Making excuses

Anonymous said to realsocialskills:

Can you explain the concept of excuses? People often get mad at me for “making excuses” when I mess up, but I’m just trying to explain the situation, and maybe diffuse their anger over my mistakes. I’m not trying to transfer the blame to someone else. I don’t understand the problem. Please help.

 

realsocialskills said: 

Short version: You might get better results if you stop thinking of diffusing their anger as a goal.

Longer version:

Making excuses basically means doing something wrong, and attempting to prevent other people from taking it seriously. That can be in many forms:

  • Claiming that it wasn’t your fault the thing happened (even though it was)
  • Telling people that you’re not the kind of person who does that kind of thing (data they have is that you just did the thing. They get to decide what they think about that.)
  • Claiming that the thing wasn’t really a big deal (even though it was)
  • Stating or implying, through words or actions, that you expect there to be no consequences once you have explained (even consequences like people being annoyed with you)

eg:

  • Sue: Your dog just destroyed all of my mail. He ripped up my paycheck. This can’t happen again.
  • Brenda: Oh, I’m sorry, I’m really a responsible pet owner, I never do this kind of thing, it’s just my back was turned for a minute and my dog got out.

This is a bad response because:

  • Brenda’s dog just destroyed Sue’s mail.
  • Brenda is trying to make this a conversation about why Sue shouldn’t judge her
  • Sue has every right to be angry, and every right to have this affect her perception of Brenda

This would be a better approach:

  • Sue: Your dog just destroyed all of my mail. He ripped up my paycheck. This can’t happen again.
  • Brenda: I’m so sorry about that. I didn’t realize that the fence had termites, and my dog just ran right through it. We’re replacing the fence, and keeping the dog in while it’s being replaced. Is there a way I can help you fix things with the mail?

Sometimes you will be accused of making excuses when it’s not actually your fault. Eg:

  • Debra: Why is the logo a dinosaur? I wanted a potato.
  • Lucy: We discussed this, and you decided to go with the dinosaur. The contract says dinosaur logo. 
  • Debra: You’re just making excuses. Make the logo right.

Or:

  • Jason: Why did you just call me a pistachio? Is that some sort of weird slur?
  • Fred: I was offering you a pistachio.
  • Jason: Don’t make excuses. It’s not ok to insult me like that.

I don’t know of any effective response in that situation. I wish I did. 

If you’re talking to people who are basically reasonable, and you actually have made a mistake, this can be a good way to explain without sounding like you’re making excuses:

  • I’m sorry about this
  • This is how it happened
  • Here are the steps I’ll take to make it not happen again
  • Offering to fix what is fixable

eg: 

  • I’m sorry that my dog ate your homework. 
  • I didn’t know that dogs really did that, so I didn’t take precautions. 
  • From now on, I will keep up the baby gate so he can’t get in to the room you do homework in.
  • I’m sorry about this - are you going to get in trouble at school? Can I help you recreate it, or would it help if I wrote a note?

An important component of taking responsibility for a mistake is accepting that people are going to have feelings about it, and that an apology isn’t always going to make them go away. 

Let people feel the way they do about what you did. Taking responsibility doesn’t mean no one is allowed to still be upset with you, or that they are obligated to believe that you will do better in the future. It means that you’re acknowledging that you made a mistake and that the mistake is important and has consequences. Sometimes people are going to be upset about mistakes you make, and it’s important to learn how to handle that. If you try to use apologies as a cheat code to make them stop being upset, it’s likely to make them more upset.