“Sorry, I got swamped with some other stuff.” 

“I thought Scott was going to take care of it.”

We’ve all had to deal with excuses and we’ve all given excuses to others in both our personal and professional lives. Life happens. There are times when you run across someone who consistently uses excuses and it can be extremely frustrating for you as a leader, friend, or family member. Today we’ll dive into excuses and how you handle them in a positive way. 

Where excuses come from

As you begin to work with someone who excessively uses excuses, it is important to know where excuses come from so you can address them properly. 

  • They were never interested in doing what was asked of them. There are plenty of people that just won’t say no to anyone no matter how much they don’t want to do what’s being asked of them. For others, they just agree to do something to get you to move on or they don’t think that you are truly invested in the topic and think that you won’t follow up on the item. 
  • The situation was out of their control, either real or perceived. This is the classic, “The dog ate my homework.” These excuses are based on outside factors that influenced and impacted the expected result. Sometimes these changes are quite real, and other times they are only real in the person’s mind. An example of this would be when a person doesn’t feel empowered to handle the situation. In their mind, the situation was out of their control, when in reality they had the power the whole time and didn’t use it.
  • They weren’t told what to do. This excuse sits on the leaders or the person who made the request’s shoulders. The person with the excuse couldn’t complete the task because there weren’t clear explanations and instructions. We see this all the time in businesses. A leader may say “Do a better job in hiring.” and then come back frustrated when turnover rates are the same. How does the person do better in hiring? 

Tips to handle honestly missed expectations and excuses

  • Make sure that the excuse is real. The person may try to throw you or someone else under the bus with their excuse. “You didn’t tell me to…” Think back to understand if you did in fact give the instructions. Sometimes we mean to and then distracted and forget to actually have the conversation. If you did have the conversation, were you clear in your instructions?
  • Understand where the excuse is coming from. Understanding the type of excuse helps you address it the right way. How you handle an excuse because the person simply isn’t motivated to participate should be different from how you address someone who just needs some better direction. 
  • Be tolerant up to a point. Remember that we all make excuses from time to time. If the person doesn’t habitually use excuses, help them save face by redirecting and coaching instead of spending too much time discussing the excuse itself. 

Tips to deal with a person who consistently makes excuses

Let’s be real. There are people that make excuses for almost everything. These people probably hold very little of your trust and/or respect because of their failed accountability in themselves to get things done. 

  • Open up with curiosity. It’s tempting to open the conversation in an accusatory way, but just maybe the excuse is really this time. It also starts the conversation in a way that the other person isn’t immediately shut down to feedback and conversation. Ask questions to get an understanding of why things happened the way that they did. 
  • Acknowledge the bigger picture. If there is a pattern for the same type of excuse all the time. It’s fine to step back and acknowledge that with the person. “This is the third time you’ve had this reason for not getting the task done this month. What’s really going on here and how can I help?”
  • Be clear on the why and the impact. To drive home the point of a needed change in behavior, you should tie the miss to why it’s important to meet the set expectation. “The next shift needs this to be done so that they can work on other things.”We lose some of the reimbursement when charting isn’t turned in on time.”
  • Reestablish expectations and follow-up. Be sure to reinforce what the expectations are as you begin to close out the conversation. Check for any resources, knowledge, or support that the person needs to get the task done and affirm their commitment to the expectation. Close in the time periods that you normally follow up so that they are more frequent and informal. 

People often respond back with an excuse when confronted with falling short of an expectation. Your job as a leader is not to prove yourself right or look for “I told you” moments. Instead, understand the reasoning, equip them to be successful going forward, and reestablish expectations, especially for those that have a tendency to use excuses as a crutch. 

Make a better tomorrow.