By Bryan Orr

This would have been a better article, but I am on vacation while writing it and my kids are fighting in the other room… I should probably deal with that. I would have written it before vacation, but I had kidney stone surgery, and just before that we moved into our new house (the house we had been building for 8 months) and right before that my wife birthed a baby. But if it wasn’t for all that I would have spent more time writing and editing this article… I will do better next time… maybe.

The Anatomy of an Excuse

An excuse is breaking a direct or implied agreement and then giving a reason why you didn’t keep it. If you were supposed to bring in your completed homework, but you didn’t and the “dog ate it” — that’s an excuse. If you slide into the meeting 10 minutes late and mutter, “Sorry, the traffic was awful today,” you win the excuse award. If you bring home plastic flowers on your anniversary and mention that, “Work was extra busy today so I didn’t have time to get something nice,” not only is that an excuse, it’s also a terrible example of an excuse. But I’m on vacation… so that’s my excuse for the bad excuse example.

These are excuses — they may also be reasons —  but they are worse than reasons because these reasons resulted in your failure to deliver on an agreement.

1. Everybody Sees Through Them (Except You)

When you give a reason for failure to deliver on an agreement you fall into two camps:

#1 – You are someone who often fails to deliver.

#2 – You are someone who rarely fails to deliver.

If you are the first, everyone knows it and your excuses are meaningless; work to become the second. If you are the second you don’t need an excuse, you just find a way to keep your agreements from here on out and you apologize for your failure.

You are the only one who cares about how well formulated your excuses are. Everyone else listens for two seconds, as soon as they know it’s an excuse or “reason” they tune out and start thinking about sports or their dog or their dog playing sports.

2. Reasons Don’t Make It Better

Business is based around two primary pillars: Results and Relationships. You can’t have business relationships without agreement, and agreement is usually based around results. In other words, a relationship without results won’t last long. If you fail to produce results, reasons won’t help. You can apologize, you can propose different actions or recalibrate new agreements, but results are the goal not reasons. If you fail to produce, look forward not backward.

3. Reasons are BORING!

When you give a reason you are talking about yourself and your circumstances. Hate to break it to you, but few people are interested in you unless your story relates to their interests or fears in some way. There are exceptions of course, such as: if your reason for failing to complete a project has to do with being attacked by a great white shark, or being chased by cannibals in Borneo or a narrow escape from a smoking volcano..then please, share away.

4. Reasons Make You Appear Out of Control

We have all worked with someone who has so many “crazy” things happen to them according to the stories they tell and the reasons they give. In their mind the darndest things always happen to them and they “have no control” over these circumstances. In the professional world, seeming out of control is not a recipe for success and over time your “drama stories” breed wary analysts.

So instead of giving reasons, make quick apologies followed by a clear course of action: “I’m sorry that I’m late, but now everyone gets free donuts for life.”

Sounds about right to me.