April 1, 2023: Daily Discipline Mailbag

“What is the difference between a reason and an excuse? In my eyes, a reason tends to be the truth; something indisputable that cannot be hidden behind. An excuse, on the other hand, is something you make up to explain a shortcoming on your part.  What is your take on this?” (Maurice - 58 - Chicago)

People have reasons for everything.

“I was tired.”
“It was too late.”
“We’ve always done it this way.”
“You never told me.”
"This was the right thing to do.”
“I didn’t want to hurt his feelings.”
“She needs to learn her lesson.”
“We needed to save budget.”

An excuse is always a reason, but a reason isn’t necessarily an excuse. The real question is: why do we believe some reasons are excuses while other reasons are justified?

It comes down to our perceptions and assessment about the quality of the reason. When it comes to quality, people have different perspectives.

Before I continue, let’s set aside the bullshit people invent to get out of a situation. 

Which reminds me of a story from 3rd-grade that my dad LOVES to tell every Thanksgiving or Christmas or random Wednesday.

I’ve always had a nasty tendency to procrastinate. My junior year college, I had an entire semester (3 ½ months!) to write a massive thesis paper, but the day before it was due I had only written five pages. I wrote 35 pages in 20 hours. Got a B+ too. I’m torn on whether I’m proud of that.

Back to 3rd-grade. I’d put myself in the same situation. (Sometimes I’m a slow learner.) As Steven Pressfield would say, “Resistance was winning.” My report was due the next day and I hadn’t even started it. My dad forced me to sit at the computer and write the report.

The screen stared at me. The keyboard mocked me. I was screwed and I knew it. So I cried. My dad heard and asked what was wrong. The truth was that I had procrastinated to the point I felt overwhelmed and incapable of doing the report. Is that what I told my dad? Of course not.

I made up the first thing that came to mind I thought would get me out of this awful situation.

“I can’t type, Dad.” Tears running down my face.

“Why not?”, he patiently asked.

“Someone hit me at school today, in the back, and it hurts so bad I can’t type.” As you can tell by my answer, panic was setting it. But I wasn’t done. I was prepared to dig a hole deep enough to bury myself.

“Oh man. Are you ok? Who hit you?”

“Becky!”

I don’t remember the name I actually said. Lindsey, Jessica, Rachel, Christina, whatever. The point is I told my dad I couldn’t write my report because a 3rd-grade girl hit me so hard in the back that I was now physically incapable of typing on a keyboard without risking permanent damage or hospitalization.

In reality, I hadn’t written my report and didn’t want to write my report, so I made up the dumbest reason my 3rd-grade brain could invent. That’s the kind of excuse we’re not going to address here, when people know they are lying or making something up to avoid responsibility. 

To answer this question in a valuable way, we have to deal exclusively with the reasons people give that they actually believe.

For example, some people think growing up with divorced parents is a quality reason for why they act dysfunctionally as an adult. It’s definitely a reason. Is it a quality reason? I don’t think so, but they do.

I grew up with divorced parents, but that’s not the point. I believe that events influence us, but don’t determine us. Once you’re an adult, you’re 100% responsible, even for the stuff from your childhood that didn’t set you on the right path for you.

I see growing up with divorced parents as a weak reason, because of my belief system, for dysfunction as an adult, close to an excuse. If you have different beliefs than me, you may see it as a strong and justified reason for dysfunction as an adult, not at excuse at all.

So there’s very little objectivity between a reason and an excuse unless people are clearly lying or making things up.

“Sorry I’m late. Traffic.”

Reason or excuse?

There was traffic. They aren’t making it up. It did slow them down. They would have been on time if it weren’t for traffic.

But did they think ahead? Did they leave early enough to account for potential delays? Should they have known traffic would be bad and left earlier?

See how quickly and easily it gets messy?

This is why I rarely use the word “excuse”. It sounds accusatory and sets off people’s defense mechanisms, even in people who know they’re making excuses, but especially in people who believe they’re giving valid reasons.

Instead, I acknowledge the reason and make sure I understand it accurately from the other person’s perspective. It’s important to verify that I’ve understood them correctly. “So you’re saying _______ because ______. Is that what you mean?”

I try to do this until they confirm I understand them accurately. Sometimes hearing their own explanation out loud from someone else is enough for them to recognize the weakness in their reasoning. “Well now that I hear it like that, it sounds kind of weak.”

Often times I’ll learn something valuable about the person, what happened, how they think, what they value, or the beliefs that shape their perspective.

From there I can express my agreement or disagreement with their reasons and why, without accusing them of making excuses.

Remember, every excuse is a reason, but not every reason is an excuse.

 

“What, if any, lessons or activities do you do with group/teams to introduce and process the "No BCD" concept?” (Eric - 49 - Saranac Lake)

No BCD (No Blaming, Complaining, or Defensiveness) works because it’s simple, direct, intuitive, and accessible. I like to teach it that way.

It begins as a conversation. It can be one on one, small team, or company meetings. It can be formal or informal, but it should be a discussion not a sermon. One where you explore the experience of BCD, the cost of it, the patterns with it, and whether you want it to be part of your environment. Those are meaningful conversations in moving people towards eliminating BCD.

Here’s what I emphasize:

  1. BCD doesn’t solve problems, achieve goals, or improve relationships. If we’re interested in doing that, then BCD is off the table.

  2. BCD is the act of pushing responsibility away from you and onto someone or something else. Taking responsibility starts with not BCDing.

  3. There is no room for BCD in a person, team, or organization committed to excellence.

  4. Can you think of anyone that you’d like to hear BCD more? Of course not.

  5. Do think there’s anyone out there that wants to hear more BCD from you? Are there some people who might want to hear less from you?

  6. People who blame, complain, and get defensive develop a well-known reputation for it – a personal brand. Who here is interested in being known as that kind of person?

  7. There are always better alternatives than BCD. You just have to be interested in them more than BCD.

Think of BCD as something that survives in the dark. Shine a light on BCD and it retreats. Keep shining that light and it withers away almost entirely.

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