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Dealing with “Mr. Excuse” in the organization

By G. Balasubramanian

“Can you please send Mr. Excuse to my room?” asked Mr. Shenoy to his secretary. Mr. Shenoy was the Managing Director of the organization. Normally he is not used to such expressions about his staff, but probably this indicated his level of frustration about something. His secretary replied with a smile. Mr. Shenoy looked at her and said “I am asking only about Mr. Nikhil. He has a culture of seeking an excuse for everything he does and every time.” The secretary left the room without any reaction.

Every organization has one or the other person who can be branded with the title “Mr. Excuse” – who have always a reason for offering an explanation to their team leaders –

a) Excuse me, I am just at it

b) Pardon me, I really wanted to complete on schedule, but...

c) Sorry, you know what happened…

d) Sir, bear with me for some time, I do not know who the villain is, who is creating roadblock to my work

e) Honestly, my apologies. I wanted to come and tell you that it will take more time.

Mr. Excuse always has a diary full of statements to seek an excuse for their non-performance. Psychologists attribute some reasons like -fear, anxiety, lack of motivation, absence of skills, poor understanding, low self-esteem, lack of goal clarity – and a few more.

Dr. Mary Lamia, a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, a professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley, California writes in her blog on ‘Excuses’ in the magazine ‘Psychology Today’ that “Excuses may be perceived as seeking forgiveness and mitigating personal responsibility, which might lessen the anger of the wronged party. However, excuse-making may also be a conscious attempt to manipulate the emotions of others—a naïve theory of emotion that links managing the emotions of others in ways that lead to positive outcomes.” In every organization, you might come across people who belong to both the categories.

Mr. Raju, while attending the departmental meetings always came with a peevish smile and a supporting reason to explain what went wrong with him. A scrutiny of the situation would indeed reveal that he did not understand the project or its dynamics in full. His listening competence was poor, his attention to details was low during conversations and he too often nodded his head to convey he understood everything just to shield his low self-esteem.

“According to a 2012 article by University of Manitoba psychologists Tara Thatcher and Donald Baillis, failure is one of the most common reasons for making an excuse. As they point out the function of excuses is to “distance the self from responsibility and reduce feelings of culpability, thereby protecting the excuse-maker’s self and/or public image.” By making up an excuse, in other words, we cover our tracks and do not have to admit to a personal weakness or failing. In this regard, excuse-making is a form of defense mechanism because it allows you to protect yourself from the anxiety you would feel from being a failure” writes Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a Professor Emerita of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Examining the causes for such behaviours Schlenker, Britt, Pennington, Murphy, & Doherty proposed a model known as ‘Schlenker's triangle model’ which identifies the following three as common reasons.

1. Not being tuned to the goal

2. Not having control over the situation

3. Not having clarity in doing the work

Some of the challenges Mr. Excuse encounters can be rectified by giving them proper help, counselling, and practices to be adopted in the working environment.

1. Poor Listening Skills

Chandan was indeed a skilled worker, but always he landed in a problem because he was in confusion at every stage of his action. Like Chandan, there are many who are restless to show off themselves to the boss; they do not listen to the complete details, but venture to project their fake understanding, often through their body language in a hurry. They should be asked to list their thoughts in a flow chart and should be asked to revisit them as a routine.

2. Poor quality of understanding

A few who belong to this category do not understand the subject matter in full but tend to behave as they have a complete understanding of what is to be done and what are the targets. They tend to mess up whatever they do and when they are at crossroads, rush to seek help to save their souls. Such persons need to be engaged into a discussion, debate, brainstorming periodically and engaged with their peers for some collaborative work. This might help them to recover from any fear from authority and develop a culture of work in which they will consider differing perceptions to problems when they are expected to handle it all by themselves.

3. Poor motivation to do things

In a few cases, Mr. Excuse suffers from poor motivation to do the job. Several reasons could be attributed to this poor motivation including their personal growth profiles, peer problems, history of failures, lack of rewards, contemptuous professional treatments, ill health, or depressing family situations. They often come with questions ‘What if...?” “Why me?” “Let me see what happens,” “Heavens will not fall down if it is delayed.” They do not want to be accountable to their professional discharge of duties and try to withdraw into a shell when they are called upon to be on the frontline. They have fancy to be on invisible mode.

4. Self-doubt and anxiety

Some people tend to hibernate in the ‘Mr. Excuse’ tents, as they often suffer from self-doubt and resultant anxiety. They are not sure of themselves and lack self-confidence. They frequently consult others and seek to validate their actions, sometimes even with their bosses with a question ‘Am I in the right direction boss?’ Though such validations are good enough to some extent but repeated validation requirements develop a sense of dependency in their mind. Absence of such validations creates a sense of anxiety leading to incompetent decision-making or creating roadblocks to reasonable progress in their actions.

In a number of cases, the ‘excuse’ seekers tend to dwell in comfort zones and hesitate to be enterprising, avoid risks, feel protected in the existing universe of operation, avoid competitions and are jealous of other’s achievements. Dealing with Mr. Excuse in an organization calls for an engaging action not only from their superiors but from the HR Managers.