We all have them and many are actually true. There IS traffic on the freeway. The kids DO get sick. We sometimes DO forget a commitment, but the problem with excuses is that we hide behind them and use them as an out. We should be owning our stuff, taking responsibility for being late or having to cancel or not following through.
Excuses are so commonplace we don’t even hear them anymore. They barely register as we explain ourselves away, or as we listen to a litany of excuses from others. To quote Mark Nicole of Productive Learning & Leisure, “You can either have the results you want or your reasons for why not…but not both.” Excuses undermine our success, our reputations, and even our belief in ourselves.
In your next conversation, rather than resort to justifications, tune in to your words. Hear yourself. Notice the chronic need to explain. Why we didn’t finish a project. Why we weren’t on time. Why we didn’t call back. Ugh. It’s exhausting for both the listener and the excuse giver.
Rationalizing, justifying, and explaining are just other names for this behavior. Whatever we call it, constantly resorting to justifying our actions and choices is disempowering. This habit attempts to shirk personal responsibility, but in the end, doesn’t really get us off the hook. It simply makes us look unreliable.
Excuse-making is a habit that can be broken. Next time you drop the ball, forget to return a call, or arrive late, instead of slipping into excuse-land, take these two steps:
- Apologize sincerely and succinctly. That means no b.s., no reasons, no justifications. Just apologize and own it. No reason is needed. Begin with an “I” statement. “I’m sorry for being late” or “My apologies for not returning your call.” End of story.
- Determine how to set things right. Then do it. Reschedule or recommit or pick up where you left off, but be sure you keep any new commitment you make. Otherwise, don’t make one at all. You get ONE shot to set things straight and save your reputation.
- Regroup. Take a few minutes for yourself to determine if this particular action is a frequent occurrence with you that needs cleaning up. If it was an isolated incident, you’re good to go. None of us are on it all the time. However, if when you assess you discover a recurring theme in your actions, ask yourself what change you must make to stop this pattern. For example: if you are chronically ten minutes late, vow to book yourself with a fifteen-minute buffer built in. Or vow to NOT do that “one more thing” before you leave for an appointment or commitment. For many of us, that one more thing makes us late time and time again.
- Move on. Assuming you completed the above steps, take a breath and turn the page. Avoid making the issue bigger than it was. .
These simple steps will help you stop making excuses and begin taking responsibility for your actions. Others will find you more credible, authentic, and reliable. This approach is so rare in our culture, you will actually stand out. Everyone makes mistakes. The difference is in being brave enough to own them rather than hide behind excuses. There’s no excuse for excuses.