Another Excuse

We all make excuses when things do not go as planned.  It may be to explain why we are late, forgot to do something, or just did what we wanted to do instead of what should be done.  More than likely, its root relates to an ancient preservation measure so that when situations escalate, we have another avenue for resolution instead of punishment.  The very meaning of the word encompasses this idea since it pertains to explaining something in hope of forgiveness.

Although there are worthy excuses for missed deadlines, overspending, and weak communication, the dangerous part of any excuse arises from what fuels the excuse.  The nature and belief in the rationalization should generate more concern than the excuse itself.  In other words, the difference between saying the dog ate the homework when unable to come up with a more creative excuse and believing the dog actually ate the homework if it did not.  Rationalization involves dealing with controversial behaviors or feelings by creating a logical justification that ignores empirical reality or circumstances.  The act of justifying the behavior allows it to continue without a sense of wrongdoing or guilt.

Some common workplace excuses or rationalizations include:


Some people have internal views of themselves that differ considerably from reality.  The condition is common enough to They overestimate their capabilities and potential.  This “false image” creates a high level of dissatisfaction at work when others fail to recognize and reward them based on their view of themselves.  Considerable frustration arises from this tension between reality in the workplace and mental reality that predicts completely different circumstances.  These employees demand attention as they attempt to garner the respect and prestige they feel they deserve.

Victim Mentality

Others feel that everyone wants to get them and no matter what happens their interests will not be served.  The “professional victim” takes on the characteristic of an addict by constantly needing attention and validation.  John Gardner sums up the behavior well: “Self-pity is easily the most destructive of the non-pharmaceutical narcotics; it is addictive, gives momentary pleasure and separates the victim from reality.” These employees drain the life out of the team and its leaders due to their neediness.

Cognitive Dissonance

It is common to have conflicting ideas.  Most of us know we should not have that additional piece of cake, but if we come up with a good excuse (like exercising more tomorrow), we can go ahead and eat it. Cognitive dissonance describes when we hold two or more conflict ideas, beliefs, values, or emotion at once.  Given our natural desire to reach equilibrium, most of us strive to reduce the conflict.  A common method of reducing this conflict comes from creating alternative explanations or justifications to excuse the conflict.  For example, the employee that fails to come to work regularly may justify his or her actions based on a feeling that the supervisor does not like them.  Another common example relates to the unprompted employee.  It follows the typical pattern of something is desired, found to be unattainable, and judged as not worth it or unworthy in general.  This pattern occurs enough that it possesses its own name: “adaptive preference formation.”

Part of understanding people is knowing what makes us do what we do or “tick.” As human resource professionals and managers, it is important that we looks for these signs and assist people in addressing reality in a more constructive manner.

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