From Chapter 8: Stranded: Making Excuses
Have you ever had something go sideways and shared with others why you think it went wrong? Have you felt that you owed someone an explanation for what happened? As soon as you offer an excuse, you have basically put yourself at the will of whomever you are making the excuse to. It is now up to them to pass judgment on if your reason is worthy. Men look at each other and roll their eyes when women break out into an excuse for something that has happened. Because we are goal driven, we don’t care about what gets in the way of the goal. You either did something or you didn’t. We don’t care about why it didn’t happen; we are interested in when it is going to happen and how you are going to make it happen. Let me give you “Chris’s notes” on excuses.
No one cares
When you give an excuse you see it as offering an explanation, which means you are discussing process, which we don’t care about. Now it seems like you are content to waste more time by trying to explain why you weren’t able to do something. Rather than spending time making excuses, look for a way to get it done and do it. Excuses are just another way to waste time.
Giving up your power
When you make an excuse, you open up your actions to criticism. The excuse gets analyzed by everyone who hears it, and they determine if your reason for not getting something done is reasonable. This totally undermines your power as a professional because you are allowing others to make a judgment on your actions. It does not matter what they think. Let me use an example to illustrate the point. Stacy was late for her board meeting due to an unforeseen family issue. She arrived to the board meeting 15 minutes late, and the chairperson had to rearrange the agenda to account for her tardiness. She is one of three women on a board of 15. This was her approach when she walked in:
“Hi everyone, sorry I’m late. My daughter was up sick last night, and her school doesn’t let kids come to school if they aren’t feeling well so I had to wrangle up childcare. By the time I caught a cab it was already 9 AM. Sorry about that.”
When Stacy presented this to the group, the women nodded their heads. They understood challenges involved in balancing family and professional lives. The men, on the other hand, were thinking:
- “Why are you wasting more time with that stupid explanation?”
- “I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care. Just sit down so we can continue.”
- “Don’t trust Stacy with responsibility, she’ll blow it if her kid gets sick!”
- “Why wouldn’t you have childcare set up before you need it?”
- “Can we just get on with this?”
Stacy has opened herself up to criticism on her ability, or lack thereof, to manage her personal and professional lives. She thinks it has given them information to understand what her challenges were, but what she has really done is given them just enough information to make a judgment on her actions. Stacy has given her power up to the room.
Giving up your power
This is what Stacy should have said to acknowledge that she didn’t fulfill her team’s expectations and at the same time kept her power: “I’d like to apologize for my tardiness. I appreciate being a part of this board, and I will take every possible measure to ensure this never happens again.” By approaching the situation in this way she is acknowledging that she didn’t fulfill expectations and will take actions to avoid it being duplicated.
Done! Nothing said about what happened, why it happened, and so on. None of it matters to the guys. If there is a guy in the group who is looking to deep-six her, he will try to bait her into giving an excuse by asking, “What happened?” or “I hope that everything is alright?”. Her best response here is just to say it was a personal matter. This will stonewall him, and they can all get back on to business. Do not take the bait! You do not have to make excuses to anyone.
My wife, Jacqui, is a very powerful businesswoman, and I used to tease her about making excuses. I’d bait her to see if I could get excuses out of her, and she was extremely proficient in stonewalling me. When she was in law school, she was working with a professor doing a research project around the United Nations. She wasn’t feeling well one morning, and she told me that she was going to call in sick. I suggested that she not make an excuse to him, just to tell him when she would be in. She gave me a snarky look and said, “I don’t make excuses!” I smiled at her and said, “We’ll see.” Jacqui got her determined face on and picked up the phone.
She called the professor and said, “Good morning Dr. Jones, it’s Jacqueline Flett, and I won’t be coming in this morning.” She stopped and looked at me. I have to admit I was a little bit shocked, and I was about to clap when she continued, “I haven’t been feeling well all morning. Last night I started feeling sick, but thought by this morning I’d be feeling better but I’m not.” I started to smile and mouthed the words, “Excuse!” She glared at me and continued to give the professor more details on not feeling well. She went silent and said, “Tuesday at 11 A.M.,” and hung up. When I asked her what he said, she said, “All he wanted to know was when I was coming in.” I laughed and said to her, “Nice excuse.” She shot back, “That wasn’t an excuse; it was an explanation!” Women are much better communicators than men and love to give details to add color to their stories. The problem here is women share ideas that are process-focused, not goal-focused. All Jacqui’s professor wanted to know was when she was coming in (goal). As a general rule, when talking with women add the flavor, but give men the information in a goal-related format. This is what Jacqui could have said that would have shortened the conversation and been more appealing to the professor: “Hi Dr. Jones, I won’t be coming in today, but will be in Tuesday morning. Talk with you soon.” That’s all he wanted to know.
Looking for approval
When you offer an excuse, what you are really looking for is approval of your situation. When you seek approval, you give up your power. Do not do this. It doesn’t matter what others think. I know that is hard to hear and believe, but at the end of the day, if you are doing your best, that is all you can offer. It doesn’t matter if they think your reason for not doing something was good or not. You either did something or you didn’t. If you did it, that’s great. If you didn’t, what are you going to do about it? Don’t be the golden retriever that goes over for a pat on the head. You are a proud, powerful woman. Take on that role and act like it. You don’t need anybody to justify your existence. Every time you want approval for your excuse, you are looking for that pat on the head, and every man knows it. You are putting yourself in a bitch (submissive) role to stronger men. Don’t play that role.