Posted 11 May 2009 by Chris Farmer
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Management communication skills
Distinguish between reasons and excuses
Is there a difference between a "reason" and an "excuse" for not doing something?
You bet there is a difference! A reason is true, logical, undeniable and unavoidable.
An excuse is none of these. (i.e. an excuse is untrue, illogical, dishonest or avoidable).
Imagine you give a person some off target feedback, and ask him to make a change in behaviour.
Imagine that he does not make the change. You will want to ask, "why not?"
Here is the point: When you ask the question and that person answers, listen very closely.
You have to classify their answer into one of two categories: either:
- The reason they cannot change, or
- The excuse they use to avoid changing
When you listen to others, do you consciously distinguish between reasons and excuses?
It is important that you do, because, as a manager you will need to have a different policy for each.
What would happen to the manager who does not distinguish between reasons and excuses? i.e. one who is willing to accept anything as a "reason"?
Such a manager would be ineffective. They would be unable to sustain progress in another person.
The other person would be able to conjure up any plausible but false excuse and evade the actions necessary for continued progress.
So as a good manager, learn to distinguish between excuses and reasons and then act accordingly.
Who should decide for you what constitutes a reason and what is an excuse in any particular case?
This takes a certain amount of courage, to listen to another's story and say: "NO!"
Sometimes you have to say no, and ask the other to give you a reason not an excuse.
One manager once said to me
"Who am I to judge? I do not want to make that kind of judgement. What if I get it wrong?"
The answer was:
"Who are you to judge? You are the manager
You may not want to make that judgement, but it is part of your role.
You may get it wrong, so if in doubt, give the benefit of the doubt to the other person"
What should be your policy for "reasons"?
Negotiate and give concessions.
What should be your policy for "excuses" (non reasons)?
Do not negotiate and do not give concessions.
Distinguish between reasons and excuses and have a different policy for each