Excuses. Excuses. Those Annoyances We’d Like to Eradicate

Excuses. Excuses. We are all guilty of using them, but some folks are chronic repeat offenders. There, we've said enough!

Alibis are designed to get someone off the hook; either the person who needs the excuse uses it or someone else will make excuses for that person. A classic example: "The dog ate my homework" is recycled in myriad versions by someone who didn't meet a deadline of some kind or messed up in some way. Sure. Blame the helpless canine that can't talk and defend themself.

By our 70s-and probably far earlier--we think we've heard enough variations of excuses to paper all the walls of our home and then some. Maybe, that's why the trite expression emerged--"Excuses are a dime a dozen." If we had a dime for each one, we'd be rich.

One friend, who's always late and not by seconds or minutes but by longer stretches-even an hour, has a stack of them at their disposal. The person may not even realize how often they've been used. It's transactional as we envision each in a folder on their computer that is pulled up and repeated as situations arise. We've tried to protect this person's identity though one of us who's experienced and heard all has spoken up, but to little avail. Another excuse simply rises to the top of the heap.

One time the person might say, "I didn't realize the time" and another time explain, "I couldn't miss this exercise class" or "I couldn't find my phone." So many times, we've heard the same lame excuse, "I took the bus, and it took forever to get through the heavy traffic."

This friend who is chronically late, delivers excuses so earnestly that we give an A for sincerity, an A+ for dramatic performance and often a pass. Yet, we still get annoyed and try speaking up...again.

And then there's the professional one of us uses in business who recently got back to us about a matter that required timely input. He posed a question instead, not a solution, and when we emailed and then called for a strategy, we got zero response. We called again, explained the situation to his assistant who graciously offered to handle the matter since a deadline loomed. When he got wind of what had transpired, he was annoyed that we took his assistant's time and let us know through an email, wherever he was.

What was his excuse? A long-anticipated vacation? He hadn't let us know. Was that a better approach? In the meantime, we stewed. A day later he handled the situation from his vacation spot, so we excused his unprofessional action. But we decided he never got the memo that a client deserves prompt attention, especially when anxious.

Or how about the contractor who sends his son in his place to make a repair. The son has no clue how to handle the work. The contractor's excuse, which he offered, was that he had much more pressing, bigger (more lucrative) jobs to handle. Since we weren't complaining, our work fell to the bottom of his to-do list. Our fault, we guess. In this case, we decided to bid good-bye to him and his progeny for all their other poor excuses.

And here's another. The friend who keeps saying she'll call but...she has work, she has a sick husband, she has a migraine, she has this and that. And "let's get together" never happens for "she has too much work; family is coming over for dinner" and on and on. Her nose is growing longer than her list of excuses. Hello, Pinocchio. Should we suggest seeing the new movie version starring Tom Hanks? Maybe.

What about the person who constantly says she's bored. I wish my life were more exciting. "You could always do volunteer work and help others," we suggest. That would keep you busy and make you feel good," we add (but who's asking). "Oh, I just don't have the energy. I'm always so tired. And when I try volunteer work, it just never works out." Excuses, excuses...are so much easier.

A friend still doesn't email or know how to use a Smartphone also has excuses. She complains that she's not dating yet. "Try a dating site," we suggest. "But you'll have to learn to do email and use apps." She complains again about being dateless. You ask: "Are you on the apps yet?" To which she responds: "I want to go on real dates like the old days. Technology overwhelms me. There are so many apps." We get it. It's tough out there. But take it one step at a time or sit home alone with your TV as company.

Speaking of dating...you've been with a guy for two years and the relationship is starting to sour. He begins to criticize you; he makes you feel terrible. We say, "Break up. He's toxic. Break up now!" Excuse: "I don't want to hurt his feelings and am not sure how to end this even if I could. Also, I am so afraid of spending Saturday nights alone." Very lame excuse because she deserves better. And we know he's a poor excuse for a boyfriend.

We're not blameless. We've used excuses but we try not to. Barbara was sometimes late and one person she knew well, who was always punctual, said to her kindly, "It's really rude because you're thinking of yourself more than others." She heard the explanation and liked it and tried from that point forward-decades ago always to be on time.

Others also own up well to their mishaps. No excuses here. We applaud the restaurant server who neglected to serve the grilled chicken with the salad when queried and honestly replied, "We forgot, so sorry." Here's a drink on us. Now, that's a mensch! This is more refreshing than a flute of bubbly.

So, what's the kindest and most professional way to deal with people's excuses besides wishing they'd vanish like a puff of smoke? Do we call them out and make them fess up? "Why are you repeatedly late? Can't you start out earlier?" or "Our time is equally important, don't you think?" we say, becoming a bit more defensive and, yes, a tad angry.

Any of these questions might lead to a much longer and possibly heated discussion. It might even lead to the end of the relationship. We know that we are not going to change someone else's behavior or priority list after decades that they've acted a certain way. Who are we to be so critical? No one likes being reprimanded even when in error.

To rectify the situation since excuses can impinge on our time and take up space in our heads, we've created a non-confrontational, no-excuse-permitted zone, which might be used except in the rarest of circumstances, when we know their excuses are very legitimate. Heaven forbid someone is late because they've been in an accident, or they cancelled a lunch date because their child is ill. You people are off the hook, and we empathize totally with what's going on.

But for all you repeat offenders-and we've been guilty at times, here's what we're considering: 

  *   When someone offers an excuse for why they didn't show up, show up on time, call us back after a reasonable time, was in a bad mood (and got annoyed with us) and so on, and the excuse offered seems lame, we'll listen but not engage. We won't voice an approving "I understand" or utter "That's okay." If they apologize without any "buts" that's a different matter; we accept it and applaud your honesty.

  *   We also won't get angry, start to argue or lecture how bad their behavior was at that moment. Instead, we'll say nothing and let their excuse fall to the floor and shatter without comment. Doing so gives us the power.

  *   At some other time, we might ask to chat about something that is bothering us beyond excuses and bring up the behavior if it reflects a pattern. We then might calmly explain why we find it so upsetting and use those tried-and-true "I" rather than "you" statements taught in any type of interpersonal counseling. "I feel you've discounted my valuable time" or "I feel you don't understand how upsetting your reaction to me was." Ask the person to repeat back to you what you said so you know they heard you correctly. And if an excuse starts to tumble out of their mouth, "but Barbara and Margaret, I ...." politely say please stop: "No more excuses." You then have made your point.

  *   And we can always cover our ears when someone starts throwing excuses and yell: La La La La La. Yes, a bit childish but our disappointment just might get through to them.

Hopefully, any of these approaches will help those uttering excuses get the message. But only time will tell until the next excuse rolls off someone's tongue.

1 comment

  • Steven

    This is rather timely topic for me. I just had a contractor cancel an appointment at the last minute with a lame excuse. Thanks for your blog!

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published