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Here’s a theory we’d like to explore with you, is there a difference between an excuse and an explanation? We think there is. We see this a lot in human resource management. Management ask questions of staff during informal and formal situations and sometimes we report that we’ve heard an explanation and other times we report that we’ve had an excuse.

Here’s an example. Let’s say you enter the baby room at the end of the day and find it has not been tidied up. Someone who works in the room joins you at your side. You may well ask that practitioner “why is this room like this?”

What you need to do is ask yourself are you asking this question to find out why the room has not been tidied or to find out who is responsible and may be at fault? Or is it both? Depending on how this is heard by the practitioner it will impact how the person responds to you and how you the go on to view their reply.

What’s an explanation?

An explanation is a set of statements usually constructed to describe a set of facts which clarifies the causes, context and consequences of those facts. Its primary purpose is to inform and make the questioner aware of what has happened and to increase the questioner’s knowledge of the situation.

What’s an excuse?

An excuse may have elements of explanation in it but it is primarily about trying to deflect or lessen blame or in some way justify an action or inaction that would not be regarded as acceptable. Its job is to deflect, distract or shift blame.

What does this say about us as the person asking the question?

Do we always seek an explanation first and foremost? Do we want to know the facts? or do we act differently depending on the following:

  • The mood we are in
  • The type of day we have had
  • The situation we want explained
  • Do we trust the person who we have asked the question of?

Are you now thinking of the question about the untidy room? Would you be asking it to seek the knowledge as to why it was untidy or to find somebody to blame? How can you make it clear you are seeking an explanation.

“What’s the reason for the room not being tidied?”

Asking questions?

Do you ask questions in an even-handed manner irrespective of your mood or your perception of the person in front of you without jumping to a conclusion? If you are human (and we know you are) there will be times when we need to reflect and look for the why and not the who in our question.  Ask a question in temper and this will also impact how the individual respond regardless of what words we have chosen to use.

As Stephen Covey said in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to Understand then be Understood.” Words to live by.

If you need any assistance with any aspect of managing  your people, please give us a call on 01527 306066.