Please find attached a rough, first draft, of the report that you requested.
I know it’s not perfect but given the short turn-around time I’ve done my best to include everything that’s relevant. It should be enough to get things started. Please let me know if you need anything else.
I found myself writing an email this week, almost identical to the example above.
I didn’t send it.
Instead I wrote:
Please find attached the report that you requested.
There is a subtle, but important difference.
I removed the excuses.
The hidden meaning of excuses
How often do you make excuses: excuses for what you’ve done, for what you haven’t done?
How many of those excuses are legitimate? Are any of them legitimate? What purpose do they serve?
Why make excuses?
These were all questions that I asked myself as I realised that the email I was about to send was cloaked in apology. Apology that if you read between the lines said:
Here’s the report. It’s not very good but that’s because you dropped it on me at the last minute. I’ve done the best I can but just in case you don’t think it’s very good then I want you to know it’s not my fault.
There it is, in black and white – the hidden meaning in all excuses:
“It’s not my fault”
Excuses serve one main purpose: they try to shift the blame.
In this instance I was looking to shift the blame from myself to my boss and the lack of time I’d been given. Of course if the report was considered to be good then I would want the accolades, however if it wasn’t well received then I wanted to shift the blame.
Excuses are manipulation.
The excuse backfire
If the email couched in excuses had been sent what do you think would have happened?
My boss already knew that he’d dropped the report on me at the last minute. He also knows that I do my best (at least I hope he does…). So why put this in the email?
By including this information, and the line “I know it’s not perfect”, the email tells the recipient, without them having to think much about it, that the report is sub-standard. That will therefore be their first thought, and likely their final opinion.
The excuse actually backfires and does the exact opposite of its intended purpose.
It’s time to wake up and take responsibility.
That’s what it’s all about: taking responsibility.
Taking responsibility and the beauty of simplicity
I wrote the report. I was responsible for the report.
In accepting that, the covering email was easy to write. It was honest and to the point. Nothing more was needed. No excuses added. A simple truth: “Please find attached the report that you requested”.
And, whilst the email couched in apology contained hidden meaning around blame, the email that actually got sent also contained hidden meaning. It said “I am responsible”.
This somewhat insignificant event really got me thinking about how often excuses are used, subtly or unsubtly, in life. How they always try to shift the blame, just in case we don’t measure up.
I have therefore made a conscious decision to stop using excuses, to take responsibility for all my actions (or inactions) and to deliver the truth simply, yet with compassion.
There is such freedom and beauty in that.
At the root of it all
Much has been written on excuses, especially on the excuses used to avoid big, life changing decisions. This epiphany was the result of something much smaller and yet the core reasons for making excuses are the same:
- fear of failure
- not taking responsibility
Everyone fears failure to some degree, and yet failure can be a huge ally. We learn through failure, we become better through failure, we grow through failure. Failure should not be feared, rather welcomed. If you stop fearing failure then the excuses will stop.
We are all responsible for our actions (and inactions). That fact doesn’t change however much we try to shift the blame by not accepting responsibility. Instead, take responsibility for your actions. If you do the excuses will stop.
It’s amazing how a seemingly minor event in an office can contain such a profound life lesson. These lessons are all around us. They occur every day. The question is: are we open to them, do we recognise them, do we learn from them.
There is such beauty in simple honesty.
Isn’t it time you stopped making excuses?