yesterday; will I be receiving them sometime today?”
Newsflash: If the documents were ready, they would be in your inbox already. Instead, you get to wait for the excuse train to roll into the station. This uncomfortable circumstance happens every day somewhere in the business world; and it benefits neither side of the equation, ever.
I recently wrote an article on Avoiding Bad Business Advice
. You should read it if you have doubts about turning to excuse-making as a crutch for your own shortcomings. The truth may hurt you at times and may even initially infuriate your clients; however, in the long run, there will always be fewer complications and less confusion for everyone. So, if anyone leads you to believe that skirting the truth or misleading a boss or client for any reason is a good idea, do not trust this person under any circumstances.
Allow me to deliver some solid guidance. Delivering an excuse that is completely lame is not only stupid; it can be downright funny at times. Nothing makes a person look and sound more like a boob than a lame rebuttal or reasoning as to why you haven’t delivered on a promise or deadline. Here are a few people and/or elements you should never blame when attempting to explain why you have not completed your agreed-upon task(s). Avoid these over-used and never-accepted-as-true excuses at all costs:
- The weather
- Wardrobe malfunctions
- Equipment malfunctions
- Communication gaffes
- Illness / physical impairments
- Vacation / personal days off
- Personal issues
- Your staff / your boss
- Slammed at the office
- Too busy / don’t have the time
Now, let’s take just a second here to clarify a thing or two. What happens if you have an unavoidable situation that pops up? What if you realize your impending deadline is going to be violated because of elements out of your control? This part is simple. Be proactive.
Giving updates to your colleagues, bosses and clients throughout the process of whatever you may be executing can actually be a benefit to you in some instances. Corresponding or even calling the other party involved regarding your progress (or even lack thereof) can put them at ease; sending a clear message to them that you, at least, have their best interest on the front burner. The communication component in all of this does not necessarily eradicate the blame or the fact you may not be fulfilling your obligation, but it does demonstrate your ability to be honest and forthcoming about potential pitfalls that may impede the completion of the project. In most cases, honesty combined with a proactive approach will trump the so-called lame, after-the-fact excuses.
Recently, I saw a short political interview
on a cable news network program featuring the former Chief Economist of the Obama White House Administration. He was attempting to explain certain factors that have lead to a bad American economy. However, before the brief interview was complete, he actually began blaming part of our economic woes on an earthquake in Washington, DC and a hurricane that had not even arrived yet as contributors to the problem. It was embarrassing. Most estimates had the earthquake lasting about 30 seconds, and it probably caused about 12 people to miss an hour of work. The severity of the hurricane was completely undetermined at that point. Now those are exponentially lame excuses. Maybe, just maybe, after the heavy rains and flooding caused by the hurricane occurred, this finger-pointing would have slipped under the radar a little more, even though the bad economy has been hovering over us seemingly forever. So, when I mentioned being proactive, I wasn’t referring to this charade.
In short, I advise you to examine your current approach, and then hone your skills in this vital area of business professionalism (and even in your personal life) to earn, and then maintain, the respect of others you interact with on a daily or even a random basis. Follow these simple rules to get you started:
- Never make a lame excuse—it never works
- Always tell the truth, even if it hurts a little in the short-term
- Be proactive with your updates and progress
- Be responsible—own the responsibility
- Use your approach to be an example to others
Your Assistance is requested…
With all things being considered, I would like to know some of the lamest excuses you’ve ever been hit with. Let me know your sad or funny excuses by emailing me those descriptions of unsuccessful attempts at hoodwinking you. I’m sure there are several I’ve never heard as well. I will publish these in a future follow-up article so others will be aware of any new or different excuses being put into action these days. Make sure you include your name and city if you’d like those included as well. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Well, I must go; I have to go help a friend move a damn piano.