Is That a Reason or an Excuse?
- “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.”
- “I did not make the deadline because I had to take some long lunches in order to help plan my best friend’s wedding.”
- “I did not make the deadline because I was directed to work on another higher priority project.”
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 really distracting.”
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 distraction.
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 article – 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.