Was that an explanation or an excuse?

Wait- was that an explanation or an excuse?
The difference matters, and if you are a leader at work, a parent, a coach… you want to make sure you get it right.
Does this sound familiar?
You get ready to explain why something didn’t happen as desired (didn’t meet a deadline, didn’t finish a project, didn’t do what you said you were going to…) and as soon as you open your mouth, the other person says “I don’t want to hear your excuses”.
But you weren’t going to give an excuse.
We are all guilty of telling someone to stop giving excuses, or shutting them down as soon as we think we are hearing an excuse (parents- we do this a lot to our kids).
So what is the difference?
Excuses blame and deflect action.
Explanations take accountability and end in action.
As a leader, no matter if it is a home, at work, on the field- you want to teach and reward accountability.
Explanations give us information and context that are necessary to understand the needed action steps to remedy the situation, they also can require vulnerability.
Excuses are often exaggerations of the truth that allows one to deny responsibility and avoid vulnerability.
During my 20 years of bulimia, I gave countless excuses because to give an explanation would have required what felt like impossible vulnerability.
Excuses are given out of desire to avoid consequences and sometimes excuses are given with the intention of not hurting someone’s feelings, but that is being nice, not kind.
Let’s go with the classic, “the dog ate my homework” excuse. If you go up to your teacher and just say that- you have given an excuse.
If you go up and say, “I forgot to put my homework in my backpack last night like I am supposed to and my dog ate it. I put a reminder on my bathroom mirror so I don’t forget again. Can I redo the assignment?” – that is an explanation.
We are all human. We screw up. We make mistakes. We all have our own shi$t going on that makes life hard. And most of us have said yes to things we needed to have said no to.
We need to make room for failure to meet expectations, and encourage explanations.
Which requires listening with curiosity.
One of my favorite phrases to teach leaders to use to turn an excuse into an explanation is, “Tell me more about what happened.”
Curiosity is the key to just about everything in life (although cats tend to disagree…)- if you can show that you are genuinely interested in the process and not just the outcome, you empower others to in turn get curious about where things went wrong and take action to not only remedy the problem, but avoid it happening in the future.
Catch your own excuses this week and challenge yourself to do things differently.
Blaming the rain on why I didn’t get the chores done would be an excuse. It was a light rain and didn’t last long.
And I had no good explanation except not wanting to do them.
So I got them done. Excuses never feel good. Action does.

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About Becky

Becky Schmooke (pronounced “Smoke”) is a Mindful Leadership Consultant and Speaker, focused on providing action based mindfulness and leadership training to organizations and businesses who are ready to do things differently.

Becky’s Mindful Kitchen, is located outside of Iowa City, and provides truly unique team building and leadership retreats,  strategic planning workshops, private parties and classes and weekly summer camps for kids. The commercial teaching kitchen, treehouse, archery range, bush craft skills, first aid training, wood fired pizza oven, chickens, baby goats and timber adventure playground provides endless opportunities for hands on activities.


As a mom to three girls, 60 chickens, 4 goats, 2 dogs and a fire fighter’s wife- life is never boring and provides Becky with endless stories which she uses to illustrate her approach to mindfulness in daily posts on social media.  

In all that she does, Becky has one goal, to build confidence in others to take action to live their best life, not just pass time.  

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